The soap opera that is Jay Cutler and Josh McDaniels is hiding the biggest rumor swirling in NFL free agency. A dynamic defensive end may be going from sporting the black and blue jersey, to wearing blue and white.
The New England Patriots are rumored to be interested in trading for Panthers DE Julius Peppers, who would not only fill, but tremendously upgrade the OLB vacated by the Mike Vrabel trade to the Kansas City Chiefs.
The negotiations seem to be centered around the very pick acquired from Matt Cassel-Vrabel trade that netted the Patriots the 35th pick, in the second round.
Trading Cassel and Vrabel cleared roughly $20 million off of their salary cap. Julius Peppers is currently hit with the franchise tag (although, he has not signed his tender) and has a cap hit of $16.7 million, only $2.3 million higher then what Cassels' was ($14.5 million).
The trade would add another vital piece to a Patriots defense that has already signed two savvy veteran CB's, three-time Pro Bowler Shawn Springs, and Leigh Bodden, who held Chad Johnson to only 2 catches and 22 yards during his pro-bowl season. Springs has had a solid career with seven seasons for the Seattle Seahawks, and five with the Washington Redskins, who recently cut him. Bodden has played for the Cleveland Browns for five seasons, and was purged by the rebuilding Detroit Lions a season after being sent there in the Shaun Rogers trade to the Cleveland Browns. Bodden is regarded as one of the best cover corners in the league.
The LB corps already features longtime Patriot Tedy Bruschi, star Adalius Thomas, and current Defensive Rookie of the Year, Jerod Mayo, adding Peppers would make the unit the best 3-4 set of LB's in the entire league, and would fill the only weak spot with the exception of fullback, with Heath Evans signing with the New Orlean Saints.
Adding Peppers would make this entire team scary, they are always regarded as one of the leagues top teams, and became just the 2nd 11-5 team to miss the postseason in NFL history. To put it in perspective: four of the NFC playoff teams in 2008 finished with an equal, or worse record then the Patriots did.
The Patriots had no idea what kind of gem fell in their laps when Tom Brady got injured by a vicious Bernard Pollard (also on the Chiefs) hit in the opening quarter of last season, tearing two ligaments in his knee.
If Cassel had never materialized into a potential franchise QB, the Patriots would have never gotten that second round pick from the Chiefs. They probably would have never traded Vrabel, which would not have opened up an OLB spot. That would have meant they would have been less likely to pursue Peppers because they didn't have an extra pick, or a hole to fill at LB.
With no real area that needs a rookie to step in and be a starter, they can afford to expend a pick or two for a game-changing, hybrid DE/LB who is still fairly young at 29 years old.
Adding Peppers completes this team, and in my eyes, guarantees another AFC East title. There is no other team in that division who has their depth, talent, and playoff experience
I don't see the Bills, who improved by adding play-making WR T.O, The Jets, who are re-working their defensive with the fearsome LB Bart Scott, in addition of Lito Sheppard, or the Dolphins, who are the current AFC East champions, taking the AFC East championship this year.
Not with the stacked roster the Patriots bring to the table.
Don't get me wrong, the Bills and Jets are improving steadily, and do have the stuff to make some noise. But up and down the roster, the Patriots can boast the best at almost every position of any team in the AFC East.
Interesting to see if trading Matt Cassel can net the Patriots a true difference maker.