For the first time this year, Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson has spoken about the 2014 NFL free agency and his team's role this year, specifically with the signing of former Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers. Just this March, 34 year-old Peppers signed a three-year deal with Green Bay, totaling $30 million maximum with $7.5 million guaranteed. The 12-year veteran of the NFL has shown "no evidence of any decline in his play" according to Thompson, Darin Gantt of NBC Sports reported this week.
The Packers are a rare player in the free agency world of the NFL, as they tend to try to keep more of their own players, re-signing the veterans and working deals out for others to remain in Green Bay. Thompson defended his team's tactics and spoke about Peppers:
We’ve always dabbled in free agency. Sometimes you can spend a lot of time and effort recruiting a guy, which we’ve done in the past, and nothing comes of it, and nothing comes out publicly and people assume we didn’t try to do something. We almost always, almost every offseason, try to do something in free agency, certainly with our own guys but also with guys around the league. This happened fast. It happened very quietly. It was one of those rare things where the thing was put to bed and everybody was back home before anybody knew about it. Quite frankly, it was kind of refreshing to do it that way. We obviously followed him throughout his career, and we look forward to seeing him in a Packers uniform.The Packers have done their homework on Peppers, as a quiet free agency signing is par for the course for the 12 year veteran. Picked by the Carolina Panthers in the first round of the 2002 NFL Draft, Peppers has had an NFL career that defensive ends dream about. Hailing from the University of North Carolina, Peppers has recorded 557 tackles, 39 forced fumbles, nine interceptions and 118.5 sacks. He leads all NFL defensive linemen with nine interceptions over that span.
|U.S.Marine Corps Sgt. D.R. Cotton via Wikimedia Commons|
One of the biggest questions about Peppers that the Packers combat daily is in reference to his age. Thompson addressed the issue earlier this week:
Well, 34 is not so old. Not for some of us.There’s no evidence of any decline in his play, in our opinion. He still has the same athletic traits that he had coming out. He’s had a remarkable history in the NFL in terms of durability. We’re looking forward to it. I think he is, too.Durable sure is the right word to use, as Peppers has stayed virtually injury-free in his professional career, missing only six games in 12 seasons. He has played in 186 games out of a possible 192 and remained healthy and reliable each year.
Also being thrown to the Packers is the decline in Peppers' numbers last year. Playing 855 snaps for the Bears last season, Peppers managed only 7.5 sacks, the third-lowest total of his 12-year NFL career. He managed 45 combined tackles two forced fumbles and one interception in 2013.
Peppers is penciled in to play the "elephant" role, lining up at defensive end, outside linebacker and even inside on some passing downs. The Packers envision him as a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker in their 3-4 defense, and their hope is that by playing him fewer snaps, they will not only increase his production but give opposing offenses another pass-rushing threat. Peppers is still a productive quarterback chaser, and the attention he draws from defenses should help his new teammate Clay Matthews on the opposite side.
Regardless of how quietly Peppers was signed in Green Bay or how mum general manager Thompson usually is, the Packers are staunchly defending their decision. For the 34 year-old defensive end with the long and still active career, those words may be all that HE needs to defend the ones that have faith in him.
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