Bears noncommittal about Julius Peppers

INDIANAPOLIS -- In discussing the future of defensive end Julius Peppers, Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman used very few words Thursday at the NFL combine, leading to further speculation that in 2014, the veteran could be forced to play elsewhere.

Asked how the club’s salary-cap limitations come into play when evaluating Peppers, Emery invoked his usual policy regarding questions concerning contracts.

“That would be a contract question, and I think I have had a very demonstrated history of not answering those questions,” Emery said. “I will say that Julius is part of our football team. He is under contract. We’re all coming off an 8-8 season. We have a lot to improve upon and that is where our heads are at.”

An 11-year veteran, Peppers signed a restructured deal with the Bears last Sept. 3, but is set in 2014 to count $18.183 million against the club’s cap. The restructured deal converted $3 million of Peppers’ base salary ($12.9 million) for 2013 into a signing bonus ($3 million) and reduced the base salary to $9.9 million. That move created $2 million in cap space for the Bears, and marked the second time the team restructured Peppers’ contract to gain some cap room.

The problem now is the team seems to be running out of options, and pushing money into future years to keep Peppers might no longer be worth the effort. At 34, Peppers comes off a season in which he posted his lowest sack total (7.5) since 2010, after back-to-back years of 11-plus sacks in 2011 and 2012. It would be premature to say Peppers is falling off, but the reality is a 7.5-sack season in 2013 isn’t worth an $18.183 million cap hit in 2014. So it’s likely the Bears at the very least would ask Peppers to take a salary reduction.

But if the Bears opted to cut Peppers and use the post-June 1 designation (which allows a team to spread out the cap hit over two years), it would result in dead money of $4.183 million in 2014 and $4.183 million in 2015. Considering Peppers’ cap charges over those two years are $18.183 million and $20.683 million, the dead money would still result in savings in 2014 and 2015 of approximately $14 million and $16 million.

Besides that, it’s usually better to cut ties with a player a year early as opposed to a year late.

Teams planning to part ways with high-priced players such as Peppers typically make such moves as early as possible to give them a chance to catch on with another team. Would the same take place in this case? That’s unknown at this point. But it’s certainly beginning to appear the team is considering a 2014 without Peppers in the lineup.

“Veteran, non-veteran, rookie free agent that made your team, somebody you’ve drafted that you have to move on from, it’s all the same process,” Emery said. “To quote Marc [Trestman]: ‘Decisions are made when they have to be made.’”