This is not a drill–the Packers have signed a big name free agent! In a move that made me spit out my coffee this morning, the Packers signed Julius Peppers to a three-year contract worth up to $30 million, as first reported by ESPN’s Josina Anderson.
Peppers will only receive $7 million guaranteed, so this is a very low risk and high reward signing. The contract is structured so that Peppers can easily be cut if he doesn’t have anything left. He was released from Chicago after he had a down season and was carrying a $18 million cap hit for next season.
The 34-year-old Peppers is easily Green Bay’s biggest signing since Charles Woodson in 2006. The move goes against everything Ted Thompson has ever done in Green Bay. Paying an aging player big money is something he rarely has ever done. Even Woodson was only 29 when the Packers signed him. However, for a defense that was ranked 24th in total points allowed and 25th in yards allowed, he may be the missing piece to the puzzle.
Peppers has remained productive into his thirties, as he has 29.5 sacks over the last three seasons. He only had seven sacks last season, which was his lowest total since 2007. Peppers’ effort was questioned last year and his production was low, but the Packers are hoping that he will have a resurgence on a new team with a chance at a championship.
The Packers had to like what they saw of Peppers in their matchups against him last season, as he recorded two sacks and an interception against them. He was a split second away from ending Green Bay’s season in the regular season finale at Chicago, before John Kuhn got a chip block against him, which allowed Aaron Rodgers to throw the division clinching touchdown to Randall Cobb.
Peppers has been known to turn his motor on in the biggest games, and you will know what he will do in the two games against Chicago this season. You just hope that he brings it in every game. Peppers will be reuniting with his former defensive line coach and coordinator Mike Tragovic, so he should know how to get everything out of him. History suggests that he will be available for every game at least, as Peppers has only missed two games in 11 seasons.
Despite his age, at 6’7″, 287 lbs Peppers is still one of the most unique athletes in the NFL. The signing of Peppers goes right along with Mike McCarthy’s suggestion that the Packers are looking to have a more multiple defense. It seems like we will see a completely different scheme in 2014.
Peppers has never played in a 3-4 defense before, but he certainly has the athletic ability to make the conversion. You will most likely see him standing up at OLB in base and moving inside in the nickel. Obviously, Peppers rushing from one side and Clay Matthews rushing from the other is a very exciting thing. Matthews has never had a running mate for opposing defenses to worry about like Peppers.
The Packers have the personnel to potentially run a 4-3/3-4 hybrid system. The “elephant” position has been brought up by McCarthy, and Nick Perry and Mike Neal would seem to be able to fit into that role. With Peppers in the fold, you might see them both line up along the defensive line more with Peppers taking up snaps at OLB.
Neal and Perry are still both very talented players who have often been slowed by injuries. Perry flashed great potential early in the season before he broke his foot. Neal played most of the season with an abdomen injury and still played pretty well, as he lead the Packers in quarterback hurries. I would love to see what both can do fully healthy over an entire season.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers will be under a lot of pressure to make this work. The Packers have more than enough talented pass rushers in Matthews, Peppers, Neal, Perry, Mike Daniels and Datone Jones. Among that group are four former first-round players, a second-rounder and a fourth-round player who had a breakout season last year. Not many teams can put out that many impressive athletes to rush the quarterback.
Capers has managed to survive three poor defenses since 2010 to keep his job. The excuse for him has been that injuries and bad draft picks have not allowed him to have enough talent to succeed. That excuse will not be valid anymore with Peppers joining the fold, Casey Heyward and Matthews coming back fully healthy and a new draft class coming in.
The Packers can use another body that’s over 300 lbs to help stop the run, as the only players they have over that weight are B.J. Raji and Josh Boyd. Johnny Jolly would be a good fit if he is cleared by the team doctors following his neck injury. Ryan Pickett is another possibility, although Green Bay will be playing Raji at Pickett’s nose tackle position.
The Packers still need to find starters at inside linebacker and safety in the draft, but having good pass rushers and corners who can cover is a huge thing for a defense. Green Bay has both of those things.
While Peppers should be able to make a big difference on the field, he can make just as big of a difference in the locker room. The Packers have lacked that leader on defense since Woodson left, and there has often been confusion among the players on what they are doing out there.
Peppers will have the respect of the locker room, and he will be able to help the young players develop. You could already see the excitement in multiple Packers players with their tweets following the signing.
According to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Packers have about $17 million salary cap space left. Their big spending is most likely over with Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb looking for extensions and a draft class to sign. However, Thompson should still be in the market for a cheap veteran safety like Chris Clemons.
The fans who have been upset with Thompson finally got what they wanted in a big name free agent. It was really an easy decision that could pay huge dividends if it works out. Green Bay’s defense might have finally received the jolt it needed to get back to respectability.
Matt Bove is a writer at PackersTalk.com. PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on twitter at @RayRobert9.