Julius Peppers was interviewed earlier this week and voiced his displeasure with the Panther's ironic "silent treatment." Are Fox and Hurney sadists? Are they getting him back for ignoring the 2007 contract offer the Panthers made to him...which would have subsequently made him the highest paid defensive player in the NFL, "but only by a little." No they are not. They are making an educated gamble.
"Furney" as I heart to call them, to keep up with the cute modern day metro-sexual name blending movement, had a choice to make. Peppers or Davis--that is the question. It appears they have already made their decision, and the winner is Davis. Why not sign both, you ask, well Furney has a rule, and they are apparently sticking to it. See me clean up the mess that was these two paragraphs after the jump...
Fox and Hurney have not been very keen on signing two players to lucrative long-term deals in the same year. They are forced to make a decision on which player to sign, and I think they have made it. When you also consider that Richard Marshall will be up for a new contract soon, you see why Furney is not going to give the farm to Peppers. Let's examine why this is the right move, but a move that could come back to bite this team.
Thomas Davis was having an All-Pro type of season before he tore a ligament in his knee. In fact, he was having a defensive player of the year if-he-does-it-for-a-few-years-to-get-his-name-out-there-type-of-year. Resigning him, I feel, is the top priority this offseason. He will command a deal somewhere along the lines of 6 years; $42 million. The option to pay him whatever the restricted free-agent offer we tag him with is also possible, but they do not want him to even be able to get away, hence the long-term deal.
So with one large extension this offseason, Furney must not feel like they can handle another $15 million/year deal that Peppers is demanding. They made the choice that many a fan feel they should have made last season: to cut Peppers loose and sign several role players with the coin saved (along with Thomas Davis).
I agree with their decision. Thomas Davis is going to impact almost every defensive play by virtue of his speed, skill and the position he plays. The weak-side linebacker is arguably the most important position in our defensive scheme. While Peppers may make a few more splash plays (plays that negatively effect the quarterback), Davis is the more valuable player.
This is not without risk. I say this because in letting Peppers walk, you must be comfortable enough in the remaining defensive ends on the roster. When you examine the depth behind Peppers, and the depth behind Davis, you will find that Davis is the more "replaceable" of the two. James Anderson, Davis' backup, came in and played at a very high level when Davis went down. Anderson is a four year veteran. Dan Conner is also able to play any of the linebacker positions, and would play well enough on the weak-side in a pinch.
The depth behind Peppers does not instill the same confidence. Everette Brown looks to be a serviceable player in pass rush situations. He, at this time, is not a great option on 1st and 2nd down while defending the run. That leaves Charles Johnson and Hilee Taylor. Johnson is an interesting player. He has the potential to be a double-digit sack guy given the chance to be an every-down player. Johnson is also solid against the run, generally overpowering his man, as he is the strongest guy on the team. Taylor is still very much unproven at this point. Tyler Brayton is not under contract and I wont speculate on whether he'll be back.
The other deciding factor would have to be age. Peppers is 30, Davis is 26, and is about to enter his prime, physically. Signing Peppers to a long-term deal is operating under the assumption that he will play effectively until his is 35 or 36. Giving the same long-term deal to Davis is knowing that he will be only 31 or 32 when his contract expires, which is still leaves him with several years of effectiveness beyond the deal.
So given these factors, and any other factors not listed in this post, have the Panthers made the right choice?