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Next stop, Hall of Fame: Former Bears DE Julius Peppers retiring

Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky dives for the pylon as Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers stops him short last year. | Jeff Haynes/AP photo

ATLANTA — Julius Peppers accepted a hug from commissioner Roger Goodell and congratulations from his fellow Walter Payton Man of the Year Award nominees Friday. Hours after announcing his retirement via video and a Player’s Tribune article, though, the Panthers’ legendary edge rusher decided to no-comment his own retirement. Rather than talk about leaving the game after dominant 17 years, he went about building a playground with his fellow nominees.

He leaves the game, then the way he played it — by letting his talent do the talking.

The 39-year-old is destined to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a Panther. Four of his stellar seasons, though, were spent in Chicago.

In March 2010, the Bears gave him a six-year deal worth $42 million guaranteed and $91.5 million overall to lure Peppers away from the Panthers, who’d chosen him second overall out of nearby North Carolina in 2002. In four seasons with the Bears, Peppers totaled 37 1/2 sacks and three Pro Bowl appearances. The Bears let him leave after going 8-8 in 2013, and he spent the next three seasons as an outside linebacker for the Packers.

He returned home to the Panthers in 2017, totaling 11 sacks. In his final season, he had five.

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Peppers finished his career with 159 1/2 sacks, fourth-most in NFL history. He had 21 fumble recoveries and 11 interceptions. He played in 176-straight games to end his career — his last missed game was in 2007.

In a letter published by The Players Tribune, Peppers thanked linebacker Brian Urlacher for “leading by example and showing me the importance of paying attention to detail and the art of calling a game.” To Bears fans, he said he “could not have chosen a better place to make my first stop outside of North Carolina.”