The Bears’ parting with defensive end Julius Peppers last week had been coming since early stages of his consistently inconsistent 2013 season. The reasons are a little hazier, though.
The simplest explanation is that the Bears concluded Peppers was not worth $14 million for 2014. An underlying conclusion beyond that is that the Bears didn’t believe he was worth half that — which leads to some difficult other conclusions about a player perennially among the NFL’s true elite.
Peppers signed with Green Bay, a three-year deal worth potentially $30 million and guaranteeing him $7.5 million, as first reported by Josina Anderson over at ESPN. A logical immediate question is: If Peppers was OK with that pay grade, why wasn’t he worth that to the Bears?
As CSNChicago co-conspirator Chris Boden adeptly noted, when Emery was queried about Peppers during the NFL Scouting Combine, the GM did not include in his answer any statement that he and the Bears hoped to have No. 90 back, something that has been there in the cases of Josh McCown, Henry Melton, Charles Tillman and others this offseason.
An interesting hypothetical is whether Peppers would’ve taken $7.5 million guaranteed from the Bears. What doesn’t appear hypothetical at all is that the Bears weren’t interested in finding out. That amount (which is part of an $8.5 million total payout for 2014) is in the range of what Michael Bennett got for returning to the Seattle Seahawks and Michael Johnson signed for with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Conclusion: The Bears thought Bennett was worth that much a year, but that Peppers wasn’t.
What the Bears desperately needed from Peppers was a max-effort every single week to carry a defense that was reeling for virtually the entire second half of the season. They didn’t get it. It simply wasn’t there — for whatever reason, or reasons — and suddenly, like it or not, Peppers had gone from a linchpin of a defense to a player not to be counted on every week. A paragon of consistency was all of a sudden precisely the opposite.
Peppers started all 64 games in his four Chicago seasons. What he did less and less last season was “finish” them, using the parlance for the final step in pass rushing (get-off/close/finish).
It is a near impossibility for a player to be flat-out on every play of a game. That includes the greats and is not a character flaw; Richard Dent made no secret of moderating effort based on situations.
But Dent’s method was a combination of rope-a-dope, setting up a tackle for situations, and calculated optimization of what he had. Dent’s pedal was conspicuously to the metal when the situation warranted it.
Of his 16 games last season, Peppers had one tackle in seven games and zero in an eighth. By comparison, Shea McClellin played his way out of his job after games with two “zeros” and one “one.”
There is really no way to measure effort, certainly from distance. Even the Bears themselves were not about to denigrate Peppers or his play even as he was leaving.
[Julius Peppers: 'I have a lot left in the tank']
But if Peppers has a return to greatness in 2014 — best guess here is 12 sacks for the year — he may qualify for some comeback player of the year award. He will also cast a little more of a shadow over his 2013 season and qualify for a dubious distinction of being someone his teammates ultimately couldn’t count on when they needed him most.