Desperate to add playmakers to a defense that had so few in 2013, the Green Bay Packers went the unconventional route and added a former division nemesis.
The Bears released Peppers, who was due to count more than $18 million against Chicago's cap next season, on Tuesday, just hours after agreeing to a deal with defensive end Lamarr Houston. Four days later, Peppers agreed to head north to help the Packers regain their edge on defense.
The 34-year-old Peppers is arguably the biggest free-agent signing from general manager Ted Thompson since Charles Woodson back in 2006. Generally absent from the proceedings, Thompson made the most unusual of free-agent splashes, signing an older, expensive player during the first week.
Peppers led the struggling Bears defense in sacks with seven last season. He has 118.5 sacks in his career, third most among active players and 17th most all-time.
The Packers will hope a location change can spark a late-career resurgence from one of the generation's most unique athletes.
A 6'7" defensive end with basketball athleticism, Peppers has been a dominant 4-3 DE in the NFL for the better part of his 13 seasons. He has eight years with 10 or more sacks, plus career totals of 59 passes defensed, nine interceptions and 39 forced fumbles.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers will love his potential versatility.
While Peppers has never played in a 3-4 defense, he has the length to play at defensive end and the athleticism to occasionally stand up and rush the quarterback as an outside linebacker. He could also slide inside and become a difficult matchup when the Packers go to the nickel or dime subpackages.
Good defensive coordinators find a way to get good football players on the field, which means Peppers should have plenty of opportunities to help a defense that struggled in 2013.
The Packers finished last season ranked 24th in points allowed and 25th in total yards allowed. While the defense's 44 sacks tied with the Seattle Seahawks for eighth overall, Green Bay had the fewest total quarterback hits and the fourth worst team pass-rushing grade at Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Without Clay Matthews for long stretches, the Packers defense simply lacked the difference-makers necessary to play good defense in today's NFL. Adding Peppers, who hasn't missed a game in the last six seasons, will help ease his burden.
Maybe a switch in scheme will re-motivate the sometimes lackadaisical Peppers.
|In Decline? Julius Peppers in 2013|
|Batted Passes||3||2nd Fewest|
|QB Hits||6*||2nd Fewest|
|*Since 2008 Source: Pro Football Focus|
His seven sacks in 2013 were his fewest since 2007, and he played nearly 900 snaps for a defense that allowed the most rushing yards and yards per carry in the NFL last season. Peppers wasn't all to blame, but he did finish 2013 with his worst overall grade at PFF since the site starting grading in 2008, and he's been trending down every season since 2011.
His motor appeared to run hot and cold last season.
Yet Peppers was dominant at times, including both games against the Packers.
At Lambeau Field in October, on a night when the Packers would lose Aaron Rodgers, Peppers intercepted a pass, batted down two others and registered his second sack of the season. In the finale, a game Green Bay would win to claim the NFC North title, Peppers had a strip sack and nearly ended the game when he came off the left side free on Rodgers' game-winning touchdown to Randall Cobb. Fullback John Kuhn got just enough Peppers to allow Rodgers to escape the pocket and deliver the fatal throw.
The goal for Capers and defensive line coach Mike Trgovac, who coached Peppers in Carolina from 2002 to 2008, will be to keep the flow of disruption consistent.
Peppers had just six games with more than two quarterback disruptions last season. He was a ghost early on, with just one sack and three games without even one tackle through the first six weeks.
Yet if the Packers can get Peppers to be as good week-in and week-out as he was in the pair of meetings between the two last season, Green Bay will have a true difference-maker on its hands.
The contract terms make it a worthwhile gamble.
According to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Peppers' three-year deal is structured to be more like a one-year experiment, with a first-year salary of $8.5 million but a 2014 cap hit of around $3.5 million. If Peppers continues to regress next season, the Packers can likely cut ties without too much cap penalty in 2015 or 2016.
The Packers rarely sign off on this kind of splash in free agency, making the arrival of a 34-year-old eight-time Pro Bowler big news in Green Bay. And by all accounts, Thompson's biggest move since signing Woodson eight years ago has the potential to provide the same kind of instant impact.
Peppers is aging and in decline, but the 3-4 front could be a good fit for his skills, and the money is manageable for Green Bay. This looks like a strong deal for a defense that needed the help.
Zach Kruse covers the NFC North for Bleacher Report.
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