Julius Peppers

Latest On Ron Rivera, Marty Hurney, Panthers’ Vets

Last week, we heard that Panthers head coach Ron Rivera would likely remain with the team in 2019, and Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com confirm as much. Both reporters believe there could be changes made to Rivera’s coaching staff, however, and Rapoport expects such changes would be made primarily on the defensive side of the ball. Having Rivera take over defensive play-calling duties earlier this season has already paid dividends, but Rapoport suggests that the team could look to reunite with former DC Steve Wilks if Wilks is fired by the Cardinals (as is expected).

In any event, JLC says that Rivera and new owner David Tepper will have a candid conversation after the season, and if Rivera balks at Tepper’s demand for changes to the composition of Rivera’s staff, then the situation could deteriorate. But for the moment, it appears as if Rivera will be back for his ninth year at the helm, though he will have at least a few different subordinates. Rapoport says that GM Marty Hurney is likely safe as well. David Newton of ESPN.com spoke to Tepper today, but Tepper declined to comment on Rivera’s status.

Meanwhile, as Joe Person of The Athletic writes, the Panthers are expected to bid adieu to at least a couple franchise icons. Julius Peppers is expected to retire, and Thomas Davis has indicated he would like to be back with the club, but his contract is up at the end of the year and there is no guarantee he will be back. Of course, Ryan Kalil announced back in January that this season would be his last, and he has not given any indication that he has changed his mind. While Greg Olsen expects to return in 2019, and though the team is exploring a new deal with safety Eric Reid, there will be significant turnover to a roster that has been one of the league’s oldest over the past several seasons. Person offers his take on what the Panthers should do with their top ten players on expiring contracts.

It has become clear to most everyone, including Person and Newton, that Devin Funchess will not be back with the club in 2019. Funchess is inactive for today’s finale, and his playing time had already decreased significantly in the second half of the season.

Julius Peppers Comes Off PUP List

Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers has passed his physical and has been removed from the PUP list, as David Newton of ESPN.com reports. The team has a practice at 3:15 this afternoon, and Peppers will participate.

Peppers reunited with the Panthers last offseason after a four-year run with the Bears and a three-year stint with the Packers. The former No. 2 overall pick turned back the clock, as he posted 11 sacks for Carolina in 2017, his highest total since the 2012 campaign. His efforts made him the best pass rusher on this year’s free agent market in our eyes, despite the fact that he is now 38 years old.

Sack totals are not necessarily indicative of overall performance, but Pro Football Focus graded Peppers as a league-average defensive end last year, ranking him 63rd among 110 qualifying edge defenders. He played 50% of Carolina’s defensive snaps in 2017, and he’ll likely continue in a rotational role during the upcoming season.

The surefire Hall-of-Famer will earn $5MM in 2018, which represents a nice raise from the $3.5MM he made last year. He has accumulated a whopping 154.5 sacks in his career, the fourth-most in league history, and he could pass Kevin Greene‘s 160 mark this season. He also has nine Pro Bowls and three first-team All-Pro selections to his credit, but he is still chasing that elusive Super Bowl ring. He is hoping to achieve that last milestone with the team that drafted him over 16 years ago.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

This Date In Transactions History: Julius Peppers

After a mysteriously quiet 2007, Julius Peppers mounted a strong comeback campaign in ’08. Then, on the heels of notching a career-high 14.5 sacks and helping the Panthers return to the playoffs, Peppers wanted out. Specifically, Peppers expressed a desire to join a team with a 3-4 scheme so that he could move from defensive end to linebacker. 

Peppers insisted that he would never sign a long-term deal with Carolina and tried hard to discourage the team from using the franchise tender on him in the 2009 offseason.

The front office has been informed of my desire to explore opportunities with other NFL teams following the expiration of my contract next month,” Peppers said in a statement (via ESPN.com). “At this point in my NFL career, I am seeking new challenges that will allow me to grow, develop and reach my personal potential on the football field.”

The Panthers held firm, however, and applied the one-year, $16.7MM placeholder on their top defender. In theory, another team could have signed Peppers as a restricted free agent, but that would have required the forfeiture of two first-round picks on top of a mammoth contract. While he was stuck between a rock and a hard place, Peppers abstained from offseason activities. The multiple-time Pro Bowler’s absence cast a serious shadow over the Panthers’ offseason and made the football world wonder whether the Panthers would cave and trade him.

