The pace of news in this Patriots offseason continues to be fast and furious. Just this week, the Patriots have signed two players, former Buccaneers wideout Joey Galloway and returning defensive lineman Mike Wright.
After only a few days, however, those recent signings, and the departures of Scott Pioli, Josh McDaniels, Larry Izzo (OUCH), Matt Cassel, Mike Vrabel, Lonnie Paxton, Heath Evans and Jabar Gaffney, as well as the arrival or re-signing of Greg Lewis, Chris Baker, Nathan Hodel, Brad Listorti, Shawn Springs, Leigh Bodden, Al Johnson and Fred Taylor in addition to Galloway and Wright...(deep breath)...are already being left aside in favor of the subject of Julius Peppers.
According to a report that first appeared at NFL.com, league sources have let slip that the Patriots and Panthers are in talks to trade Peppers to the Patriots for the 34th overall pick the Patriots received in return for both Matt Cassel and (this still hurts to type) Mike Vrabel. The NFL.com report further states that the Patriots would use the versatile veteran as an outside linebacker rather than a lineman.
After that, though, the plot has thickened around this story. The NFL Network's Adam Schefter was quick with a counter-scoop asserting that the original report is false. In the echo chamber of talk radio and the pigskin internet, the consensus seems to be that Peppers himself is keen to play for the Pats, but the teams may not have anything official going on.
Schefter made some interesting points in pooh-poohing the idea of the Peppers trade, according to transcriptions of his comments at Boston.com, the most significant of which is the fact that Peppers hasn't signed his franchise tender yet, meaning the Panthers actually can't technically trade him at this time. Schefter's other points seemed a bit more speculative--that the kind of contract Peppers wants would destabilize the salary cap structure, compromising the Patriots' negotiating position with Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork, both of whom will need to be re-signed soon. He also added that Peppers doesn't seem like a "Patriots kind of guy".
"He flashes," Schefter said. "He doesn't always come through when it matters most."
As a Patriots fan, if the Patriots don't get someone like Julius Peppers in return for that 34th pick, I will be sorely, sorely disappointed.
Yes, truth be told, no matter how many new toys we have to play with, no matter how I try to focus on Tom Brady coming back and other positive things to look forward to this season, the Cassel / Vrabel trade as it currently stands still sticks in my craw.
The Patriots still need a lot of new blood, despite all the moves they've already made, and where they especially need it is on defense, where their players are either aging or too green. Not only do they need dynamic, top-caliber defensive players, but they need players still young enough to be powerful while old enough to be seasoned.
Peppers seems to fit that bill, Schefter's expert opinion aside. It's easy to make an anecdotal criticism that he "flashes"--whatever that means--but the numbers tell a different story. Here's another description from Wikipedia:
Multiple Pro Bowls, all but two seasons with double-digit sacks, and a captain, demonstrating a capacity for leadership and the respect of his teammates...none of that suggests "flash" to me.
In 2003, during the Panthers' Super Bowl run, he had 46 tackles, 7 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles. The next year, Peppers was selected to his first ever Pro Bowl with 65 tackles, 11 sacks, 2 interceptions, 4 forced fumbles, and two touchdowns. On October 15, 2006, Peppers became the Panthers' all-time sacks leader. 
Julius Peppers is known as one of the most athletic and versatile players in the NFL. In his career, Peppers has 8 blocked kicks (extra points and field goal attempts). Peppers has had double-digit sacks in all but 2 seasons. In 2008, Julius Peppers was voted to the 2009 Pro Bowl, where he recorded an interception.Following Mike Minter's retirement, Peppers was named as the Panthers defensive captain.
Plus, Mike Vrabel himself, salvaged from the scrap heap of the Pittsburgh Steelers, is a pretty good indication that other teams' evaluations of players aren't always relevant to how the Patriots can use them.
The most important quality in Peppers is his veteran status and leadership experience. The Patriots need to replace that after losing Vrabel every bit as much as they need to replace a body on defense. And they need to get more in return for their veteran linchpin of the defense than a draft pick.
It actually makes me a bit peeved when I consider that the Patriots might not make this move. Even if it's not this particular player, they better not still be holding that 34th pick when draft day comes around. Bill Belichick doesn't usually build through the unknown quantities in the draft, and with good reason. The last thing this team's defense needs right now is another rookie to assimilate--why wouldn't you take a known quantity with a good track record instead?