We’ve covered the fact that Chicago’s decision to release Julius Peppers on Tuesday was more about his $13.9 million base salary for 2014 and $18.183 million salary-cap hit than issues with production.
But surely the club never expected the defensive end to land with the division rival Green Bay Packers.
Peppers signed a three-year deal with the Packers on Saturday worth up to $30 million, including $7.5 million guaranteed, according to ESPN’s Josina Anderson. Financially, the deal makes sense for the Packers, which begs the question of whether such a contract could've been done with the Bears.
We’ll probably never know.
According to a source familiar with the situation, that possibility was never explored between Peppers and the Bears.
Why? Well, one league source said the Bears simply didn't want to bring back Peppers. In four years playing for the Bears, Peppers started in every game (64), generated 37.5 sacks and made the Pro Bowl in all but one season (2013). In all, Peppers generated 118.5 sacks throughout his career, which puts him at No. 2 in the NFL since coming into the league in 2002, and 17th in NFL history since 1982, when the league began to tally sacks as an official statistic.
But in 2013, Peppers’ effort wasn't up to snuff enough for the Chicago Bears to feel comfortable about bringing him back for 2014 on what’s expected to be a youth-infused defense with a hard-nosed, physical mentality. Make no mistake about it: Peppers’ salary played perhaps the largest role in his release. But a league source said Peppers gave the Bears only six to eight solid snaps per game, and the belief was the defense could consistently get better effort from less accomplished players.
That perception shouldn't be seen as foreshadowing for what the Packers will get in 2014 from Peppers.
Although some scouts said Peppers “didn't seem like he was into it” for a good portion of 2013, some of that could be attributed to playing on a horrid Bears defense riddled by injury, in addition to losing former defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, who is known to be a strong motivator.
After all, in 12 seasons in the NFL, Peppers has finished with fewer than eight sacks in a season just three times (2003, 2007 and 2013).
Besides that, it’s likely the Packers will get a highly motivated Peppers in 2014, caught up in the rivalry between the clubs and eager to prove Chicago made a mistake in cutting him loose.
We also shouldn't underestimate the potential power in a Peppers reunion with defensive line coach Mike Trgovac, who worked with the defensive end in Carolina during his prime (2002-08) or the fact he’ll be a complement opposite Clay Matthews instead of the focal point in opponents’ protection schemes.
Shortly after releasing Peppers on Tuesday, Bears general manager Phil Emery said, “We wish him the best.”
Perhaps the sentiment changes now that Peppers has joined Chicago’s hated rivals up north.