Ultimately, Peppers’ agent was unable to find a suitable deal for him. And, on June 26, 2009, Peppers inked his one-year deal with the Panthers.

Peppers earned another Pro Bowl nod in 2009, and that proved to be the final season of his first Panthers run. After the season, the Panthers declined to use the franchise tag on him, allowing him to reach unrestricted free agency and to a six-year, $91.5MM deal with the Bears. When that deal was terminated in 2014, he stayed in the NFC North and signed with the Packers.

It took a while, but Peppers ultimately came full circle. In 2017, the veteran joined the Panthers on a one-year, $3.5MM deal. A few months later, the Panthers canned GM Dave Gettleman and brought back Marty Hurney as their top football executive, but there were no hard feelings between Peppers and Hurney. This past March, Peppers and Hurney shook hands on a new one-year, $5MM deal to keep the 38-year-old in Carolina.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Panthers To Re-Sign DE Julius Peppers

The Panthers have re-signed veteran defensive end Julius Peppers to a one-year, $5MM deal, according to Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer (Twitter links).

The 2018 free agent edge defender class is extremely weak, so much so that PFR named Peppers as the best pass rusher on the market. That’s not to say Peppers isn’t still a talented player, but a 38-year-old isn’t often viewed as the best available free agent at his position.

Peppers, of course, spent the first eight years of his career with the Panthers before reuniting on a one-year pact for 2017. The veteran defensive end collected $3.5MM with Carolina a season ago, and he will now see a pay increase after a successful campaign.

And successful it was, as Peppers managed 11 sacks, his highest total 2012. Sacks can be fluky, of course, but Pro Football Focus graded Peppers as a league-average defensive end, ranking him 63rd among 110 qualifying edge defenders.

Peppers played 50% of Carolina’s defensive snaps in 2017, and he’ll likely continue in a rotational role during the upcoming season. He’ll play alongside other Panthers defensive linemen including Mario Addison, Wes Horton, and Daeshon Hall.

[RELATED: Panthers Depth Chart]

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

PFR’s Top 50 NFL Free Agents For 2018 1.0

There will be tons of free agents available in March, but only a some of them can be real difference makers for your favorite team. To help separate the wheat from the chaff, we’ve assembled our early list of the Top 50 NFL Free Agents for 2018.

Our early version of the NFL’s top 50 free agents may include players who will be re-signed between now and March 14. When we update this list next week, a few of the big names will be spoken for while new high-profile names will join the fray as veterans become cap casualties.

Recently, we broke down the top free agents by position on both offense and defense, but our rankings below may not have each player listed in the same order. Those position lists took the short-term value of a player into account more heavily, meaning many players in their 30s received prominent placement. Our overall top 50 list favors longer-term value, and is more about forecasting which players will be in highest demand when it comes to years and dollars.

With those caveats out of the way, let’s dive in! Here are Pro Football Rumors’ top 50 NFL free agents for 2018:

1. Kirk Cousins, QB (Redskins): At long last, Kirk Cousins is headed towards unrestricted free agency. You may or may not regard Cousins as a star, but he is the best quarterback in recent history to reach the open market and QB-needy teams will be rolling out the red carpet for him. The Jets, Vikings, Broncos, and Cardinals have been named as the top suitors for his services, but the NFL is full of surprises this time of year and we would not be surprised to see other teams get involved. The cash-flush Browns are reportedly keen on signing a lower-cost vet and drafting a QB early, but who’s to say they won’t change course and get in on the Cousins sweepstakes? The Bills, Giants, Dolphins, Bucs, and Colts could also consider kicking the tires here, but there are obstacles in that bunch ranging from established starters already in place (Eli Manning, Ryan Tannehill, Jameis Winston, and Andrew Luck) to financial constraints. No matter where he goes, it’s almost certain that Cousins will become the league’s highest-paid player of all-time. That is, until another top-tier QB signs a contract extension soon after.

