After four up-and-down seasons with the Chicago Bears, defensive end Julius Peppers is a monster of the Midway no more.
The Bears confirmed Peppers' release on the team's Twitter account Tuesday:
LM: #Bears have informed DE Julius Peppers they are terminating his contract.— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) March 11, 2014
Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune broke down the Bears' cap savings after the move:
Release of #Bears DE Julius Peppers clears $9,816,665 in cap space. Creates $14 million cash savings.— Brad Biggs (@BradBiggs) March 11, 2014
NFL Network's Albert Breer added further details:
Bears will swallow $8.367 million in dead money. If not designated a 6/1 cut, cap savings for 2014 will be $9.817 million.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) March 11, 2014
The move doesn't come as a huge shock considering the salary-cap issues that arose in relation to Peppers' mammoth contract. The Bears signed Peppers to a six-year, $91.5 million deal in 2010, but he simply failed to live up to the lofty expectations that come with such a large financial commitment.
ESPN's Adam Schefter initially reported the day before the start of free agency that the Bears were exploring multiple options in an effort to get Peppers' salary off the books:
Bears calling around the league, seeing if they can find a trade partner for DE Julius Peppers, per sources. Trade unlikely...— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 10, 2014
The move certainly leaves the Bears with a hole at defensive end, but it isn't as though Peppers was setting the world on fire with his play as of late.
Peppers managed an impressive 30.5 sacks in his first three seasons with the Bears, which ultimately led to three Pro Bowl nods as well. Additionally, Peppers immediately made Chicago a better team upon arrival, as evidenced by this stat courtesy of CBS 2 Chicago's Zach Zaidman:
4 years ago today, #Bears signed Julius Peppers. Bears went 29-19 in his first 3 years. They were 23-25 in the 3 years prior to his arrival.— Zach Zaidman (@ZachZaidman) March 5, 2014
At the same time, Peppers never looked as dominant in Chicago as he was over eight seasons with the Carolina Panthers, and his play in 2013 was downright ordinary. He did muster 7.5 sacks, which looks respectable on the surface; however, Peppers was largely a non-factor throughout the season.
According to CSNNE.com's Michael Girardi, Peppers touched opposing quarterbacks a mere 13 times in 2013 (per Pro Football Focus):
Julius Peppers got to the QB 13 times last year: 7 sacks, 6 QB hits. Added 27 hurries according to @PFF— Michael Giardi (@MikeGiardi) March 10, 2014
Based on the amount of money that the Bears shelled out in order to get him, such infrequent pressure was simply unacceptable.
The writing has been on the wall for quite some time regarding Peppers' status with the Bears. Although general manager Phil Emery refused to comment on Peppers' future in Chicago, he certainly didn't offer a ringing endorsement either when asked about the situation in February, per Michael C. Wright of ESPN.com:
That would be a contract question, and I think I have had a very demonstrated history of not answering those questions. I will say that Julius is part of our football team. He is under contract. We're all coming off an 8-8 season. We have a lot to improve upon and that is where our heads are at.
Apparently Emery and the rest of the organization felt as though getting rid of Peppers was a necessary step in terms of making improvements elsewhere. Losing Peppers doesn't make the Bears a better team in a vacuum, but they have the opportunity to get better now that they aren't hamstrung by his contract.
Was getting rid of Peppers the right move by the Bears?
The benefits are obvious for Chicago, but Peppers is still capable of being a productive player in the right system. He is 34 years old, so his best seasons are realistically behind him, but that doesn't mean he has to ride off into the sunset.
Peppers had 11.5 sacks in 2012 and he is still freakishly athletic, even if he has lost a step or two in recent years. The Bears counted on him to be an elite pass-rusher, and he came up short in that regard, but he could potentially shine in a supporting role without the pressure of a massive contract bogging him down.
In some ways, this may be the best thing that could have happened to Peppers. He had his moments in Chicago, but things ultimately didn't work out, and a change of scenery was in order.
Bears fans may lament the fact that their team cut bait on Peppers if he is productive this season and beyond. However, it was a move that needed to be made for the sake of all parties involved.
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