According to Josina Anderson of ESPN:
Source: Julius Peppers has agreed to terms with the Green Bay Packers on a 3-year deal.
— Josina Anderson (@JosinaAnderson) March 15, 2014
For a team that typically avoids free agency like the plague, the signing of Peppers represents the most notable transaction since the acquisition of Charles Woodson back in 2006.
Then again, Peppers was not truly an unrestricted free agent after being released by the Chicago Bears. A frequently overlooked aspect of free agency, and one that Packers general manager appears to keep in mind in his approach is the compensatory draft choice equation that rewards teams for losing more free agents to other NFL teams than they sign from other teams (of comparable value).
After losing Evan Dietrich-Smith to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Friday, the Packers are setting themselves up to receive a late-round draft choice, assuming they don't sign another unrestricted free agent. The addition of Peppers will not change that.
According to Anderson, the Peppers deal is for a maximum of $30 million, including $7.5 million guaranteed and $8.5 million in total first-year salary.
The contract is structured in such a way that if Peppers flops, the Packers can cut him in Years 2 or 3 and have little dead money count against the salary cap. By putting the majority of money in the first season, it also gives the team salary-cap flexibility beyond 2014.
Peppers is 34 years old and saw declining production this past season for the Chicago Bears. His seven sacks are the fewest since 2007 when he had only 2.5 in 14 games with the Carolina Panthers, but he's just two years removed from a season in which he had 11.5 sacks in 2012.
From an injury standpoint, Peppers is almost never hurt. The two games missed in '07 were the only two he's missed in the last 11 seasons.
The signing of Peppers marks a significant shift in philosophy for the Packers defense under defensive coordinator Dom Capers and his 3-4 scheme.
Peppers has always been most effective as an end in a 4-3 system, but being utilized as a pass-rushing outside linebacker in the Packers' nickel and dime subpackages would not be a huge difference.
One possibility for the Packers is to run some sort of hybrid 3-4/4-3 system, featuring man principles on one side of the center and zone on the other.
Whatever happens, Peppers conceivably improves the team's pass rush, which features a variety of sub-300 lb. bodies: Mike Daniels, Datone Jones, Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Mike Neal, Jerel Worthy and others. The possbilities in specialized subpackages such as Capers' "Psycho" that feature only one player in a three-point stance are intriguing.
On the other hand, the Packers' front seven is starting to become relatively smallish with the exception of B.J. Raji, which could be a dentriment in goal-line in short-yardage packages. The possiblity of re-signing players such as Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly, however, can't be ruled out. And Josh Boyd is another emerging player along the defensive line.
The emergence of the "Elephant" end position in Green Bay appears to be more realistic by the day, especially in light that the Packers apparently had interest in Justin Tuck in free agency. Peppers, Perry and Neal all seem to fit the mold of a potential "Elephant" end.
The addition of Peppers certainly lessens the need for the Packers to find a pass rusher, at least in the first few rounds of the NFL draft. The Packers should be focused on adding talent in the back seven, particularly at safety and inside linebacker. With an improved pass rush, there will be a lot less pressure on a rookie safety.
After the signing of Peppers, the Packers are about $17 million under the 2014 salary cap, according to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, still leaving space to come to extensions with wide receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, but there likely be little room after that.
Among the Packers' own still on the market are Pickett, wide receiver James Jones, tight end Jermichael Finley, fullback John Kuhn, running back James Starks and quarterback Matt Flynn.
Peppers will be reunited with Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac, who was his defensive line coach or coordinator from 2002 to 2008.
After the Packers' loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the wildcard round of the playoffs in January, cornerback Tramon Williams talked about adding veterans to the team, and Peppers certainly does that, entering his 13th season in the NFL in 2014.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email [email protected].
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