Economics 101, or Why Julius Peppers to the Patriots Makes Little Sense

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Economics 101, or Why Julius Peppers to the Patriots Makes Little Sense
(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

A couple of weeks ago, Vic Carucci of NFL.com reported that the New England Patriots are expected to trade for Julius Peppers, the defensive end for the Carolina Panthers, presumably for the No. 34 pick the Patriots received from Kansas City for quarterback Matt Cassel and linebacker Mike Vrabel.

At the annual NFL owners' meeting, Carucci argued that the trade was "picking up steam."

I'm not going to argue here whether or not it makes sense for the Patriots to trade for Peppers from a competitive standpoint, because it's largely a moot point.

That's because, for three reasons, this trade makes almost no sense from a financial standpoint.

 

1. Peppers hasn't signed his franchise tag yet.

The Panthers franchised Peppers, just as the Patriots franchised Cassel. Unlike Cassel, who signed his tender before free agency began, Peppers has yet to sign his tender. Thus, the Panthers, by league rules, cannot conduct trade talks for him, because he is not under contract.

Any negotiations at this time must take place through Peppers' agent, as the franchise tag does allow the player to negotiate with any team he chooses.

Moreover, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has said, in an interview on WEEI, that he does not want to conduct negotiations through an agent, as would be required.

And Belichick even reiterated that the Panthers cannot conduct negotiations until Peppers signs—which raises the question of how these talks could be "picking up steam" when, by NFL rules, they're not even allowed in the first place.

 

2. The Patriots may not have enough cap room to give him the contract he wants.

Three weeks into free agency, the Patriots had about $7 million in free cap space, according to Patscap.com (an invaluable resource on Patriots salary information).

At least $2 million to $3 million of that amount will be needed to sign rookies and provide for a practice squad and insurance if the Patriots need to sign a street free agent in mid-season.

That leaves about $4 million in free cap space the Patriots might be able to use to sign Peppers.

Unfortunately, that puts the Patriots up against one of the poison pills currently in place because 2010 is slated to be a season without a salary cap: for any contract signed in the 2009 league year, contract salaries cannot increase year-to-year by more than 30 percent.

So, for example, if the Patriots gave him a $3 million salary in 2009, the most they can pay him in 2010 is $3.9 million. Signing bonuses don't count as salary, but, of course, they are prorated, and part of it would have to be paid in 2009.

The upshot of this is that, if Peppers really wants to play for New England, he's either going to have to accept a relatively small salary, or the Patriots would have to be so enthusiastic about getting Peppers that they'd be willing to trade away one or more key players to get him.

 

3. Even if Peppers signs his tender and agrees to a contract the Patriots can afford, they still might not be able to get him.

Patriots fans who were paying attention when the Patriots traded for Randy Moss might recall a nugget buried in some of the articles about the trade: Tom Brady had to renegotiate his contract before the Patriots could sign for Moss.

That's because, even though Moss renegotiated his contract, NFL rules require that a team trading for a player absorb his current hit into their salary cap before they renegotiate.

With Moss, that meant the Patriots had to fit his $9 million Oakland Raiders salary for 2007 into their cap.

And that means that, right now, if Peppers signs his tender, the Patriots would need to find a way to absorb that contract, which is more than twice the size of their available cap space.

Maybe there's a way around this, but it's not something that anyone on NFL.com, or any other major sports site, has discussed.

The only way I can think of—Peppers signing a renegotiated contract before he's traded—would either leave the Panthers taking a cap hit for no reason, or force Peppers to run the risk that the Panthers will renege on an agreement to trade him after he signs the new contract (although I suppose poison pills might work to prevent that).

 

The idea of Peppers as a Patriot is an intriguing one. But, at the moment, it appears to be far more a pipe-dream than a promise.

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