Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Buzzkill...for now

On Monday, the NFL Network provided the spark to the Julius Peppers-to-New England rumors. On Tuesday, it provided the water.

A day after Vic Carucci reported a deal for Peppers was developing and almost imminent, his colleague, Adam Schefter, pulled the plug on the topic of major conversation in New England.

"This trade is not gonna happen," Schefter said on the WEEI radio station. "Julius Peppers will not be a New England Patriot next season."

Schefter is renowned around the league and in the media for being a reliable source with often breaking news about injuries and transactions, and his definitive words seem to be a severe blow to any hopes of landing the four-time Pro Bowler.

At the same time, Carucci, a senior columnist, has access to the best sources around, and it's unlikely his reporting would be based on anything but an insider's true word.

With two opposite statements, it's clear someone is telling the truth. The other is admirably misled.

Carucci's reasons for the deal made sense. Carolina doesn't want to pay first-round pick money, especially when they can get a player only two picks away from the opening round (No. 34 overall) for a bargain price. Not to mention, Peppers wants a defense like New England's, and New England wants a rusher like Peppers.

Schefter's doubt in the deal's possibility makes sense. Carolina doesn't want to give up a franchise player for a single second-round pick. Not to mention, New England wants Logan Mankins and Vince Wilfork back, and Jason Taylor as a free agent, more than Peppers.

This is nothing new to the way the Patriots operate. New England rarely broadcasts its retooling plans, and its business can be difficult to follow and interpret.

In February of 2007, the Boston Herald reported that the Patriots had serious interest in acquiring Randy Moss from the Raiders. Over the next two months, other media outlets contradicted the rumor, and killed off any speculation of the move occurring. The Herald even came full circle, reporting Moss was headed elsewhere.

On draft day, Moss became a Patriot.

Even last summer, the Patriots made John Lynch a late preseason cut, sparking belief in the media that the move was a salary tactic, and that Belichick intended on having Lynch back.

Lynch remained on the free agent wire, and retired. Months later, hampered by injury, the Patriots were again expected to make an emergency offer to the former All-Pro safety. Didn't happen.

Now, with the Patriots seeking ways to prepare their team for 2009, the media again is as mixed as a Brandy Sour. This time, the subject is Julius Peppers. Once again, the outcome may be a surprise.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Pats seeking Peppers

A busy offseason for the Patriots could get kicked up another notch.

According to numerous sources, first reported by NFL.com's Vic Carucci, the Patriots are in the midst of negotiating a deal with the Carolina Panthers that would send a second-round pick to Charlotte for star defensive end Julius Peppers.

The career sacks leader for Carolina, Peppers has expressed a desire to both become an outside linebacker, and do so with another team besides the Panthers. Both truths are apparently music to the ears of Bill Belichick and Co., as the Patriots are short at the linebacker position, and adding the four-time Pro Bowler would be an instant upgrade.

The news is also the latest in a startling turnaround for the Patriots financially. New England began the offseason almost at the $123 million salary cap figure, but shed Matt Cassel's $14 million franchise tag number and Mike Vrabel's $3.15 million salary in a trade with Kansas City (more on that later) at the start of free agency, while also releasing Rodney Harrison ($3.05 million), Jabar Gaffney ($2 million) and Rosevelt Colvin.

With the breathing room, the Patriots went to work. They signed Jaguars castoff Fred Taylor and former Jet Chris Baker at the start of the free agency period, while also acquiring wideout Greg Lewis from Philadelphia. New England upgraded the secondary by signing former Pro Bowler Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden to fill the weak cornerback positions, and also added a deep threat in four-time Pro Bowl alternate Joey Galloway. New England capped off the shopping spree by luring back defensive end Mike Wright.

But with the Julius Peppers talk swirling around, the Patriots might be ready to make the biggest offseason move since acquiring Randy Moss in April of 2007. The trade would happen a few days or weeks into the future, but it also brings us back to the past - the trade of Cassel and Vrabel, specifically.

For months, it was out in the open that Cassel would be traded. The question focused on what the Patriots would get in return. Some pundits felt a first-round pick was a fair asking price, others said a second-round pick was more appropriate.

But when the Pats gave up Cassel AND Vrabel for that second-round pick, the reaction was mostly negative. A second-round pick was nowhere near enough to get for a potential franchise quarterback and a high-quality linebacker.

Well now, we see New England's logic.

A second-round pick is easier, financially, to sign than a first-rounder. The Panthers have said they'd be "happy" with a second-round pick for Peppers, for that reason.

Where did that second-round pick, the one that could be dealt to Carolina for Peppers, come from? Kansas City.

In typical, clandestine Patriots fashion, a deal deemed unsatisfactory by many could result in the greatest catch yet.