Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson has been trying to bolster the team's front seven for a long, long time.
Since 2007, Thompson has drafted four first-round defensive linemen, two second-round defensive linemen and two first-round linebackers. After all of that talent reinforcement, the 2013 Packers still had the 25th-best (eighth-worst) scoring defense in the NFL.
Apparently, enough is enough.
Thompson went out and signed eight-time Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers, per ESPN.com's Josina Anderson, to a three-year deal worth up to $30 million. Recently released by the Chicago Bears, Peppers finally gives defensive coordinator Dom Capers a big, fast, powerful option.
Now, there are no more excuses.
If You're Not Getting Better, You're Getting Worse
The end of the Packers' season was one of the best stories of the 2013 season.
Despite losing star quarterback Aaron Rodgers for seven games down the stretch, the Packers managed to stay in the race. With a winner-take-all game in Week 17 at Soldier Field, Rodgers didn't just return—he threw a dramatic fourth-down, playoff-clinching touchdown pass in the game's dying seconds:
The Packers won the NFC North title, and for a moment all was right again in Green Bay.
Then, Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers came to a frozen Lambeau Field in the first round of the playoffs and left victorious. When the 49ers couldn't handle the Seattle Seahawks the following week, it became clear the Packers weren't anywhere near the top of the NFC pecking order.
The 49ers are loaded with draft picks, other contenders like the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints are aggressively making free-agent moves, and the Bears, Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings are all spending money to get better, too. If the Packers simply stood pat, they'd be falling even further behind.
Anywhere He Wants
Where does a 6'6", 287-pound pass-rusher with stunning power and speed line up in a 3-4 defense?
Anywhere he wants.
The Packers have re-signed B.J. Raji, Johnny Jolly and Mike Neal, according to Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com. Together with Mike Daniels and 2013 first-round pick Datone Jones, Peppers gives Capers the ability to shuffle linemen around in many different combinations and rotate them to keep them fresh for four quarters.
As Demovsky wrote, the Packers have been trying to use an "elephant" defensive end for over a season. Neal and linebacker Nick Perry are the kind of linebacker/defensive end "tweeners" who are perfectly suited to play the 7-technique pass-rusher.
It's possible that Peppers could play this role, too, but it's more likely that he plays end, while Neal and Perry rotate between "elephant" and outside linebacker. When stopping the run, Raji could man the middle while Daniels and Peppers play end.
The possibilities are endless and exciting:
No More Excuses
In 2009, Capers came to Green Bay and whipped the Packers defense into shape, transforming it from a bottom-feeder to a top-10 scoring unit in both 2009 and 2010. It was the No. 2 defense in 2010, per Pro- Football-Reference.com, powering Green Bay's run to the Super Bowl championship.
The Packers defense hasn't been in the top 10 since. Finishing 25th in 2013 is simply not good enough.
With Peppers, there's no reason why the Packers shouldn't be able to dominate the line of scrimmage against the run and the pass. Though they still have to find a solution at safety, they have far too much talent to finish in the bottom third of NFL defenses.
Assuming Rodgers stays healthy this season, and Eddie Lacy and the running game continue to balance the Packers' perennial high-scoring pass offense, it's all on Capers and the defense to step up.
If they do, the Packers will again be strong contenders for not just the NFC North Championship but also the NFC Championship.
If not, there should be serious questions asked of Capers...and Thompson.
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