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Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Double Coverage: Peppers, Rogers disgruntled

By James Walker
ESPN.com

 
  Getty Images
  Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers and Cleveland defensive tackle Shaun Rogers both want off their current teams.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas and James Walker

Apparently, being a top-notch defensive lineman in the NFL doesn't guarantee success. With the possible exception of Denver quarterback Jay Cutler, Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers and Cleveland defensive tackle Shaun Rogers might be the most disgruntled players out there.

Both have made it clear they don't want to stay with their current teams. Although Peppers could make almost $17 million if he stayed as Carolina's franchise player, he and his agent have spent the last few months telling anyone who will listen he doesn't want to be with the Panthers. Peppers and his agent have said he wants to be traded away from the only team he's ever played for and away from the state where he's spent his life.

Rogers has asked the Browns to release him from his six-year, $42 million contract and just recently returned to offseason workouts. Rogers was one of the crown jewels of Cleveland's 2008 offseason, but that was with an old regime. Rogers and Eric Mangini have clashed pretty much since the new coach was hired.

So why are Peppers and Rogers so unhappy? How did these situations get so ugly and how will they play out? ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas and James Walker take an in-depth look at Peppers and Rogers:

Why are Peppers and Rogers unhappy?

Pat Yasinskas: I'll leave the Rogers situation to James, in part because the Browns are his territory and the Panthers are mine, but mainly because there's so much ground to cover on Peppers alone. Let's start by saying none of us truly know the full reason Peppers wants out of Carolina so badly. He and his agent have been vague about that.

But there's a lot to read between the lines. Peppers has been careful not to single out anyone and the conspiracy theories were flying when defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac and defensive line coach Sal Sunseri mysteriously walked away from the Panthers. But that didn't prompt any change in Peppers' tune.

Peppers still came out and said he wants to play with a team where he'll have a better chance to reach his potential. He also previously turned down an offer from the Panthers that would have made him the highest-paid defensive player in the league.

Let's be blunt here. If it's not about money and it wasn't about the assistant coaches, you have to draw the conclusion that Peppers, whether he's wrong or right, just doesn't want to play for coach John Fox.

 
  Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
  Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Shaun Rogers was miffed at coach Eric Mangini.

James Walker: Similar to Peppers' situation, Pat, the quandary between Rogers and the Browns involves a lot of variables. This much I know: Rogers was unhappy with the way the new regime treated him, because this isn't exactly what he signed up for.

When Rogers was traded from the Detroit Lions a year ago, he was thought to be the missing piece to an up-and-coming Cleveland team that went 10-6 in 2007. Rogers, 30, had played on awful Detroit teams his entire career. He was finally refreshed, motivated, and playing for someone he liked very much in former Browns coach Romeo Crennel.

A year later all of that is gone. Not only that, new coach Eric Mangini refused to communicate with him, snubbing him on two separate occasions, and reportedly ordered a weight mandate when Rogers never had a weight problem all last season.

From a player's perspective -- a Pro Bowl player's perspective -- Rogers felt this was unnecessary. From a team's perspective, the Browns' loose culture needs to be changed and Mangini is a disciplinarian who is doing just that.

Also, there has been speculation that this is all about money. I'm not 100 percent sure that is the case. Rogers was unhappy in January, months before defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth signed for $100 million with the Washington Redskins. The deal certainly caught Rogers' attention and probably added fuel to the fire. But I don't think it was the start, or even central focal point, for his unhappiness.

Who shoulders the blame?

Pat Yasinskas: Yes, I said above that you have to conclude that Peppers doesn't want to play for Fox. But that doesn't mean Fox should play the full role of culprit here. In Fox's defense, he's a strong defensive mind and he's gotten plenty out of Peppers through much of his career.

The coach also stood strongly behind his player when Peppers turned in 2.5-sack season in 2007. Shouldn't there be some loyalty on Peppers' part? Probably, but we don't know the full story on what's gone on behind the scenes between Fox and Peppers.

Keep in mind, Peppers is a very unique individual. He is one of the league's quietest players. He's never going to be a vocal leader or a demonstrative guy. Sometimes, if you try too hard to make a guy into somebody he's not, he's not going to buy into what you're doing.

