The Green Bay Packers broke their usual form in free agency today by signing defensive end Julius Peppers. The deal is for three years with $7.5 million in signing bonus. It also calls for an $8.5 million salary this year and could max out to $30 million over the course of the contract. Peppers, formerly of the Chicago Bears, was cut by the team earlier in the week when they could not agree on a re-structured contract.
The Packers and general manager Ted Thomspon is notorious for not signing other team’s free agents, preferring to draft and develop their own players, so this move comes as a shock to both Packer and Bear fans alike. Peppers will now get a chance to play against his former team twice a year after spending four seasons in Chicago.
The 34-year-old Peppers is a 12-year veteran of the NFL and recorded has registered 118.5 sacks in his career and forced 39 fumbles. He had 45 tackles and just seven sacks last season with the Bears.
Thus far in free agency the Packers had stayed on their usual path by re-signing their own free agents. Defensive lineman and former first round draft choice BJ Raji signed a one year deal yesterday, making him the fourth member of Green Bay’s 2013 roster to be brought back by Thompson. Cornerback Sam Shields, defensive end Mike Neal and tight end Andrew Quarless were signed earlier in the week.
The signing of Peppers by the Packers was completely unexpected but much needed as Thompson hopes to jump start a porous defense in need of new blood. Not only does Peppers help the Green Bay defensive line, he should finally provide the compliment the Packers had long been looking for to help outside linebacker Clay Matthews. Thompson obviously hopes the addition of Peppers will eliminate much of the double teams and extra attention Matthews faces.
It also frees Raji to return to his more natural spot of nose guard after spending much of an ineffective 2013 season at defensive end. With Peppers in the fold joining Raji, Matthews, Shields and Neal, the Packers defense begins to take on a different look. Peppers helps Green Bay rush the passer and Raji moving back inside to his natural position should help the Packers stop the run.
The addition of Peppers could also be viewed as an acknowledgement by Thompson to make the most of the tenure of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The former NFL Most Valuable Player is only 30 years old but after three straight seasons of losing in the playoffs due to a paltry defense, Thompson’s move would seem to suggest more urgency than the usual patient approach that has helped define his time with Green Bay.
Packer fans will recall the last time they signed a big name free agent was Charles Woodson in 2006. Woodson went on to become one of the all time Packer greats and helped lead the Pack to a Super Bowl title in 2011. Cheese heads everywhere are hoping the Green Bay Packers signing of Julius Peppers is sign of good things to come.
Commentary by Mick Varner