• When the Panthers signed Julius Peppers earlier on Friday, a warning likely went off in Kony Ealy's head... and now he's a New England Patriot.
By Jonathan Jones
March 10, 2017

If a couple of things had broken the Panthers’ way in Super Bowl 50, Carolina would have its first Lombardi Trophy and defensive end Kony Ealy very well may have been the MVP of that game.

Instead, his three sacks, one interception and one forced fumble performance went for naught. And rather than build on it, Ealy moved only laterally in his third season with the Panthers. Now he’s a Patriot.

On Friday afternoon, the Panthers reportedly sent Ealy and a third-round pick to New England in exchange for the Patriots’ second-round pick in the 2017 draft. In simpler terms, New England only had to slide back eight picks (from No. 64 to No. 72) to get Ealy.

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Earlier in the day, the Panthers brought back former No. 2 overall pick Julius Peppers, a former defensive end turned outside linebacker. The 37-year-old will likely play a hybrid role for Carolina, rushing the passer on third downs and playing 20–25 snaps per game.

But the Peppers’ signing should have signaled a warning to Ealy, especially after the Panthers re-signed defensive ends Mario Addison, Wes Horton and Charles Johnson in the past few weeks. The Panthers were running out of space on the roster for the former second-round pick.

Do the Panthers think Ealy has plateaued? Even after his MVP-worthy Super Bowl 50 performance, it sure seems that way. Ealy had the same amount of sacks (five) in 2016 as he did the previous year and zero forced fumbles (down from two in 2015). But even then, only moving up eight picks in the draft seems like a loss for the Panthers and another trade victory for Bill Belichick.

Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to trades. This is only the sixth time he’s traded for a player or sent one to another team. Gettleman sent a broken-down Jon Beason to the New York Giants, but then traded running back Kenjon Barner to the Eagles after an injury-plagued 2014 season at running back for the Panthers. He sent a seventh-round pick to Seattle in 2015 in exchange for Kevin Norwood, who dropped the only pass thrown his way that season. He brought in Jared Allen when Johnson went on temporary injured reserve, and the future Hall of Famer had just two sacks in 12 games and none in the postseason. Just before last season, Gettleman sent a backup punter and a future fourth-round pick to the Browns for punter Andy Lee and his big contract (along with a seventh-round pick) after running through no fewer than four punters in training camp.

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Meanwhile, the Patriots now have a player who has shown he has a high ceiling even if he hasn’t reached it in more than a year. New England will pick up his $803,660 salary for the 2017 season, and if he doesn’t work out, then they used less than a million dollars in salary-cap space.

The low-risk move could be another stroke of genius for Belichick. And the Panthers should be set in 2017 along the defensive line after tagging defensive tackle Kawann Short. But moving up just eight picks leaves something to be desired in Carolina.

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