BY NEAL MALONE
With the draft quickly approaching, NFL teams are in the process of deciding what to do with existing personnel. Whether it has to do with franchise tags, contract negotiations, or performance issues, we are set to hear plenty of big announcements from teams in the coming weeks.
This week, the league has already seen the likes of Julius Peppers, Darren Sharper, LaDanian Tomlinson, and Brian Westbrook enter the 2010 free agent market. Peppers and Sharper both enjoyed a great deal of success on the defensive side of the ball last season, but the Panthers and Saints appeared unwilling to compete with the steep price tags. Tomlinson and Westbrook both have big names, but their injury issues and age make them very risky players to sign to a major deal.
So the question is…what’s next for these guys?
Let’s start with Peppers, who I believe has the ability to play at the highest level out of all four of these players. With 10.5 sacks as a member of a poor Carolina team last year, it’s clear Peppers would really be able to help a team. I think you’ll see him get a fairly lucrative offer from a team not far off from making an impact in the playoffs.
Sharper is the second best option here. Yes, at 34, you wonder how much longer he can play. But he’s coming off a Pro Bowl year in which his team, the Saints, won it all. Sharper played a huge part in New Orleans’ success too, grabbing 9 INTs and scoring an amazing 3 defensive TDs. Sharper returning to the Saints isn’t out of the question, but some negotiations will have to take place for that to happen. Normally with players his age, they want to go to a big time contender, but he just won a title. So I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw Sharper sign a 1-year deal somewhere convenient for him and his family at this stage in his career.
As for Westbrook and Tomlinson, I’m going to group them together. They both have little left in the tank and can barely stay on the field thanks to a number of injuries. NFL running backs these days have such short shelf lives and both of these guys have been on the shelve for a long time. I’m not saying that neither of them will ever have success again, but their days of being #1 running backs are over. Look for both of these geezers to shoot for a backup role on a Super Bowl caliber team. Let’s face it, all they want to do before they retire is win a title…they could care less who it’s with.
Peppers…it’s possible. Sharper…maybe. Westbrook…probably not. Tomlinson…no.
Adewale Ogunleye is aging and is definitely less effective than Peppers at this point. Alex Brown is still alright and you can never tell when Mark Anderson is going to be on or off. So with that being said, Peppers wouldn’t be a bad move for the Bears. I think I would just rather have them upgrade elsewhere like receiver, O-line, or cornerback.
Sharper is no doubt better than the safeties the Bears have right now, but I have a feeling Lovie and Co. may want to continue to groom young guys like Al Afalava.
Westbrook’s skill set would be fantastic for Mike Martz’s system. His ability to catch the ball with blazing speed out of the backfield is highly desirable for the Bears, but he is SO injury prone that he may be too high of a risk for a team that has plenty of other holes to be filled.
Tomlinson would be an absolute no-no for the Bears. He isn’t fast anymore, he doesn’t have the moves like he used to, and running between the tackles is his specialty and not Mike Martz’s. He’s also probably going to want a lot more money than the Bears would be willing to give him.