Saturday, March 15, 2014

Packers surprise everyone and sign DE Julius Peppers

Was it really any surprise to anyone that the Green Bay Packers hadn't picked up any free agents -- except a few of their own -- during these first few days of free agency? If you are a true Packer fan, no. You know how GM Ted Thompson likes to roll: keep your own free agents (at least the ones you think are worth it), let the dust settle on the market, and perhaps -- perhaps! -- pick up an outside free agent at a bargain for a year or two.

Well, Packers fans, that all changed moments ago when reports started emerging that the Packers have signed veteran Pro Bowl DE Julius Peppers to a three-year deal.

ESPN reports that Peppers signed a three-year deal totaling a maximum of $30 million, including $7.5 million guaranteed. The first-year salary is $8.5 million. The way the deal is apparently structured basically makes succeeding years dependent upon performance, so it can likely be viewed as a one-year trial of the 34-year-old defensive end. The salary cap hit is reportedly around $3.5 million, which is very reasonable indeed.

How big could this be for the Packers and its woeful defense? Huge. HUGE! Even if Peppers is only a situational player at this stage, the impact on the field and in the locker room cannot be overstated.

Stay tuned for more on this story as it develops.

Now, back to our regularly-scheduled post...

What has Ted done so far (in addition to reportedly signing Peppers)?
  • Kept LB Mike Neal around for two more years.
  • CB Sam Shields is also in the fold for a while with a fairly sizable deal (although it is back-loaded on the contract dollars, according to reports).
  • Re-signed TE Andrew Quarless for a reasonable amount.
  • Got NT B.J. Raji for another half the price of the offer on the table last fall.
Center Evan Dietrich-Smith was signed by Tampa Bay, so for the fourth consecutive year QB Aaron Rodgers will have to line up behind a new center. Speculation is that young and untested J.C. Tretter will be given every opportunity to win that job. But don't be surprised if the Packers try to pick up a veteran center...just in case.

The Packers also let safety M.D. Jennings -- he of the infamous Seattle "Fail Mary" game -- walk away. Just down the road, though. Chicago signed him, which should bring much delight to Rodgers and his receiving corps for those divisional games. (And really, how sweet is it that in exchange we pick up Peppers, whom Da Bearz released? That's one of the best non-trade "trades" we can think of.)

Speculation today is that TE Jermichael Finley is close to signing a deal with Seattle, despite not officially being cleared to play. Will see how that works out. The Packers always seem skittish -- perhaps rightly so -- with players coming back from what can be career-ending injuries. They are more willing to let some other team take the risks and the rewards. In their estimation, the downside to re-signing Finley is greater than the upside. He's had a hard time staying on the field the last couple seasons. Great potential and performance. But apparently no longer worth the money and the risk.

Here's the other remaining Packers' unrestricted free agents still available:
  • WR James Jones
  • FB John Kuhn
  • RT Marshall Newhouse
  • RB Kahlil Bell
  • QB Matt Flynn
  • ILB Rob Francois
  • DE Johnny Jolly
  • ILB Jamari Lattimore
  • DT Ryan Pickett
  • RB James Starks
  • QB Seneca Wallace
  • DE C.J. Wilson
Obviously, it would be great if the Pack could re-sign a few of these players. In this writer's view, none are indispensible, obviously, or they would have already been re-signed...or signed elsewhere by now. Keeping Matt Flynn as a back-up to Rogers would be a nice safety blanket, but Scott Tolzein obviously showed enough last season to warrant keeping around and developing. That might be the way the Packers go. Keeping veterans James Jones and John Kuhn would also be a plus overall. Having Johnny Jolly around, who reportedly has made great progress in his injury recovery, is something that would be a feel-good story. But with the signing of Peppers, that might no longer be a realistic hope.

There is still a lot to play out. And don't forget the draft...or the young players who had to sit out portions of the last year or two with injuries. Get some of those players back, especially on the defensive side of the ball, and the Packers could once again have as good a defense as anyone in the league.

Wow. It's been an interesting few days, Packer fans. And it just got a whole lot more interesting with the addition of Peppers to the Green 'n' Gold.

Go Pack Go!!!