Would Panthers Peppers be a Perfect Fit for the Cardinals?

Julius Peppers has become a hotly debated free agent target around the Cardinals internet media. The 6-foot-5, 283 pound veteran has consistently expressed an interest in leaving Carolina to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme since the 2008 season. The Cardinals obviously have great need for a pass rush threat from an outside linebacker type, but it seems unlikely that Peppers will grow in the desert any time soon.

He would be a great crop, though. The 4-time Pro Bowler recorded 10.5 sacks this past season to go along with his 10 QB hits, 33 QB pressures, and 23 solo tackles. Among all defensive ends in a 4-3 scheme (73 players) these numbers correlate to the following rankings: 6th, 20th, 6th, and 28th.

Peppers also recorded 2 INTs. These statistics are relatively unnecessary to figure out what most people already know about Peppers; he’s still a great pass rush threat. After a career low 2.5 sacks in 2007 engendered some doubt as to the 30-year old’s longevity, Peppers accumulated 25.0 sacks in the past two seasons.

To make matters more interesting, Peppers declared on Tuesday morning that he no longer desires a long-term contract with Carolina. Peppers appeared on WFNZ-AM, a Charlotte radio station, stating that he’s irritated by Carolina’s “silence” since the season ended. Peppers remarked, “How can you say you want to be somewhere when you’re not really sure if they want you there because they’re not even talking to you?” “The silence says a lot without saying anything,” Peppers explained. “That is kind of a turnoff.”

Peppers and the Panthers were able to sweep their issues under the rug for at least the 2008 season by utilizing the franchise tag. As a result, Peppers played under a one-year tender worth an NFL-high $16.7 million. The same result could follow in 2010, but it would cost Carolina a 20 percent raise in pay from 2009. Peppers would make $20.1 million, plus $1.5 million if he makes the Pro Bowl, and $250,000 for each playoff victory.

With this framework, let’s consider whether it’s realistic to bet that Peppers will be a Cardinal; it isn’t because Arizona is cheap. The Cardinals would almost certainly be dealing with a per year salary around the $20 million he would receive with Carolina under the franchise tag. Arizona is highly unlikely to come close to that type of money.

A loyal Cardinals fan wouldn’t want them to, either. If the front office were to spend that much, it should be to address its in-house contract issues before spending big money on a free agent (i.e., consider impending unrestricted free agent Karlos Dansby).

Developing and keeping homegrown talent is fundamental to establishing a successful franchise. If the Cardinals are going to shell out money, they should keep their eyes on the horizon, which is marked with contract situations that need attention.

Boldin, Dansby, Rolle, Dockett, Breaston, Doucet, and Toler are all home-grown quality talent that will face the end of their respective contracts before the conclusion of the 2011 season. Arizona should address at least some of those players before they start chasing high priced free agents across the unsheltered waters of the open market.

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