Commentary

Tip Sheet: Affordable pass-rush options

Kampman, Taylor are among good "buys" for those who passed on Peppers

Originally Published: March 5, 2010
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

There is only one Julius Peppers, the defensive end who was the consensus No. 1 veteran available in the unrestricted free-agent pool before reaching a six-year deal with Chicago.

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But even in a league increasingly infatuated with the ability to hit the quarterback, there are some alternative pass-rushers who won't cost a franchise nearly as much money as Peppers.

Those "bargains" might be nearly as effective as the enigmatic former Carolina Panthers star, who some wary franchises fear won't perform up to a contract that could be worth $40 million over the first three years.

"You never want to settle for the second-best at anything, and Peppers, I think most teams will agree, is the top guy," said one NFC head coach with a defensive background, who noted Peppers is only two seasons removed from a 2½-sack season in 2007.

"But there definitely are some people afraid of the money it's going to take to sign him … and scared of what he might do on the field once he gets the big [payday]. Don't get me wrong, he's not a bad guy. But for a [fraction] of the cost, you might get almost the same [sack] numbers. Granted, there's really only one Peppers … but there are a few other intriguing guys, too."

Indeed, for the teams who didn't land Peppers, 30, but who are seeking to upgrade their pass rush, there is an interesting cross section of "edge" players in free agency, which officially began Friday at 12:01 a.m.

Almost all of them are on the wrong side of 30 but still excel at pass rushing.

Topping the list is Aaron Kampman, who played in just nine games for the Green Bay Packers last year before a torn anterior cruciate ligament ended his season. Still, Kampman registered 37 sacks in the previous three seasons. Kampman, who is only two months older than Peppers, has averaged nearly 10 more tackles per season (57.25-47.6).

Kampman has a big motor and should be recovered from his ligament damage well in advance of training camp. Although he adjusted pretty well to the Packers' switch to a 3-4 in 2009, a change that forced him to play linebacker in "base" schemes, Kampman is probably best-suited to end in a 4-3 front.

After Peppers, he is arguably the No. 1 rush prospect for most sack-needy franchises.

Another interesting veteran with some sack skills and a high-revving motor is Kyle Vanden Bosch, who played with the Tennessee Titans last season. On Friday, he announced that he had agreed to sign with the Detroit Lions. He'll be reunited with Lions head coach Jim Schwartz, his former defensive coordinator with the Titans.

At 31, the three-time Pro Bowl performer has just 7½ sacks the past two seasons, and has notched double-digit sacks in only two campaigns. But Vanden Bosch plays the run hard and is relentless in attacking the pocket.

One veteran with nearly bald tires, and who certainly is in decline at age 35, is Jason Taylor, who has played 13 seasons. But while the six-time Pro Bowl performer has just 10½ sacks the past two seasons, after averaging 12.56 the previous eight seasons, he wants to continue his career and might be effective as a situational rusher. Taylor had seven sacks in 2009, one of only four unrestricted players with seven or more sacks last year, and could perhaps net just as many with a club that maximized his snaps in 2010.

A minimum-salary deal likely won't lure Taylor, but a modest, two-year contract might get his attention. Plus, he's played end in a 4-3, and rush linebacker in a 3-4, and has some versatility as an "edge" defender.

Bottom line: Peppers is undeniably the top pass-rusher of the bunch, but there will be some cheaper alternatives.

Len Pasquarelli, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.