NFL free agent whispers: Vol. 4

Packer Report's Bill Huber puts a Packers slant on some hard-hitting free agent storylines.

The Green Bay Packers could enter the free agent market looking for a right tackle, where longtime stalwart Mark Tauscher is a free agent and is coming off of a major knee injury.

The list of free agent right tackles is good but not great, and two of the top players at that position also required major operations.

Last week, longtime Philadelphia right tackle Jon Runyan needed surgery on his right knee. He thought he might need only arthroscopic surgery, which would barely affect his offseason. Instead, he needed microfracture surgery, which, according to the Philadelphia Daily News, will sideline him for between four and six months.

Training camps don't open for about five-and-a-half months, so that's the good news for Runyan. The bad news is the 35-year-old Runyan — like Tauscher — would ideally be available to take part in offseason practices and minicamps with a new team. Surgery, however, will keep that from happening and potentially will scare off suitors.

"I think there's enough of a track record out there that it's not going to totally kill me," said Runyan, who has started 192 consecutive games. "The doctor says I should be as good as new. But I'm not going to be able to prove it until time to play."

Meanwhile, Cincinnati right tackle Stacy Andrews is in a similar situation as Tauscher after needing reconstruction of his right knee after tearing his ACL and MCL. Surgery was completed about a month ago and Andrews told the team's Web site that he's "ahead of schedule."

"Right now, all I'm concerned about is showing I can be at 100 percent and kick butt again," Andrews told Bengals.com.

While Tauscher will turn 32 in June, Andrews will be just 28. Andrews, who played under the franchise tag last season, might have to spend the first six weeks of the season on the physically unable to perform list, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said recently.

Before the season, Tauscher, Runyan and Andrews were considered the three best right tackles in this free agent class. With their injuries, Miami's Vernon Carey and Pittsburgh's Max Starks, who shifted to the left side to replace an injured Marvel Smith this season, have moved up the pecking order. Pittsburgh's Willie Colon and Atlanta's Tyson Clabo are restricted free agents.

Peppers still wants out

In a bizarre sideline interview during the Pro Bowl, Julius Peppers — in a rambling sort of way — made no bones about his desire to get out of Carolina so he can play in a 3-4 defense.

NBC's Cris Collinsworth didn't understand Peppers' desire to go from defensive end in a 4-3, where ends are expected to get sacks, to defensive end in a 3-4, where ends primarily are run-stoppers. But Peppers wants to play outside linebacker, where his 285-pound frame would seem out of place at a position filled by 250- to 260-pounders.

"I'm just at that point in my career where I'm trying to do more things on the field and accomplish more things in my career," Peppers told NBC's Tiki Barber. "I'll see what happens. But you know, I'm not sure right now. I played seven good years in a 4-3 system and did great things in a great system in Carolina. I just feel it's time to move on and do something else."

Peppers certainly didn't lose any money on Sunday, recording four tackles, a sack and an interception.

With Green Bay switching to a 3-4 and with Peppers' former defensive coordinator, Mike Trgovac, taking over the Packers' defensive line, the Peppers-to-Packers rumors are intriguing. But the Panthers might stick the franchise tag on Peppers — figuring an unhappy Peppers is better than no Peppers — and hope they can work out a long-term deal with stud left tackle Jordan Gross before free agency starts.

The deadline to designate franchise players is Feb. 19. Free agency begins on Feb. 27.

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Lambeau Level forum.


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