In perhaps the least surprising and most inevitable move throughout the 2014 free agency process, the Chicago Bears have released defensive Julius Peppers. The Bears were trying to shop the veteran defensive lineman in recent days, but they didn't really expect any takers due to Peppers' age (34), declining production (just 7.5 sacks in 2013) and enormous cap hit in 2014 (over $18 million). In the end, his release was an inevitability, especially after the team signed former Oakland Raiders defensive lineman LaMarr Houston to a five-year, $35 million contract with $15 million guaranteed on Tuesday.
“We appreciate Julius’ contributions to the Bears over the last four years,” General Manager Phil Emery said in a statement. “He was a leader on our defense starting every game since coming to Chicago. His accomplishments over his NFL career place him among the best defensive ends over the past 20 years. The Chicagoland community has benefited greatly from his quiet generosity. We wish him the best.”
The Bears signed Peppers to a six-year, $91 million contract with $42.5 million guaranteed in March of 2010, and he was perhaps the most coveted free agent that year after several outstanding seasons with the Carolina Panthers. He was selected by Carolina with the second overall pick of the 2002 draft out of North Carolina, and he amassed 81 sacks in eight seasons for them. For the Bears, Peppers put up 34 sacks in four seasons -- not quite what was expected, and he did tend to disappear at times. Peppers increased his value in recent seasons by moving inside to tackle on a situational basis, but his best season came with 11.5 sacks in 2012 -- not what one would expect for the contract he received.
With 119 sacks through his career, Peppers has the third-most of any active player, behind John Abraham's 133.5 and Jared Allen's 128.5. And now, three of the top four active sack leaders are on the open market -- Allen, Peppers, and DeMarcus Ware (117), who was released by the Dallas Cowboys on Tuesday.
Last November, Peppers admitted that he's closer to the end of his career than the beginning. "I've been in that stage for a while," he told the Chicago Tribune. "It has been a few years since I've been here, really. So you know your time is always ticking... You reach a point where your body won't always do what your mind tells it to. Sometimes you get up and come to practice and the body just isn't going to do it that day."