Thursday, March 26

Is Julius Peppers as bad as TO?

To have this discussion, we must first acknowledge that TO is, at least in part, a creation of the media. There are inherent differences between the two players. TO has craved the spotlight, while Julius shies away from it. TO has been vocally disruptive and publicly criticized his coaches and fellow players alike. Peppers has never caused such problems, again shying away from the spotlight to the point of being called a loner by his fellow teammates. Terrell wanted more money from the Eagles, while Julius turned down a contract to be the highest paid defensive player in the league. So how can it be possible that two so diametrically opposed players possibly be similar? Let's take a look.

TO's time in San Francisco was not always pleasant, but he did deliver on the playing field. In many ways, the rift between himself and the organization began after he scored two touchdowns in Dallas and celebrated on the star. The next season he set a career high in receptions with 100 and was instrumental in the team's comeback win in the playoffs against the Giants (9 catches, 177 yds, 2 TD) while having a contentious relationship with then coach Steve Mariucci and QB Jeff Garcia. The following season he and offensive coordinator Greg Knapp had a verbal disagreement on the sidelines and the Owens and the Niners agreed to part company.

Despite having none of the public discord surrounding Owens, Peppers last season was of the mind that he did not want to return to the Carolina Panthers. He recorded 14.5 sacks, a tremendous total, but without maximum effort. He recorded a third of those in two games against the woeful Raiders and Lions (3 and 2 respectively) and he also recorded sacks against the Vikings and the Chiefs, two teams in the bottom third of the league in sacks allowed. So, 7 of his 14.5 sacks came in four games against three of the worst teams in the league and one who had just made a quarterback change to the immobile Gus Frerotte. Peppers also recorded a sack for 0 yards lost, but did incur an unnecessary roughness penalty on the same play (a net of +7 yards for the offense) and one against the Falcons in the final two minutes with the Panthers up 15. All of this is not to bag on Peppers, but to point out that the total number of sacks is not representative of number 90's play. He was without a doubt, a tremendous difference maker in the first game against the Saints, but beyond that he could often be found playing to not get hurt, skirting around piles, and arriving just in time for tackles to be made by other players, as he recorded three or fewer tackles in twelve of the team's games last year. The image of him playing pattycake with Adrian Peterson's back instead of tackling the hulking beast of a running back will not soon be forgotten (and served as the inspiration for this poster).

While TO was not happy with the situation in San Francisco, he continued to produce at a high level. With Peppers not happy with his situation, he did not bring the off the field attention that Owens did, but his performance was not as good either. Perhaps a most telling stat, in the playoff game against the Giants Terrell's touchdowns tied Julius's mark for career playoff sacks (eight games) with two.

When TO's troubles with Philadelphia started it was not about philosophy, but about money. He was not being paid on par with the upper echelon receivers as most of his $49 million contract was back-loaded. Peppers has never had this problem, as twice the Panthers have offered him monster contracts, both of which he turned down. The similarities, however, rise out of contract disputes. After the Eagles made the Super Bowl and with TO returning quicker than anyone thought possible to play (well) in the game, Owens hired Drew Rosenhaus. Rosenhaus, one of the most publicly disliked agents has experience representing over 100 clients in the NFL. During the '05 season, Owens and Rosenhaus were a distraction to the team, culminating with the suspension of TO after seven games. It should be noted that he had over 750 yards receiving and 6 Touchdowns already and Owens was to make $4.5 million dollars for that season. The Eagles ultimately released Owens when faced with paying him a $5 million roster bonus.

For Julius, the drama began almost as soon as this 08-09 season ended. There was the awkward Pro Bowl interview where he dodged questions about his future in Carolina and his agent throwing down the gauntlet, "Julius is ready to move on and play for another team." The agent, Carl Carey, represents (and has represented) only one client in the NFL, Peppers. Carey stated there were no circumstances under which he wanted to return to the Panthers. Peppers in a written statement made it clear he felt he could do more elsewhere, "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." He's expressed interest in playing in a 3-4 scheme as a linebacker, an unprecedented move for a man of his size.

The 2005 season for the Eagles was terribly disappointing, going 6-10 after reaching the Super Bowl the year before. With so much focus and energy being spent on their malcontent receiver, the team floundered. As we look ahead at the 09-10 season, the Panthers could be very much in the same boat (minus the Super Bowl trip the year prior). With Carl Carey acting as his agent, Peppers has refused to sign the one-year tender offer of the Carolina Panthers, resulting in the team being unable to negotiate trades with other teams. Odd considering his stance when asked about the prospect of the team using the franchise tag on him earlier this off-season, "If they decide to use the tag on me, the first thing that I'll be doing is requesting a trade." Under the auspices of playing hardball, his refusal to sign the tender is the one thing preventing that from happening. Where TO's cap number was less than $5 million for the '05 season, Peppers's will be almost $17 million. Just by applying the franchise tag, the team has been handicapped in it's ability to sign free agents or even re-sign their own. While TO's displeasure has often been accompanied by public outbursts and off the field drama, he's never had nearly the negative on-the-field presence that Peppers and his audacious contract will next season. With NFL writers around the league now of the opinion that Peppers won't be going anywhere and with his agent more than willing to accept such a large commission (while screwing up a much larger deal opportunity for Peppers), the Panthers will effectively be stuck in a holding pattern for a year, while their star Steve Smith gets a year older and their young stars Jon Beason and DeAngelo Williams get a year closer to free agency and there's no guarantee that the team won't be in the same situation next off-season.

There's little doubt that TO's outlandish behavior far outweighs the non-existent negatives of Julius Peppers off the field, but on it Owens has never crippled a franchise the way Julius will this off-season. If Julius is unhappy he will not produce the way TO did when he was upset with a situation and Panthers fans have seen that over the last two seasons. While Peppers will never have the three ring circus following him the way Terrell did, Owens and his management have never crippled a franchise the way Peppers and his clueless agent are poised to, if he continues to refuse to sign the tender offer. The worst part is neither side is getting what they want and it's solely do to Carl Carey's ineptitude as an agent that this seemingly ludicrous comparison is even plausible.

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