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Ask PFW, Part I: Pepper-ed with questions

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Carolina Panthers DE/LB Julius Peppers. Photo by Getty Images.

[Carolina Panthers defensive end] Julius Peppers recently stated that he doesn't want to return to Carolina next year and wants to go to a team with a 3-4 defense. The Pats run a 3-4 defense and have been contenders for the playoffs this entire decade. Is there any chance that Peppers will join the Pats next year?Justin Han

Being that Peppers wants to leave Carolina, do you believe he has a future with the Patriots? He did mention he wants to play in a 3-4. Do you believe the Patriots would be willing to spend the money on him?
Celo

Julius Peppers wants out of Carolina and wants to play in a 3-4 defense. Would he be willing/able to play left OLB in New England? And what are the chances of getting [free agent middle linebacker] Jonathan Vilma on the inside next to Mayo?
Steve Warren

Any chance Julius Peppers lands here?
Michael Monk, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

This would be a monumental score for the Patriots if they were able to sign Peppers. At 29, he's coming off one of his best seasons as a pro and still looks like he has plenty of good football left in him. And indicating he wants to play in a 3-4 certainly narrows his field of choices down to a handful of teams, New England among them.

I would love to see how Bill Belichick would employ such a phenomenal athlete with Peppers' rare combination of exceptional speed and strength. I think he'd be a great fit and would play wherever he was asked to play – on the line, on the edge, as a tight end. The guy can flat-out make plays no matter where he lines up.

And the fact the he lost his only Super Bowl appearance (to the Pats in '03) means he's one of those "hungry" veterans whom Belichick likes to sign in the prime of their careers. Of course, the Pats have the consider the size of the contract he would want, and whether they'd have enough to sign him and keep nose tackle Vince Wilfork and defensive end Richard Seymour as well. I'm guessing the Pats will lock up Wilfork with an extension sometime this year. If it comes down to choosing between Seymour and Peppers … well … that could get interesting. My instincts tell me Peppers might be the more attractive option for the Patriots at this point.
Erik Scalavino

What are the percentages of a high-profile linebacker (Terrell Suggs, Bart Scott, Karlos Dansby) coming here, versus a lower-tier guy (Adam Seward)? I'm excited for the draft, but I'd like to see them get at least one new defender in place who's produced at the NFL level.Chris W.

As Bill would say, "I don't know how you'd put a percentage on it." But your point is well taken. Of that first trio you mentioned, I'd love to see the Pats go after Dansby, a guy in his prime and having a career year. But something tells me the Cardinals will want to keep him, either with the franchise tag or with a big-money offer. We'll have to wait and see. Suggs has more in the way of sacks, as compared to Dansby, but I like the latter's overall game better. Arizona probably does, too.

Scott is an intriguing prospect, considering Jerod Mayo's rapid development after just one season. Because I agree, I'd like to see a proven inside linebacker join the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year in the middle of New England's 3-4 in '09, and Scott would certainly fit that bill.

Seward was a guy whose name was mentioned last off-season as a possible Pats pickup. He was a restricted free agent at the time and that may or may not have played a role in New England's ultimate decision not to pursue him. He also hasn't really done much in Carolina (45 total tackles in four seasons), so that might be another reason. If he were to sign here, I'd imagine it'd be more for depth than to challenge for a starting job.
Erik Scalavino

Since he seems to want out of K.C., would [running back] Larry Johnson be a good fit to upgrade the Pats ground game and take pressure off the QB? He is a proven #1 back, like a Corey Dillon was. Could he be a force after changing teams like Dillon was? Or is he too expensive, trouble, on the downside?Ron Vice, Canada

Good question. Yes, Johnson is a proven feature back and could have an impact if he changed teams, like Dillon did when he came to New England in '04. I don't know enough about his character, however, to know whether or not Belichick would want to risk signing him. Johnson certainly can play when he wants to play. But that's the thing. I'm not always sure when he wants to play. That's a problem if you want to play on a Belichick team. But people said that about Dillon, too, towards the end there in Cincinnati. I wouldn't rule out Johnson as a possibility for the Pats, but I certainly wouldn't bank on it, either.
Erik Scalavino

Do you think there's even a remote chance the Pats could land either Mike Shanahan or Jon Gruden as offensive coordinator? Neither looks to be primed for a head coaching gig this year, and both are offensive masterminds that Belichick has lavished praise on with regularity. It sounds like a dream team coaching possibility to me.Will B.

