The Green Bay Packers have been widely regarded as a draft-and-develop team under the managing of Ted Thompson. Prior to last season, the Packers strayed from that mentality when they signed veteran free agent Julius Peppers to a three-contract.
The move was a curious one to say the least. Green Bay has made a point to not spend large amounts of money on other teams’ free agents, so why should the team break that philosophy to sign a 34-year-old defensive end who has been criticized for occasionally taking plays off?
But over the course of the season, the signing of Julius Peppers proved to be a very important move for the Packers. Peppers became a leader on the Green Bay defense (he was even voted to be the team’s postseason defensive captain) and had one of the most solid defensive performances that the Packers have seen in recent years.
Heading into the 2015 season, Peppers can still be a formidable player for the Packers’ defensive unit. Motivated by the possibility of winning a championship before retiring, Peppers has found new life in Green Bay that make him one of the Packers’ most important players heading into next season.
The biggest concern when Peppers joined the team was his age. At age 35, he is easily the oldest player on the Packers’ roster. But his age did not factor into his performance last year, and it will likely not impact him in 2015 either.
Peppers did not need more breaks than the younger players on the roster. He was on the field for roughly 74 percent of the Packers’ defensive snaps, which was second to Clay Matthews in the linebacker corps and the sixth highest total overall on the Green Bay defense. Peppers has also been able to stay healthy. Over his 13-year career, he has missed just six games and has played in every game since the 2008 season.
Another concern regarding Peppers was his lack of motivation. He was criticized for giving sub-par efforts over the course of a game. While there were times when Peppers’ presence was not entirely felt, such as the season finale against the Lions or Week 12 against the Vikings, overall his production was more than Green Bay could have hoped for.
Peppers recorded 44 tackles over the course of the season. He had seven sacks, which ranked second on the team behind only Matthews. Peppers also had two interceptions, both of which were returned for touchdowns, and 11 passes defended, which was a career high.
Peppers adapted well to his new hybrid role as an outside linebacker. Pro Football Focus rated him the second best defensive player on Green Bay as well as the fifth best outside linebacker in the entire league.
One of the things the Packers enjoyed most about Peppers’ first season in Green Bay was his ability to make big plays when the team needed him to. His numbers were not as gaudy as they were earlier in his career, but Peppers made an impact when he needed to.
In Week 3 when Detroit was looking to add to their lead, Peppers came up with a strip sack that kept Green Bay in the game. In games against the Vikings and Eagles, Peppers’ pick-sixes helped to put the game away early. Most importantly, Peppers had two forced fumbles in the playoff game against eh Cowboys, giving Green Bay the chance to overcome its 8-point deficit on the way to winning the game.
Peppers has stated that part of the reason he chose Green Bay in free agency was the potential to add a Super Bowl title to his resume. He gave the Packers an impressive performance throughout the 2014, despite the occasional lapses in production. For Peppers, another year does not seem likely to cause a drop-off in his playing ability.
The Green Bay defense has been steadily improving for the past couple seasons, and Peppers will help the unit continue that trend in 2015. He may not be as quick or as strong as he once was, but Peppers remains a dangerous defender for the Green Bay Packers.——————
Sean Blashe is a Packers fan who grew up in Bears territory and is currently a journalism and history major at Marquette University. Sean is a writer with PackersTalk.com and you can follow him on twitter at @SeanBlashe .