New England Patriots Draft: Trade, Stand Pat, And The Future of Julius Peppers

Graeme FrisqueContributor IIApril 20, 2009

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 10:  Julius Peppers #89 of the Carolina Panthers walks off the field in the rain after being defeated by the Arizona Cardinals 33-13 in the NFC Divisional Playoff Game on January 10, 2009 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

With the NFL draft fast approaching, trade speculation is running rampant. With their bounty of draft picks (four first-day picks, 11 in total), the New England Patriots find themselves front and center in such discussions.  

For a couple of months now, one rumor refuses to go away. That rumor involves the Carolina Panthers' franchised defensive end Julius Peppers heading to the Patriots.  

There are legitimate reasons to both support the possibility of such a trade, and to suggest that it will never happen.

Why It Might Happen

Since the departure of Mike Vrabel to the Chiefs as part of the Matt Cassel trade, there exists a glaring hole in the Patriots' pass rush. Peppers would fill that void nicely. 

The standout defensive end has expressed an interest in playing linebacker in a 3-4 defense, which the Patriots employ. Being a natural defensive end, Peppers is the kind of versatile player that coach Bill Belichick covets.    

It's almost a foregone conclusion that Peppers will be in another uniform next season. It is hard to fathom that the Panthers will simply let him walk next season for nothing.

Peppers has yet to sign his franchise tender, giving him the ability to control his own destiny to a certain extent. Peppers gave the Panthers a list of four teams to which he would accept a trade. The Patriots were one of those teams.

Since the Panthers only have the 59th overall pick on the first day of the draft, the Patriots' bounty of picks have to be of interest to them. Also, the Patriots are one of the few teams with the room to fit Peppers' under the salary cap.

Why It Might Not Happen

Another rumor that has been floating around is the signing of Jason Taylor. If Taylor were to sign with the Patriots, you can probably count Peppers out of the Patriots' equation for next season. 

Both Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick have publicly shared their admiration for Jason Taylor, making him in a Pats uniform next season a very real possibility.  

Also, the Panthers have made it clear that they would like to keep Peppers in the mix, and are willing and able to fit him under their cap. Should they not be able to consummate a trade come draft day, it's hard to imagine that Peppers would sit out all next season and leave $16+ million on the table. 

It is entirely possible that Peppers will sign the tender and play for the Panthers next season if the team were to promise not to franchise him again next season, much like the Patriots did with Asante Samuel before he departed for the Eagles through free agency last offseason. 

Plus, there is always the possibility that one of the other three teams on Peppers' list might be able to make something happen.  You never know with Jerry Jones and the Cowboys being one of those teams.

There are other trade scenarios involving the Patriots that may play out on draft day.  One of which could see them moving up in first round to fill the hole at linebacker. 

USC's Brian Cushing stands out as a player the Pats might use some of their picks to move up to get. He is rated in the 10-15 pick range, which, sitting at No. 23, is not out of the Pats' reach by any means.

There is one trade scenario that seems almost a foregone conclusion. Bill Belichick has a propensity for trading picks for future picks as they did two years ago in a trade with San Fransisco that netted them the No. 7 pick last year. The Patriots then traded that pick for the 10th overall pick plus a later round pick, using the No. 10 pick to select defensive rookie of the year Jarod Mayo.  

This seems even more likely this year, given the the sheer number of picks the Patriots process versus the number of roster spots they will have available come fall. It is not Bill Belichick's style to draft players knowing he will probably have to cut them by the start of the regular season. 

It wouldn't be surprising at all to see Belichick trade some of his second- or third-rounders this season to add a couple of extra picks for next year. 

Whatever shakes out on draft day, one thing is almost for certain: The Patriots with their wealth of picks will be a part of it, one way or another.