It certainly would make for a star-studded coaching staff. They might spend more time talking about their Super Bowl rings than about the offense. And you're right, Bill has been highly complimentary of both coaches. A remote chance? Sure.

But there's still a chance the Chiefs could part ways with Herm Edwards, in which case either Gruden or Shanahan could become a candidate for the top job there. And another aspect to consider with these two men is that, whoever ends up calling the shots for the Patriots offense this coming season, he'll be calling plays from an already-established Patriots offense. The system is probably not going to change significantly. Were either Shanahan or Gruden to come here as OC, they'd likely want to bring in their offensive philosophies. I doubt, at this point, that an overhaul of the New England offense is what Belichick is looking for in a coordinator.
Erik Scalavino

Is there any chance a Patriot great like Troy Brown that might come back as an assistant coach (wide receivers coach in the case of Troy)? Are there any other alumni that possess coaching qualities that Belichick might like to consider?Mark Webber, Dunstable

Another great question. Absolutely, I think Troy Brown could be an assistant coach. Thing is, I don't believe he wants such a job. He's been asked about it before and each time, at least that I can remember, he's indicated that the hours are just too long for his liking. As for other alumni, I can think of two off-hand.

I've always felt that former QB Steve Grogan would be an excellent quarterbacks coach and/or offensive coordinator, and I believe he gave it serious consideration not long after his retirement. He maintains his residence in the Foxborough area and still has a keen mind for the game, but the opportunity may have passed him by at this point. Former Patriot Corwin Brown is another alum with coaching chops. He's currently the defensive coordinator/DB coach on Charlie Weis' staff at Notre Dame.
Erik Scalavino

I have heard that the NFL Draft selection order goes by team record, worst to best. Is this true? If, say, Arizona wins the Super Bowl, would they pick before us because their regular season record was worse?Brendan O'Connor

How is a team's draft order affected as a result of being in the playoffs? As an example, if an 8-8 team makes it to the Super Bowl, do they drop to one of the last two slots in the draft order?
Tony Tauro

Each year, the two teams that reach the Super Bowl occupy the 31st and 32nd slots in each round of the draft, regardless of regular-season record. The Super Bowl winner takes 32, the loser 31. So, yes, if an 8-8 team were to make it to the Super Bowl, they would be picking in either one of these positions.

However, the other teams that make the playoffs are lumped in with all the rest and have their draft order determined by their regular season record. So, for example, San Diego, an 8-8 team that won the AFC West, will draft higher than New England, an 11-5 team that failed to make the playoffs.
Erik Scalavino

I can't believe the NFL way for the draft seedings!!!! A playoff team such as the San Diego Chargers will draft higher than the Patriots, who did not make the playoffs. Come on!!! Don't tell me about the records. The NFL needs to change that. Playoffs team should be the last to draft. I don't have a problem with division winners going to the playoffs. I think that is fine. But then they get to draft ahead of non-playoff teams. That is WRONG!!!
Russell Forry

I feel your anger, Russell. And you make a fair point. A better record doesn't necessarily guarantee a playoff spot (as New England found out this year), so it shouldn't necessarily relegate you to a lower draft position.

Playoff teams should fill the bottom 12 spots in the draft, in ascending order from 32 based on both record and their finish in the post-season. So, for example, this year, either Pittsburgh or Arizona will draft 32 because they will have won the Super Bowl; the losing team will pick at 31. That's always the case, as mentioned in the previous answer.

In our revised format, Baltimore would then pick 30th and Philly 29th because both lost the Conference Championships and the Ravens had the better record of the two. Tennessee, New York, Carolina, and San Diego would get the 28th through 25th slots, based on record, for having lost in the Divisional round. As losers on Wild Card Weekend, Indy, Miami, Atlanta, and Minnesota would pick 24th through 21st.

New England, therefore, would be drafting at 20 because they had the best record of any non-playoff team. That, to me, seems like a more equitable option than the one in place at the moment, which has the Pats picking at 23, below three other teams that made the playoffs (Minnesota, Philly, and San Diego).

The Pats did move up a spot, though. Originally, they were to draft 24th, but since Arizona is in the Super Bowl, they automatically move down, so New England gets bumped up a spot to 23.
Erik Scalavino

In terms of cap space going into 2009, do you have any idea what will be that number?Phillip Chicola, Guatemala

The salary cap for each NFL team for 2009 is projected to be $123 million.
Erik Scalavino

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