Packers sign ex-Bears’ DE; retain NT Raji on 1-yr deal
By CHRIS HAVEL
Play it again, Packers fans.
Take a hit on that grit, blow a seductively slow smoke ring and tickle the ivory with some sad, bluesy song as a backdrop to fans crying a river because their team’s GM, Ted Thompson, refuses to play in free agency.
Whoops. That was my bad. Wrong script on this suddenly exciting St. Patrick’s Day weekend, 2014! It turns out Thompson is willing to sign a big-name free agent or two, the first being Charles Woodson in 2006, the second being Julius Peppers during the weekend.
Peppers, 34, was released by the Chicago Bears in a salary cap-cutting move, and the Packers pounced by signing the eight-time Pro Bowl player to a three-year, $30 million deal with $7.5 million guaranteed. Essentially, it is a one-year deal worth $7.5 million, and it is a deal the Packers were wise to make because:
- It covers the defense in case Clay Matthews’ thumb gets reinjured or is slow to recover this offseason. The fact that painfully little has been said about Matthews’ injury is a concern until the facts prove otherwise.
- If Matthews is fine it gives the Packers’ defensive coordinator, Dom Capers, what could be a very powerful 1-2 pass rushing punch.
Certainly, Peppers isn’t the great player he once was, because he was among the NFL’s best in his prime. But at 34, he still can be a force. He registered seven sacks last year on an awful Bears defense, and he long has been a big-game player. In fact, Peppers’ big-game ability makes him special. He is experienced enough to recognize the moment, and he remains athletic enough to rise to it. He will be a welcome addition if and when the Packers reach the postseason this year.
The Packers didn’t make Peppers available to the media. However, they did share Peppers’ comments on their website.
“I have a lot left in the tank,” he said. “I have a lot left to give, a lot left to offer. I want to show people I can still play the game at a high level.”
Peppers also made it clear he came to Green Bay to win a championship.
“The teams that have the good quarterbacks are the teams that win,” he said. “That obviously factored into some of my decision-making. I’m looking forward to playing with Aaron (Rodgers). As much as I disliked chasing him around, I’m excited to join him.”
Peppers’ critics claim that he takes plays off, has a mercenary mindset and isn’t the greatest locker room guy. That sounds pretty flimsy. When the Bears failed in recent years it wasn’t due to Peppers and the Chicago defense. Imagine what Peppers and Matthews could do together when playing at a high level? Or better yet when playing with a double-digit lead if the Packers’ offense plays to its potential?
Peppers prefers to line up in a 3-4. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2002 NFL draft can play end in a 3-4 or tackle in a 4-3 sub-package. He also is athletic enough to set and hold an edge against a nifty ball carrier or an exceptionally good running quarterback. He played for Packers’ defensive line coach Mike Trgovac at Carolina, and Capers knows how to utilize Peppers’ skills.
The Packers also signed Raji to a one-year, $4 million contract. It gives the Packers a defensive line featuring: Raji, Peppers, Neal, Jerel Worthy, Josh Boyd, DaTone Jones and Mike Daniels. That is a significant upgrade from last year’s group. In fact, I don’t even remember the other members of year’s group, which proves the point.
Add Nick Perry at the elephant position, along with Matthews and perhaps an inside linebacker in the draft, and the defensive front seven doesn’t look so shabby.
Last week, the Packers re-signed cornerback Sam Shields to join Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward and Davon House. It seems likely the Packers will select a safety and perhaps an inside linebacker in the draft.
Thompson’s signing of Peppers may be a bit of gamble, given his age, but the 6-foot-7, 287-pound defensive end will pick his spots. His signing has several of his new teammates excited.
Neal tweeted: “So we get Julius Peppers!!! LOL and we got BJ back … and we already got some dawgs!!! Well damn let the hunting begin!!!
For those who question whether Peppers will be a difference maker, consider this: In his four seasons with Chicago he started all 64 games and registered 37 ½ sacks. That’s the type of production, and player, the Packers have been looking for to pair opposite and/or twin with Clay Matthews.
As Neal tweeted, let the hunting begin!