LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears appear to be noncommittal regarding the future of defensive end Julius Peppers, who led the team with 7.5 sacks in 2013 but didn’t perform at his typically dominant clip.
Set to count $18.183 million against the team’s cap in 2013, Peppers could be asked to restructure his deal to clear some space. But it’s worth noting that prior to announcing deals Thursday for quarterback Jay Cutler, cornerback Tim Jennings and guard Matt Slauson, the Bears had $80,313,001 committed to the 2013 cap, which ranked as second-lowest in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Also, the club remains in the process of performing a self-evaluation, a process that involves an assessment of every player on the roster.
“I’m not going to get into contracts,” Bears general manager Phil Emery said. “He’s under contract. Julius had an 8-8 year like all of us, like I did, and that’s where he’s at.”
Peppers, who turns 34 on Jan. 18, has already restructured his contract twice since joining the Bears.
In September, the Bears converted $3 million of Peppers’ base salary ($12.9 million) for 2013 into a signing bonus ($3 million), which reduced his base salary to $9.9 million. The move created $2 million in salary-cap space for the Bears, and reduced the defensive end’s cap charge from $16.387 million in 2013 to $14.387 million.
That move created only temporary relief. With the restructured deal, Peppers’ cap numbers over the final two years of his contract rise. For instance, in 2014 Peppers’ cap number was previously $17.183 million but increased to $18.183 million. In 2015, Peppers’ cap number grows to $20.683 million.
Having just completed Year 4 of a six-year deal worth $84 million, Peppers previously restructured his contract on Feb. 23, 2011, and saved the team approximately $8 million in cap space. At the time, Peppers was due a roster bonus of $10.5 million, and the Bears reduced his cap number from $12 million to $4.3 million by converting the roster bonus into a signing bonus that it could prorate over the life of the deal.
But in 2013, Peppers’ production didn’t match the salary. Peppers was credited with 46 tackles, two forced fumbles and an interception. He also returned a fumble 42 yards for a touchdown on Sept. 22 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The 2013 season marked the first time since 2010 that Peppers finished with fewer than 11 sacks.
“I’m not sure, I don’t know [what’s going to happen],” Peppers said Sunday when asked about his future. “I’m in a contract. You’ll need to talk to a decision-maker about that.”
Peppers’ production in 2013 seemed par for the course for a player on an 8-8 team, but Emery stressed he doesn’t consider the defensive end an 8-8 player.
“I didn’t say he was an 8-8 defensive end. I said he had an 8-8 season, to correct that,” Emery said. “That’s a whole lot different. Obviously, Julius had a lot of good games like a lot of our players, and he had games that he would want back, and I think Julius would say that too. We will work through each and every player on our squad to determine where we’re going with him in the future, and that process is going to take time. But Julius is under contract. We’re proud that he’s a Bear, and that’s where we’re at.”