Continuing on a question that has picked up some steam after ESPN reported Julius Peppers likely will not return to Carolina, and Jeff Schultz wrote an article proclaiming the Falcons need to pull the trigger on signing Peppers, the question is worth pondering. Julius Peppers was franchised by the Carolina Panthers for the 2009 season and signed his tender for whopping $16.7 million a year. Peppers had a Pro Bowl year finishing with 10.5 sacks, 42 tackles, 5 forced fumbles, and 2 interceptions. Initial opinions from Falcon fans seemed to be pretty mixed. A look at the pro and con sides:
Defensive end has been an up and down position for the Atlanta Falcons for some time. The Falcons made a huge trade for John Abraham from the Jets and inked him to a 6 year deal (this year will number 5) and was thought to form one of the most lethal DE combinations in football with Patrick Kerney on the other side. The duo rarely saw the field at the same time with injuries to both. The Birds drafted Jamaal Anderson and the rest has been history. To say that Anderson hasn’t worked out at DE would be putting it lightly (although he may have a future at DE) and Abraham had an amazing year in 2008 with 16.5 sacks, but had a big drop-off this year at 6.5. Peppers would finally solve the defensive end argument once and for all. Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury Jr. may have potential but are young and unproven. It is true that Peppers would carry some serious money, but it might be time to add some veterans to a very young defense. Add a perennial Pro Bowler on the other end from Abraham and watch the cornerbacks and defensive tackles immediately improve. He is up there in age, but the money’s worth it: send me my Peppers Falcons jersey now!
It is true that defensive end has had its issues since drafting Anderson with the number 8 overall pick, but there’s no way that the money would be worth the return on Peppers. He is an outstanding defensive end, but will command over $15 million dollars a year and the Falcons simply have too many holes and lack too much depth up and down the roster to spend on a veteran that is on the downslide. Abraham may have had a down year, but just one year ago he had 16.5 sacks and has been with the team for over 4 years. The defensive line didn’t create much pressure on the QB, but did dramatically increase its run stopping ability, not one of Peppers strong points. Add to that the fact that Peppers has developed a reputation of taking plays off and you get the feeling that the price doesn’t match the product.
Although many fans like to point to the failed pick of Anderson, the Falcons have some potential on their own roster in Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury Jr. Biermann in particular is primed for a breakout. He increased his sack total from 2 sacks to 5 from one to the next and has shown one of the best motors on the Falcons squad. Biermann had almost half the amount of sacks that Peppers had with 300 less snaps. Sidbury Jr. had only a small amount of snaps, but came away with one sack and fumble return for a touchdown. Neither Biermann or Sidbury Jr. might be the answer, but they at least deserve a chance to prove it. (Thanks to Unca’ Bob for the best stats website around ProFootballFocus.com)
Stats – snaps/sacks/tackles/forced fumbles/ints/QB hits/QB pressures/batted passes
Julius Peppers – 806 sn – 10.5 sk – 42 tkl – 5 ff – 2 int – 10 hts – 33 prs – 1 bp
Kroy Biermann – 499 sn – 5 sk – 49 tkl – 1 ff – 0 int – 7 hts – 18 prs – 0 bp
It’s likely the realization of the off-season setting in that makes one ponder seemingly ridiculous questions, but one has popped up a few times in the last few weeks. When Thomas Dimitroff pulled the trigger on the trade to get Tony Gonzalez the week before the draft, the deal was met with a smattering of praise for TD and loud boos for Kansas City’s new GM Scott Pioli. Dimitroff’s former mentor was roundly criticized for letting the greatest tight end in NFL history for a second round pick, in the next draft, not even in the current one. The deal was thought to be net win for Atlanta Falcons, who would likely get two and maybe three years out of Gonzalez and accelerate the process of going deep in the playoffs, while also expanding Matt Ryan’s passing arsenal. The stats certainly back up Dimitroff’s decision, with #88 having a Pro Bowl worthy year including almost 900 yards receiving and 6 touchdowns.
Gonzalez is coming back next year for sure, but even the fact that he considered retiring definitely poses a new light on the Gonzalez trade. With the trade, Piolo now owns 3 draft picks in the top 50 in one of the deepest drafts in NFL history. On the flip side, TD now doesn’t have a second round pick in one of the most talented draft pools, a year after having his first two picks, Peria Jerry and William Moore, go down for the season. Most Falcon fans will certainly agree that the Gonzo deal was a net gain, even if he only plays for one more year and that doesn’t mean a Super Bowl, but after seeing the Falcons take somewhat of small step back this year, the Gonzalez trade may have accelerated expectations a bit too much. If Gonzalez plays in 2011, the deal is an overwhelming win for the Birds. The Falcons are on the right track, but still have many holes to fill up and down the roster. Not having a second rounder sure is tough, but having the best TE to ever play the game eases that pain really well.
Speaking of Tight Ends……
Even though we have the best tight end to ever play the game on our roster with Tony Gonzalez, he will be playing one more year for sure, but 2011 is anyone’s guess. The Falcons should take a look at drafting a tight end (later round perhaps) that can learn and tutor under the best and be ready to take over when TG leaves the game. A few performances from the Senior Bowl:
Colin Peek (Alabama) – Not sure if Peek will be available when the Falcons look to draft a tight end, but this guy can be excellent value for which ever team drafts him. Peek has good size (6’6, 255), possesses good hands, can run block extremely well, and can stretch the field (as evidenced in his 25 yard touchdown strike. Played for National Champion Alabama in the rough and tumble SEC.
Ed Dickson (Oregon) – Had a pretty good game with limited action in the Senior Bowl and showed good quickness and being able to get yards after the catch. Very good build at 6’5, 243 lbs and has very good speed and route running ability for a tight end. Surely probably needs work on blocking, but a good talent in pass catching. Had a beautiful 31 yard catch and run.
Garrett Graham (Wisconsin) – Graham displayed very good hands and being able to sit down in space to open up as a big target. Only had one reception for 10 yards, but after being extremely productive in college, could develop as an all-purpose TE with correct guidance and development.