2. Drew Brees (Saints): There are multiple possibilities for Cousins but it’s hard to see a scenario in which Brees actually leaves the Saints. Brees has already said that he does not plan on testing free agency, so he’ll likely put pen to paper before things begin on March 14. As far as we can tell, the only way Brees will think about leaving is if he is lowballed to an extreme degree by the Saints, but that seems improbable based on his history with the team

3. Case Keenum (Vikings): One year ago, no one ever would have expected Keenum to be one of 2018’s most sought-after free agents. The Vikings signed the former Rams signal caller to a one-year, $2MM deal in March with the idea that he would back up Sam Bradford and, eventually slide down to third on the depth chart when/if Teddy Bridgewater returned to full health. When Bradford went down in September, Keenum exceeded all expectations and put together the best season of his career. The 30-year-old graded out as Pro Football Focus’ ninth-ranked QB in 2017, putting him above the likes of Jimmy Garoppolo, Aaron Rodgers, Marcus Mariota, Matthew Stafford, and Tyrod Taylor. With Keenum at the helm, the Vikings earned a first-round bye and beat the Saints in a playoff thriller before succumbing to the Eagles in the NFC championship game. Of course, after four seasons of mediocrity, teams are wondering whether this was an aberration or a real sign of things to come. Teams know that Keenum is not a lock, but he’s also the best Plan B for any team that loses out on Cousins or doesn’t have the means to sign him.

4. Andrew Norwell, G (Panthers): There was a time when tackles were the only offensive linemen to really cash in on the open market. That’s no longer the case, as evidenced by the contracts of Kevin Zeitler (five years, $60MM) and Kelechi Osemele (five years, $58.5MM). Osemele inked his free agent deal with the Raiders in 2016 and Zeitler signed his in the 2017 offseason. Given the cap increase and the natural progression of the market, Norwell figures to reset the market for interior linemen. Keenum figures to gross no less than $20MM/year on his next contract, so he’s slotted behind him, but an average annual value of $13-14MM is not out of the question for the former undrafted free agent.

5. Nate Solder, OT (Patriots): Solder isn’t coming off of his best season and he might be the least sexy name in the top ten. Still, there’s a dearth of tackles league-wide and Solder has been among the league’s best at his position for quite some time. The Patriots are bracing for Solder to leave as they fear he’ll garner offers of $12MM/year. No other tackle in this year’s free agent crop is even close to him in terms of ability, so we’re also buying into the hype. Injuries contributed to Solder’s up-and-down season, particularly early on, so teams will take that into account when evaluating him.

6. Allen Robinson, WR (Jaguars): The Jaguars opted against using the franchise tag on Robinson, which is understandable since they have limited cap space. Robinson missed almost all of 2017 with an ACL tear, but his 2015 season (and even his so-so 2016 campaign) gives teams reason to believe that he can be a quality WR1. Robinson is one of only two such players on the unrestricted market, so expect him to get paid. Robinson probably couldn’t do worse than Kenny Britt‘s four-year, $32MM deal with the Browns from last season (and he should do a whole lot better), but if he is underwhelmed by the multi-year offers he receives, he could always go the Alshon Jeffery route. Jeffery inked a one-year, $9.5MM prove-it deal with the Eagles and that turned out to be a smashing success for both parties. Jeffery was rewarded with a four-year, $52MM extension in December, so Robinson’s camp will surely be open to a pillow contract if necessary. 

7. Sammy Watkins, WR (Rams): Some may view Robinson and Watkins as 1A and 1B in this year’s wide receiver class, particularly since Robinson missed all of 2017 and Watkins, despite his own injury history, played in all but one of the Rams’ games. Unfortunately, Watkins did not have the platform year he was hoping for as he caught just 39 passes for 593 yards. If we strike Robinson’s lost year and Watkins’ down year from the record, the breakdown favors the Jags receiver – Robinson averaged 77 receptions for 1,078 yards and eight touchdowns per 16 games in that set versus Watkins’ 66 grabs for 1,063 yards and seven scores. These two should come pretty close in average annual value, but we give the edge to Robinson.

