The sight of defensive end Julius Peppers chasing after and possibly reaching quarterback Jay Cutler is an unwelcome one for the Bears.
But it’s their unwelcome reality for at least one season.
“Not happy it’s with the Pack, but congrats to Pep on his new deal,” linebacker Lance Briggs wrote on Twitter on Saturday. “He will be missed.”
Peppers is the newest member of the Green Bay Packers. He signed a three-year deal that’s reportedly worth $30 million, including $7.5 million guaranteed. The Bears still have $8.36 million left on their 2014 books from Peppers’ original six-year deal.
Peppers might not be the freakish, nearly unstoppable player he once was, but his landing in Green Bay has made an intriguing 2014 season for the Bears only more compelling.
Trying to keep Peppers away from Cutler will be among the highlights of a season that includes former coach Lovie Smith and quarterback Josh McCown coming to Chicago with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and perhaps star returner Devin Hester and defensive tackle Henry Melton returning on opposing teams. (Hester and Melton have garnered interest from teams on the Bears’ schedule.)
At this point in his career, Peppers is far from the second-coming of Reggie White for the Packers. But the potential for big things — without much risk — is still there for the NFC North favorites.
“I have a lot left in the tank,” Peppers told the Packers’ website. “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.”
The Packers’ 3-4 defense could feature Peppers in many ways while not burdening him to be an every-down contributor as he was with the Bears. After playing more than 81 percent of the snaps in 2013, he’s part of a defense that relies heavily on a rotation. Having star linebacker Clay Matthews around to harass quarterbacks also will relieve pressure on Peppers.
The entire situation with the Packers might turn out to be rejuvenating for the 34-year-old, who has been slowed by various injuries but still started every game in his four seasons with the Bears. Peppers’ internal fire undoubtedly will be burning when he faces his former team.
“[Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers] likes to be versatile and do different things,” Peppers said. “That’s something I’ve wanted to do my whole career.
“We haven’t talked in detail about what the plan is going to be for me, but I can say it’s going to be something different.”
Stringing together solid performances was problematic for Peppers last season. The Bears openly said they were managing his practice time to maximize him on Sundays.
Coach Marc Trestman even met with Peppers in November to “reconnect … not only football-wise but non-football-wise.”
But it’s erroneous to say that Peppers wasn’t a factor in 2013.
In the Bears’ 23-20 victory against the Ravens, Peppers flashed his game-changing abilities, finishing with two sacks, two other tackles for loss, two hurries and a career-high 12 tackles (per coach reviews). He still led the Bears with 71/2 sacks last season after having 111/2 in 2012 (his most with the Bears).
The problem is that Peppers’ declining production didn’t match his $18.2 million cap hit for 2014. The Bears needed the $9.8 million gained by releasing him — see the additions of defensive ends Lamarr Houston and Willie Young and the re-signing of cornerback Charles Tillman — regardless of the considerable amount of dead money left on their books.
It was time to move on after a four-year run that was more fruitful than not for Peppers and the Bears.
Peppers said joining a team with a franchise quarterback in Aaron Rodgers factored heavily into his decision.
Now the Bears just have to keep him off theirs.
“We wish him the best,” Emery said when Peppers was released.
Just not every week.