The confession came after another year of uneven, unspectacular defensive play. Actually, what head coach Mike McCarthy said in his postseason press conference wasn’t so much an admission as it was an acknowledgement of the obvious about the Green Bay Packers’ defense:
They didn’t have enough playmakers.
“We need more impact players, we need more players making plays on defense,” McCarthy admitted in the wake of his team’s third straight premature postseason exit, an NFC Wild Card Playoff loss to San Francisco. “I think that’s stating the obvious. I feel that those guys are here, but do we have more coming in? That’s really what the offseason’s for.”
On Saturday, the Packers went out and got one of the NFL’s best: Ex-Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers, whom they signed to a three-year deal.
While Peppers may not cure all that ailed the Packers defense at age 34, the 12-year veteran certainly fits the bill of a playmaker.
The 6-foot-7, 287-pound Peppers, who entered the NFL as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2002 draft out of North Carolina, has been extremely durable, playing in 186 of a possible 192 games, and productive, registering the second-most sacks (118.5) in the NFL and forcing the fifth-most fumbles (39) since entering the league. He leads all NFL defensive linemen with nine interceptions over that span.
As much as the Packers missed quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who missed seven games after suffering a fractured left collarbone Nov. 4 against Peppers’ former team, their defensive limitations also were a factor in their 8-7-1 finish and first-round playoff exit.
Peppers was not made available to reporters by the Packers Saturday but was interviewed by the team website.
“This team last year had a great offense, even when Aaron went down. The defense – I don’t know what they were missing. I definitely feel I can help them get to an elite level. Everything’s a perfect fit,” Peppers said. “I have a lot left in the tank. 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.”
Last season, the Packers defense finished tied for 24th in scoring defense (26.8 points per game), 25th in yards allowed (372.3), 25th in rushing yards allowed (125.0), 24th in passing yards allowed (247.3), tied for eighth in sacks (44) and tied for 20th in takeaways (22).
“Expectations are not for me; stats don’t necessarily have a lot of value in my book. You can have a great season without having great stats,” Peppers said. “My goal is to play football at a high level. I’m a pass rusher, so that’s going to be a big part of what I can do. Play hard and have an impact in every game.
The Packers announced Peppers’ signing on Saturday afternoon. Peppers’ agent, Carl Carey, posted photos to his Twitter account of Peppers signing the deal and standing on the still-frozen tundra of Lambeau Field earlier in the day, and Carey told ESPN that the deal is for a maximum of $30 million, including $7.5 million in guaranteed money and $8.5 million in total 2014 pay.
Peppers, who has been selected to eight Pro Bowls and named an Associated Press first-team All-Pro three times, including winning the 2002 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, was released Tuesday by the Bears in a cost-cutting move.
After joining the Bears in 2010 on a six-year, $84 million deal ($42 million guaranteed) after spending his first eight NFL seasons with the Carolina Panthers, Peppers would have counted a whopping $18.183 million against Chicago’s salary cap this season and had a base salary of $13 million.
Peppers played in all 64 of the Bears’ games the past four seasons, posting 37.5 sacks. His 7.5 sacks last season were his fewest since a career-low 2.5 sacks in 2007, but he still would have led the Packers in that category in 2012.
In Green Bay, Peppers is reunited with Mike Trgovac, who coached him for his first seven seasons in Carolina. Trgovac, the Packers’ defensive line coach, was Peppers’ defensive line coach as a rookie in 2002 and his defensive coordinator from 2003 through 2008.
“I haven’t won a championship,” said Peppers, who went to the Super Bowl in 2003 with the Panthers, losing to the New England Patriots. “That’s where my focus is. I feel like the team is set up to make a run and I feel I can help get it there.”