It remains to be seen whether the Carolina Panthers will place the franchise tag or sign Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers to a long-term deal.
If Peppers does reach free agency, Peppers will be one of the few marquee talents to be an unrestricted free agent. In eight NFL seasons, Peppers' production has been outstanding. He has 81.0 career sacks, 41 pass deflections, six interceptions and a pair of touchdowns. He's had double-digit sack totals in six of his eight seasons and has had 25 in the last two years combined. At 6-7, 283 pounds, Peppers is an athletic marvel with perfect size.
Analysts insist that if Peppers does become a free agent, the Eagles will be one of the most likely destinations for his services. ESPN's Gary Horton said that the Eagles could use a more consistent defensive end opposite of Trent Cole even though Juqua Parker had a career-high 8.5 sacks in 2009.
Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com wrote a column explaining that for everything that makes Peppers such an attractive free agent target, there is one major problem. It's not necessarily his price tag, which will be high since he was the third highest-paid player in the NFL last season according to the NFLPA.
It's his age. Peppers is 30 years old.
"That is a concern for pass rushers," one NFC personnel director told Prisco. "That's an issue with Peppers."
The Eagles have two defensive ends who are 30-or-older: Darren Howard is 33 and Parker is 31. Jason Babin is set to become an unrestricted free agent and will be 30 in May.
"When you hit that number," said an AFC personnel director to Prisco, "you have to factor it because of the history. Guys don't get better when they get older, especially at that position."
Prisco doesn't just cite current talent evaluators. He looked at the numbers and they speak for themselves.
"In the 10 seasons from 1999 to 2008, there were 17 men who finished a season ranked in the top 10 in sacks in a season in which they started it 30 or older. Of those 17, only four repeated a top-10 sack season, one of those coming last season when Pittsburgh's James Harrison had 10 sacks after getting 16 at the age of 30 in 2008.
"The other three to accomplish the feat in the past decade were Michael Strahan, Simeon Rice and Jason Taylor. But even they weren't the same after 30. Strahan had 22.5 sacks to lead the league in 2002, a league record, in the year he turned 30. In the six years after that, he averaged 9.5 sacks. But in the final four years of his career he averaged 6.9 sacks a season."
It would be interesting to be a fly on the wall at the NovaCare Complex as the Eagles decide how to approach free agency and whether they decide to target Peppers should he become a free agent.
The Panthers have until Feb. 25 to place the franchise tag on Peppers. Free agency kicks off midnight on March 5.
-- Posted by Chris McPherson, 2:15 p.m., February 16