The oldest rivalry in the NFL just got a little more interesting Saturday morning. Julius Peppers signed a three-year contract with the Green Bay Packers, reportedly worth up to $30 million, with $7.5 million guaranteed and $8.5 million coming in 2014.
The move comes just days after the Bears let him go after four seasons in Chicago, with two more years remaining on his contract. He was scheduled to earn more than $14 million this season had he remained with the club, with a salary cap hit of more than $18 million. His release gave the Bears $10 million more to spend this off-season, but they'll now be seeing a motivated opponent twice a year in green and gold.
Peppers' seven sacks in 2013 were the third-lowest total of his career, and he only occasionally showed flashes of his eight-time Pro Bowl form at age 33. We'll now learn first-hand whether his skills were, in fact, diminishing or whether his inconsistent play and subpar numbers were a byproduct of the injuries and inexperience the defensive line had to deal with were the main causes.
General manager Phil Emery called Peppers' 2013 season an "8-and-8" season when asked, and wouldn't state he was wanted back, as he did with other Bears free agents like Charles Tillman. In fact, Peppers was under contract, and that's as far as Emery would go in discussing Peppers' Bears future.
It's now to the north, for the team that's been the Bears' biggest obstacle within their division. While we get to see how the Lamarr Houston and Willie Young signings this week pan out, one of the defensive ends they'll be replacing is sure to have a huge chip on his shoulder, and potentially be a key factor in whether the Bears will be able to overcome Green Bay, at least in 2014.