8. Trumaine Johnson, CB (Rams): Players often bemoan the franchise tag, but Johnson can’t really complain after receiving two consecutive tags from the Rams and earning more than $30MM between 2016 and 2017. The Rams, rightfully, did not consider a third consecutive tag for Johnson at a cost of ~$20MM and they already have his replacement in Marcus Peters. That’s one suitor down, but plenty of other teams will be eager to speak with Johnson, who profiles as the best cornerback in a deep class.

9. Sheldon Richardson, DT (Seahawks): Richardson gave the Jets lots of headaches, but he also gave them high-end production. He didn’t quite match that production in Seattle, but Richardson is positioned for a massive payday anyway since impactful defensive linemen are at a premium. Our own Dallas Robinson estimates that Richardson will garner about $9MM/year, but I would say that is his floor. The top-end of free agency rarely yields team-friendly deals, so Richardson could easily creep into eight figures in AAV, particularly since he does not turn 28 until November.

10. Dontari Poe, DT (Falcons): Poe thought he was in for a monster contract last offseason, but concerns about his lingering back issues forced him to take a one-year, $8MM deal with Atlanta. Teams may still worry about his back being a ticking time bomb, but perhaps they’ll view him in a different light now that he has played back-to-back 16 game seasons and has only missed two regular season contests over the course of his career.

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Top 2018 Free Agents By Position: Defense

NFL free agency will get underway on Wednesday, March 14th, and while the list of free agents will change between now and then, we do have some idea of who will be available when free agency kicks off. The frenzy is right around the corner and it’s time for us to break down the outlook for each position. After looking at offense on Monday, we’ll tackle defense and special teams today.

Listed below are our rankings for the top 15 free agents at each defensive position. These rankings aren’t necessarily determined by the value of the contracts – or the amount of guaranteed money – that each player is expected to land in free agency. These are simply the players we like the most at each position, with both short- and long-term value taken into account.

Restricted and exclusive-rights free agents, as well as players who received the franchise tag, aren’t listed here, since the roadblocks in place to hinder another team from actually acquiring most of those players prevent them from being true free agents.

We’ll almost certainly be higher or lower on some free agents than you are, so feel free to weigh in below in our comments section to let us know which players we’ve got wrong.

Here’s our breakdown of the current top 15 free agents by defensive position for 2018:

Edge defender:

  1. Julius Peppers
  2. William Hayes
  3. Trent Murphy
  4. Pernell McPhee
  5. Aaron Lynch
  6. Alex Okafor
  7. Adrian Clayborn
  8. Kony Ealy
  9. Connor Barwin
  10. Jeremiah Attaochu
  11. Junior Galette
  12. Derrick Shelby
  13. Barkevious Mingo
  14. Kareem Martin
  15. Erik Walden

As a positional group, pass rushers comprise interesting market on the defensive side of the ball. It’s not often that a list of best available players is topped by a 38-year-old, but Peppers is the top free agent edge defender after the Cowboys and Lions deployed the franchise tag on Demarcus Lawrence and Ezekiel Ansah, respectively. As with quarterbacks, NFL clubs are extremely reluctant to allow pass rushers to hit the open market, so top-tier options are rarely ever truly “available.” Peppers, for his part, hasn’t even declared whether he’ll return in 2018, but indications are that he’ll suit up for a 17th campaign after posting 11 sacks last year.

Alongside Peppers, other veterans populate the edge market, and while William Hayes may not be a household name, he’ll be a contributor for whichever team signs him. A stout run defender, Hayes is also capable of generating pressure despite managing only one sack in 2017. The Dolphins used Hayes on only 271 defensive snaps a season ago, and have since replaced him by acquiring fellow defensive end Robert Quinn from the Rams. Now that he’s entering his age-33 season, Hayes should come cheap, but will almost assuredly outplay his contract.

Nearly every other available pass rusher has some sort of flaw which will likely limit his market next week. Trent Murphy is only 27 years old and put up nine sacks in 2016, but he missed the entirety of the 2017 campaign with injury. Pernell McPhee, Alex Okafor, Junior Galette, and Derrick Shelby have also been plagued by health questions in recent seasons. And Adrian Clayborn famously registered the majority of his 2017 sacks (and 20% of his career sack total) in one game against overwhelmed Cowboys backup Chaz Green.

