New England Patriots: Will They Pursue Another Julius Peppers-Caliber Player?

Aaron DodgeAnalyst IMarch 27, 2011

The New England Patriots went fishing during the 2010 offseason because head coach Bill Belichick had something big on his radar.

When star pass-rusher Julius Peppers' six year rookie contract with the Carolina Panthers expired, New England immediately expressed interest in the unrestricted free agent.

Every Patriots fan’s dream almost came true last offseason when the big fish looked like he was on the line, but on March 5, 2010 that dream become a reality for Chicago Bears fans.

Peppers signed a six-year contract with Chicago worth $91.5 million. A deal which included $42 million guaranteed over the first three years, an average annual salary of $14 million.

Peppers will average $16.5 million over the latter three years of his monstrous contact which includes a nullification clause, allowing Chicago to move on from the defensive lineman after the first season.

Bears officials would be hard pressed to find a reason to void Peppers’ deal after he posted a season worthy of Defensive Player of the Year honors; he finished fourth in voting for the title in 2010.

The two sides reportedly came to an agreement this month to re-structure the deal, allowing Chicago to free up cap-space before heading into uncertain CBA territory.

The Patriots pursued Peppers, making offers reportedly as high as $10 million annually, but what they offered obviously fell quite short of the eventual winning bid from Chicago.

Historically the Patriots have avoided big splashes in free agency like the plague, even electing to let big names from their own organization walk.

The list is getting rather lengthy with the likes of Adam Vinatieri, Asante Samuel, Deion Branch, Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy, Willie McGinest and Curtis Martin all leaving New England for "greener pastures". Only time will tell if Logan Mankins will join the ranks of greats to leave the team over a financial disagreement.

One of the few complaints you will hear out of New England fans involves the fact that too they're often forced to suffer through the loss of stars leaving for more money. The Patriots refuse to overpay though and tend to be hardline negotiators when it comes to the finances and length of a contract. 

The team has made deals with many center pieces as of late, signing Tom Brady, Vince Wilfork, Ty Warren and Leigh Bodden to extensions over the last four years.

Devin McCourty, Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, Danny Woodhead and countless other young, core players are under contract for many years to come as well.

With Peppers all but eliminated from New England's wishlist it's hard to say whether they'd still be willing to hand out eight figure contracts to free agents. Conventional wisdom surrounding this team would suggest Belichick was enamored, and for good reason, by the prospects of using Peppers in his defense and that he'd have to feel the same way about his next big free agent.

If New England is indeed still looking to address it's needs on the defensive line or at outside linebacker they have the necessary picks to find an impact player in this years draft. It would appear more likely that if the Patriots were to target a big time free agent it would be at another position. 

The team has very few needs at other positions that would necessitate that type of a free agent signing.

The offensive line isn't in as rough of shape as it may appear and it will also most likely be addressed a month from now during the draft. Matt Light and Logan Mankins could still be re-signed, in fact Mankins could eventually just choose to play with the franchise tag if the designation is kept in the next CBA.

One position the Patriots haven't historically targeted early on draft day is wide receiver and there are a few big name options on the open market who would cost a pretty penny.

Guys like Sidney Rice, Jacoby Jones, James Jones and Steve Smith (NYG) are all available and could make a lot of sense in New England's offense which has at times seemingly been just one piece short.


Interested in reading more by this Columnist? Check out more of Aaron Dodge's work on Bleacher Report and on

New England Patriots Draft Trade Follies: The Greg Jennings & Clay Mathews Story