Buyer Beware!


Two years ago, a significant event occurred in the Great Northwest that has sent waves throughout the NFL.  Those waves have finally begun to reach the base of Bank of America Stadium.

It was March of 2006.  The Seattle Seahawks had just benefited from one of the greatest single-season rushing performances in league history by their franchise running back, Shaun Alexander.  During the 2005 season, Alexander posted impressive statistics with 1880 yards and 27 touchdowns rushing while also contributing 15 receptions and one TD receiving.

The performance has since been eclipsed by LaDainian Tomlinson.  But 2005 was viewed as a sign that Alexander had arrived.  He had proven his worth to the team and the game as he garnered league MVP honors.

Seahawks brass had a decision to make.  Should they take their chances that their soon-to-be free agent would return to Seattle or begin throwing cash in his direction?  They chose the latter.

They responded to Alexander’s 2005 performance with a brand new 8-year, $62 million deal that included $15 million in guarantees.

Flashback to the 2005 offseason.  The Seahawks had entertained trade offers involving Alexander but couldn’t complete a deal.  He had just come off of a season in which he had gained nearly 1700 yards and scored 16 touchdowns.  That’s when Alexander entered the 2005 season and performed even beyond the team’s expectations.

That was a contract year.

Fast forward now, some two years to Charlotte.

Julius Peppers is coming off what was a disappointing season.  His numbers across the board declined in 2007 as his sack total dropped from 13 to 2.5 and his tackle total from 57 to 38.

The key part of Peppers’ situation is that the 2008 season will be a contract year for the pass rusher.  He and the team now face a dilemma much like the Seahawks and Alexander faced just before the 2005 season.

Rumors persist that trade talks have been quietly on-going though the team publically denies it.  John Fox recently told the Charlotte Observer that he isn’t trading Peppers.  “I love Julius Peppers,” he said. “We want him to be with our team for years to come.”

Here’s where the team could be doing itself a complete disservice.  If they enter the season with Peppers on the roster they can expect one of two things – more of the same or that he returns to his previous form.

If they reward him now with a new deal he loses one thing – the same motivation that Alexander had going into a career year to prove what he is capable of and to earn his biggest payday as a pro.

Just as important, J-Pep is already set to earn $6.5 million for 2008.  That’s more than any other Panther.  More than Jake Delhomme.  More than Steve Smith.  More than DeAngelo Williams, Muhsin Muhammad, D.J. Hackett, and more than all the Panthers.

The organization is telling us that they want him to remain in Charlotte and that’s fine.  But paying him now before this season will be a mistake of much larger proportions than waiting until after the season would be.

These are two eerily similar situations.  The Seahawks made one good and one bad decision.  Good that they waited, didn’t trade Alexander and allowed him to prove his worth and one bad by throwing far too much cash in his direction after that career year.

It’s hardly a stretch that his huge payday was a mistake considering the type of collapse Alexander had in 2007 and that the team is widely believed to be on the verge of releasing him.  And just how much of that contract would they have to eat when he is released?

Signing players to extremely lucrative deals hasn’t exactly proven to be a boon to a team’s financial status.  Pittsburgh just re-signed Big Ben to a deal that hamstrung them so badly that they could hardly maneuver in free agency.  Are the Panthers prepared now to throw the big cash at Peppers and put themselves in a poor salary cap position?

Sure, it’s easy to argue that Peppers earned a large payday in his first three seasons in the league posting a total of 53.5 sacks, 250 tackles and 3 interceptions.  But take a look back at 2007.  Something was wrong.  Whatever it was – a lack of motivation, poor defensive schemes, poor health – needs to be addressed before slinging Benjamins around the headquarters like they’re going out of style.

This is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league.  It’s a business.  And no business that I know of would pay you even more than the $6.5 million you’re due for the coming year after having witnessed your performance slip like Peppers’ did last year.

I want to see J-Pep stay in Charlotte.  He’s a talented player and pass rushers of his ilk simply don’t grow on trees.  I just believe it needs to be under more urgent circumstances.  Make 2007 a contract year for the big man.

Let him earn his big payday in 2008.  Just don’t go crazy with that payday like the Seahawks did with Alexander.