INDIANAPOLIS - Some splashes are bigger than others.
For the team that signs Julius Peppers, it would be a cannonball-sized plunge into the NFL free agent waters and one that could leave all competitors soaked.
The Eagles have made such a splash before (see: Jevon Kearse, 2004). And there's no reason to believe they won't at least dip their toe into the sweepstakes for the Carolina defensive end.
Peppers, for one, is hoping the Eagles are a suitor.
According to a league source, the former all-pro defensive end, who will become a free agent Friday, has the "Eagles on his short list of teams."
Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean the Eagles have targeted Peppers with a new league year - and, most likely, a new uncapped world - set to begin in five days. All of the team's brass – coach Andy Reid, president Joe Banner, and general manager Howie Roseman – are here for the scouting combine. But they're not talking.
They likely wouldn't discuss Peppers for fear of tampering. Carolina didn't place a franchise tag on the defensive end last week but he's still a Panther until Friday. However, that didn't stop new Browns president Mike Holmgren from expressing interest in arguably the top unrestricted free agent.
Holmgren's comments, made Friday, were being scrutinized yesterday. But it's likely that any team in need of a premier pass-rushing end would be attracted to Peppers. And the Eagles are one of those teams.
They have Trent Cole, an accomplished Pro Bowler in his own right. But the options opposite the three-down end tailed off last season as Cole himself wore down from fending off double- and triple-teams. Juqua Parker (now 32 years old) and Darren Howard (33) are getting up there in years. Victor Abiamiri has been oft-injured and a disappointment. And Chris Clemons and Jason Babin are merely role players.
Acquiring Peppers would instantly upgrade the Eagles' defense, a unit that was decimated by season's end. The 30-year-old would complement Cole at left end; he would reduce the gap between the Eagles and the Cowboys; and he would energize the team's fan base.
"His whole career has been the same. This guy can turn it on like he did against the Minnesota Vikings [last season] and put a Pro Bowler [Bryant McKinnie] on the bench," said former NFL general manger Charley Casserly, now a draft analyst for the NFL Network. "But he has games where he doesn't show up for the whole game, doesn't play hard all the time, [and] isn't totally productive."
Those criticisms aside, Peppers has quite the resumé. He's made five Pro Bowls and has racked up 81 career sacks. Last season, the 6-foot-7, 283-pound end recorded 101/2 sacks. Cole had 121/2.
Even if the Eagles were interested, there are "some financial ramifications," as Holmgren aptly put it. Peppers, who earned $18.5 million last season when he and the Panthers couldn't agree on a long-term deal, will command top dollar. He isn't expected to earn anywhere near that figure, but he should be somewhere in the range of $13 million to $14 million per year.
"I think he's going to get a heck of a contract," Casserly said. "And he clearly is the No. 1 guy out there."
There are plenty of alternatives beyond Peppers, although there will be fewer unrestricted free agents because of the rules that allow for this to be an uncapped year. Tennessee's Kyle Vanden Bosch and Green Bay's Aaron Kampman are two candidates who could contribute right away and not empty the Eagles' pockets.
According to Roseman, though, the Eagles will be competitive buyers. "This is what I'd say to that: All the resources are available to us to improve the team," he said last week.
The Eagles could simply draft a defensive end with their top pick, though Coatesville's Derrick Morgan of Georgia Tech and Carlos Dunlap of Florida should be gone by the time the Eagles select at No. 24.
But Southern Cal defensive end Everson Griffen might be there - or the Eagles could trade up. They do have six picks in the first four rounds. (They also blundered the last time they traded up in the first round to snag a defensive end, when they selected Jerome McDougle in 2003.)
More than likely, they'll address the need via free agency, as they did in 2008 with Clemons, in 2006 with Howard, and in 2004 with Kearse. The Kearse signing, in retrospect, was not an overwhelming success, but coupled with the Terrell Owens trade, it galvanized a team that eventually reached the Super Bowl.
Peppers has the Eagles high on his list because they can compete for a championship, according to a source. He also likes the team's coaching staff, having played under it in the 2009 Pro Bowl, and its defensive scheme.
There will surely be other potential suitors, although his salary demands will cancel out many teams. Chicago and New England are candidates, as are the Browns. Cleveland's Holmgren said that Peppers was "one of the guys [the Browns] talk about."