Should Dallas Go After Peppers?

In an announcement that stunned absolutely nobody, Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers said Tuesday that he does not want a long-term extension from his current employer.

Apparently the fact that the team hasn't fallen at his feet, begging for the opportunity to heap truckloads of cash on its star has hurt his feelings by making him feel "ignored."

We all should be so ignored.

The 6-7, 283-pound Peppers is one of the most impressive physical specimens in the NFL — maybe in NFL history — and one of the most feared pass rushers in the game. He combines elite size with outrageous quickness and athleticism (remember, while playing at North Carolina, he also played on the Tar Heels' basketball team) and technique that is as good as that of any other defensive end in the NFL. Not surprisingly, he is an annual Pro Bowler and among the highest-paid defensive players in the NFL. Last year, the Panthers used their franchise tag on him, and he had to get by on a one-year deal worth only $16.7 million — plus a $1.5 million bonus for making the Pro Bowl.

Should the Cowboys be interested in Peppers? Before answering immediately, consider two things:

1. Three Dallas defensive ends — Marcus Spears, Jason Hatcher and Stephen Bowen — are free agents, and while it's unlikely that all three leave for better offers, Peppers is better than any of them.

2. Jerry Jones obviously isn't afraid to open up his checkbook for marquee players. With the likelihood that the 2010 season is played without a salary cap, the outrageous amount of marketing money coming in through the team's new stadium, and the possibility that loading up means Dallas could play in next year's Super Bowl in its home stadium, he could be tempted to break the bank for a player who just might put his team in a position to win another Lombardi Trophy.

Before he signed with the Panthers last year, Peppers made no secret of the fact that he wouldn't mind trading one blue and silver (and black) uniform for another silver and blue. While he has played most of his career in a 4-3 alignment, the common thinking is that he is big enough and strong enough and fast enough to play in the 3-4 alignment the Cowboys employ. If the coaches decide he's not a fit a defensive end in the 3-4, there also is speculation he could drop back to an outside linebacker spot. With all due respect to Anthony Spencer, imagine being an offensive line coach who has to prepare for a game in which his blockers have to protect their quarterback from Peppers coming from one side (out of a stand-up position, no less), DeMarcus Ware coming from the other and Jay Ratliff up the middle.

That's the kind of defense that can make an offensive line coach look for another line of work.

Carolina could retain Peppers for another year by using the franchise tag on him again, but that would require a raise of 20 percent, which would push his salary just over the $20 million mark. He's a great player, but is he worth that much?

So if the Panthers decide they have had enough of their mercurial star, should the Cowboys make a run at him?

No.

That's not to suggest he wouldn't make an already-good Dallas defense better — Peppers would make just about every defense in the league better because of his singular ability to rush the passer create havoc in opposing backfields. But he wouldn't be the right fit in Dallas.

The Cowboys have had their share of locker room distractions: Terrell Owens. Pacman Jones. Quincy Carter. Remember when Drew Henson was "the next great Dallas quarterback"? Guys like that sell newspapers and jerseys — each of which makes Jerry Jones giddy — but there's a cost involved with each, too.

Peppers has exceptional talent, and at 30 years old, there's no reason to believe he doesn't have several productive seasons left in him.

But one thing that contributed significantly to the Cowboys' strong finish this season is the harmony that exists in the locker room. There was no T.O. circus, no reports of infighting among teammates. The players genuinely like each other. Newcomers like Gerald Sensabaugh and Igor Olshansky were embraced immediately.

Messing with chemistry like that is a dangerous proposition, and Peppers, while enormously talented, is a guy who could split a locker room with his diva act and a salary that almost certainly would exceed that of all current Cowboys, including DeMarcus Ware and Tony Romo. Whether he deserves more than those two is irrelevant — handing him the keys to a Brinks truck before he ever suited up in Dallas would be a bad move.

Jerry Jones loves his star players, and Peppers is without question a star. But if Carolina jettisons the best defensive player in team history, Jones has to resist the urge to go after him. Especially if the 2010 season is played without a cap, there's no question the Cowboys can afford him.

But in this case, Dallas needs to pass.

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