The two names that I keep coming back to are Aaron Lynch (49ers) and Jeremiah Attaochu (Chargers). Yes, Lynch has been suspended for substance abuse, struggled with his weight, and was reportedly in danger of being waived prior to last season. He’s also extremely young (he won’t turn 25 years old until Thursday) and ranked fifth in the league with 34 pass pressures as recently as 2015. Attaochu, a 25-year-old former second-round pick, also has youth on his side, and while he hasn’t quite flashed as much as Lynch, he’s also been buried on LA’s depth chart for much of his career.

Interior defensive line:

  1. Sheldon Richardson
  2. Dontari Poe
  3. Muhammad Wilkerson
  4. Star Lotulelei
  5. DaQuan Jones
  6. Beau Allen
  7. Denico Autry
  8. Justin Ellis
  9. Tom Johnson
  10. Bennie Logan
  11. Chris Baker
  12. Kyle Williams
  13. Dominique Easley
  14. Haloti Ngata
  15. Jay Bromley

Interior rushers are getting more respect in today’s NFL, but that still hasn’t translated to them being paid on the level of edge defenders — the 2018 franchise tag for defensive tackles, for example, is roughly $3MM cheaper than the tender for edge rushers. While the 2018 crop of interior defenders boasts some impressive top-end talent, none of the available players figure to earn a double-digit annual salary. Sheldon Richardson may have the best chance to do so, but Seattle determined he wasn’t worth a one-year cost of $13.939MM, so is any other club going to pay him $10MM per year? I’d guess he comes in closer to $9MM annually, which would still place him among the 25 highest-paid defensive tackles.

Dontari Poe will be an intriguing free agent case after setting for a one-year deal last offseason, but the most interesting battle among defensive tackles will take place Star Lotulelei and Muhammad Wilkerson, and I’m curious to see which player earns more on the open market. Both are former first-round picks, and it’s difficult to argue Wilkerson hasn’t been the more productive player — or, at least, reached higher highs — than Lotulelei. Wilkerson also won’t affect his next team’s compensatory pick formula given that he was released, but his off-field issues, which include a reported lack of effort and problems with coaches, could limit his appeal.

While Beau Allen and Denico Autry are potentially candidates to be overpaid based on their youth, there are bargains to be had at defensive tackle. Tom Johnson is 33 but he’s offered consistent pressure from the interior for years — his last contract was for three years and $7MM, so he shouldn’t cost much this time around. Haloti Ngata was injured in 2017 but plans to continue his career, and he can still stop the run. And Dominique Easley was outstanding as a 3-4 end in 2016 before missing last season with a torn ACL, meaning the former first-round pick could be a value play for any number of teams.Read more

NFC Notes: Peters, Panthers, Saints

The Rams were one of only two teams to express legitimate interest in acquiring CB Marcus Peters, and while Los Angeles head coach Sean McVay cannot yet talk about Peters or the trade specifically, Terez A. Paylor of the Kansas City Star says it is no surprise that the Rams would be the team to land the former first-rounder. Although Peters is now eligible for a long-term extension and is likely to be on his best behavior anyway as a result, Paylor notes that McVay has quickly established a strong presence in LA, and he and DC Wade Phillips have full command and respect of the locker room. Paylor suggests that the Rams’ trade for Peters demonstrates their faith in their culture, and that culture, combined with the fact that they play on the West Coast — where Peters has long indicated he wants to be — made it a perfect fit.

Now let’s take a look at a few more NFC notes:

  • The Rams are hiring Holy Cross offensive coordinator Liam Coen as their assistant WRs coach, per Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports (via Twitter).
  • Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer takes a look at the Panthers‘ plans for the offseason, and he says Carolina will likely release DE Charles Johnson, though it is difficult to say whether Julius Peppers will be back or will call it a career. Person also does not expect Andrew Norwell to be back, so the Panthers will need to draft or sign a defensive end and a guard this offseason, and the hope is that whatever guard they acquire will also be capable of playing center.
  • The Saints have a few interesting calls to make with respect to their restricted free agents, as Larry Holder of the Times-Picayune observes. Willie Snead, Delvin Breaux, and Brandon Coleman are all RFAs, and although Holder does not make any specific predictions, it sounds as if Snead may be playing elsewhere in 2018, but Breaux and Coleman could be back.
  • Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press says Lions GM Bob Quinn has shown a few noticeable draft tendencies in his first several years on the job, including his apparent preferences to draft for need, to draft high-floor prospects (even if those prospects don’t have the potential to be stars), and to draft high-character players with track records at major collegiate programs. In light of that, Birkett predicts that Detroit will select Boston College DE Harold Landry in the first round of the 2018 draft.
  • We learned earlier today that it does not look like Anthony Hitchens will be back with the Cowboys.