James Walker: Pat, I live in northeast Ohio, and I can tell you this has been the most polarizing question in Cleveland this offseason.

Is it too much for a new coach to communicate with his best player? Is Rogers simply overreacting? Both probably deserve some level of blame.

Yet considering the personalities of these two people, we should have all seen this coming. Mangini has a history of being blunt with his players, and Rogers has a history of needing the proper motivation. It is an oil-and-water combination and these two were destined to butt heads early.

But at the end of the day, it will be up to Rogers to continue doing what he's paid a lot of money to do, and that is play high-quality football. He may not agree with all the motives of his new head coach, but the task remains the same next fall.

How can teams and players handle these situations better?

Pat Yasinskas: One of the core philosophies of Fox, owner Jerry Richardson and general manager Marty Hurney is the importance of communication. Ironically,
they seem to have crossed lines with their best player.

Again, we won't know Peppers' precise gripes unless he comes out and reveals them. But Richardson, a former player, didn't do this kid any favors. Back when veteran safety Mike Minter retired during training camp in 2007, Richardson stood in front of the news conference and called out Peppers. The owner publicly stated it was time for Peppers to stand up and be the leader of the team.

I don't disagree with the concept of Peppers stepping up a bit, but I don't think it was carried out in the right manner. Every player is different and the Panthers were well aware of Peppers' reclusive nature. They might have had better luck if they had the conversation privately.

James Walker: I agree that communication is important.

The pro-Rogers contingent argues that it wouldn't have hurt Mangini to spend one or two minutes conversing with Rogers from the very beginning. One chance was in the weight room at the team's training facility and the other chance was at a Cleveland awards banquet. Mangini passed on both opportunities, and the problems began building from there.

Now that's in the past, the two sides have to improve the situation from here.

Mangini and Browns general manager George Kokinis told Cleveland-area reporters at the owners' meeting this week that they finally touched base with Rogers and had a "good conversation.” That is a good place to start. Rogers also showed up to offseason workouts during the second week of the program, which is important because he has to learn a new system. The situation could be turning for the better.

What is the potential trade value for each of these players?

 
  Bob Donnan/US PRESSWIRE
  Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers could be worth as much as two first-round picks.
Pat Yasinskas: There were some reports about the Panthers discussing a trade of Peppers for a second-round pick with New England. Don't count on that happening. A guy with the potential to go out and put up 20 sacks is worth more than a second-round pick. As a matter of fact, the Panthers technically are entitled to two first-round picks if someone else signs Peppers as a franchise player.

The Panthers keep sending out signals they're prepared to play hardball and make Peppers stay as the franchise player this year. Could be true, but I don't buy it. The bridge has been toasted here on both sides. Last year's Jared Allen deal with Minnesota set a precedent that you can work out a trade for a franchise player for something other than two first-round picks.

James Walker: Although nearly every player is considered available for Cleveland, I believe Rogers is one of a handful who is not.

Rogers is an indispensable player on defense and was paid nearly $6 million in bonuses this month. Therefore, the cap number to trade Rogers accelerates tremendously. His six-year, $42 million contract was structured so Rogers stays on board for at least three good seasons.

But if the Browns care to ignore the salary-cap ramifications -- a big if -- they would clearly want draft picks in return. Some pundits feel the Browns could garner a first-rounder in trading Rogers. But multiple picks, perhaps a second-rounder combined with one or two second-day selections, appears more likely.

How will these scenarios end?

Pat Yasinskas: Just a guess here, but I think the Peppers situation will drag on for about another month. But some time right before the draft, somebody's going to step forward with, let's just say, a first- and a third-round pick.

I think the Panthers, deep down, would take that kind of package for Peppers. It would get out of a $17 million salary-cap hit, give them a couple of draft picks that could help replace Peppers and rid them of one very big headache.

James Walker: I don't believe Rogers will be traded.

Rogers and Mangini will eventually move beyond their differences and get back to football. They appear to be heading in that direction already, and I see them spending at least one or two years together.

If the Browns win next season, that will solve a lot of internal issues. But if Cleveland's losing ways continue, we could see more of the same problems this time next year.