If you go with the assumption that Julius Peppers won't be back with the Carolina Panthers (as his agent said last night), then the next step is figuring out where he might land.
Here's a quick look at the possible destinations, if he hits free agency as he's hoped for more than a year:
Finding a pass-rushing defensive end is their number one priority this offseason. The Eagles have never been bashful about writing big checks to address problems, though they hesitate to do so for players past a certain age. Peppers turned 30 last month, but it’s unlikely that such a needy team would let that limit them.
— New England
The center of last year’s speculation. He fits so many of their criteria it’s not funny. Bill Belichick loves to sign established veterans, especially ones without rings. The Patriots still have Tom Brady, which means they’re going to be title contenders regardless. And like the Eagles, they need to find someone to get to quarterbacks, since they suffered a generationally bad pass-rush year.
As long as the year’s uncapped, everyone will expect the Redskins to make the biggest splash possible. Pass rush isn’t the biggest need there, but it’s Dan Snyder, so you can’t count him out.
— Seattle, Houston, Denver, Chicago, San Francisco
When we went through this process a year ago there was inordinate chatter about the Texans, who could pair Peppers with Mario Williams and have a dominant pair of ends. Likewise Denver, a defense in flux with its own star pass-rusher (Elvis Dumervil) about to hit the market as well. The Seahawks have the means and the need for a signature star to go alongside some nice defensive parts. The Bears defense hasn’t been the same recently, and badly needs pass-rush, same as the 49ers.
OUT OF THE MIX
— New Orleans, Indianapolis, Minnesota, New York Jets, Dallas, Arizona, Baltimore, San Diego.
One of the restrictions on free agency in an uncapped year is the “Final Eight plan,” which prevents the divisional round playoff teams from signing free agents unless they lose one of equivalent value.
Even the teams among that group that might need Peppers (Jets, Ravens, Cardinals) can’t make a run at him because they don’t have a potential free agent to lose to provide the necessary offset.