Julius Peppers Leaning Toward Returning

Julius Peppers is leaning toward returning for a 17th NFL season rather than retiring, a source close to the Panthers defensive end told Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer.

Fowler notes that the future Hall of Fame candidate has already undergone shoulder surgery this offseason and was believed to have played through the injury this past season. That wasn’t enough to stop the now-38-year-old from leading the Panthers with 11 sacks while fulfilling a part-time role.

A 2002 Panthers first-round pick, Peppers returned to his native North Carolina last year after spending three seasons with the Packers and the previous four with the Bears. Peppers has still been a reliable contributor despite approaching age 40. He’s appeared in all 16 games in each of the past 10 seasons while collecting at least seven sacks each year. Peppers also holds the Panthers’ all-time record for career sacks (92).

Peppers is set hit unrestricted free agency this offseason after signing a one-year, $3.5MM deal with the Panthers last offseason. The Panthers, who returned to the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons, also have another key free agent on its defensive line in Star Lotulelei. Mario Addison and Charles Johnson represent the other key Panthers defensive ends under contract, though the latter might profile as a cut candidate.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Julius Peppers Undergoes Shoulder Surgery

Panthers veteran defensive end Julius Peppers underwent surgery on his right shoulder, the player posted to his Instagram account and the team later confirmed. The procedure was a repair of his labrum, Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer hears from a source (Twitter link). Julius Peppers (vertical)

In his Instagram story, Peppers says, “Thanks everyone for the calls, texts and wishes. Everything went smooth and I’m recovering well.” He was seen at times wearing a brace on the same shoulder during the 2017 season. It is not clear at this time if the surgery has any implications on his status for the 2018 season. Set to be a free agent, Peppers has said he intends to take time before deciding on his future plans.

The injury did not slow him down in 2017. At the age of 37, he played in all 16 games and registered a team-high 11 sacks while helping Carolina earn a return to the postseason. His standout season helped him move to fourth place on the all-time sack list with 154.5. Only Bruce Smith (200), Reggie White (198) and Kevin Greene (160) have tallied more.

Though he turned 38 in January, Peppers obviously can still contribute at the NFL level and is sure to draw interest from potential playoff teams in 2018.

 

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC Notes: Panthers, Peppers, Giants, Apple

The Panthers would like to have 37-year-old Julius Peppers back in the fold next year, as David Newton of ESPN.com writes.

I’d love for him to come back, absolutely,’’ head coach Ron Rivera said. “And I know we’ve managed him [in terms of practice time] and we’ll do whatever we need to. But it’s all up to him. He’s had a very good year. Who knows? Hopefully, we can keep it rolling.”

Peppers is playing out a one-year deal with a base value of $3.5MM that could reach up to $4.25MM with bonuses. Of course, his focus is currently on helping the Panthers advance in the playoffs.

Here’s more from the NFC:

  • New Giants GM Dave Gettleman had a sit-down meeting with Eli Apple this week, according to Paul Schwartz of the New York Post (on Twitter). Schwartz takes this as a sign that Apple could still be in the team’s plans for 2018 and Mike Garafolo of NFL.com (on Twitter) agrees. However, that comes with the caveat that Apple shows increased maturity. If all goes right, both Apple and offensive lineman Ereck Flowers could be a part of the team moving forward.
  • The Cardinals are in town to interview Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz for their head coach opening today, a source tells Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer (on Twitter). First, Schwartz gets his shot in the afternoon, followed by DeFilippo in the evening.
  • The Packers want to talk to a key executive from the Ravens about their GM vacancy.