LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears quietly restructured the contract last month of defensive end Julius Peppers to save themselves approximately $8 million in salary cap space for 2011, according to a league source.
With Peppers due a $10.5 million roster bonus for 2011, the Bears restructured the defensive end's contract on Feb. 23 to reduce his salary cap number from $12 million to $4.3 million in anticipation of the cap returning once a new collective bargaining is reached between the NFL and the players union.
The Bears did it by changing Peppers' $10.5 million roster bonus into a signing bonus so they could prorate that $10.5 million over the life of the contract, which runs through 2015. The restructuring should give the team options once free agency finally begins, while allowing the team to re-sign some of its own free agents.
The club originally signed Peppers last March, giving the Bears arguably the NFL's most significant acquisition of 2010 free agency.
"Last year, obviously, we were able to hit it big time with him," Bears coach Lovie Smith said.
A nine-year veteran, Peppers tied with Israel Idonije for the team lead in sacks (eight), while finishing eighth on the team in tackles (50). Peppers also intercepted two passes, broke up two more and forced three fumbles.
Peppers has posted 89 career sacks, which ranks as the third-most in the NFL since he was drafted in 2002. In a Bears win over the Dolphins on Nov. 18, Peppers became the franchise's first player to post three sacks in a game since 2007 (Adewale Ogunleye). That game marked the first of four consecutive outings in which Peppers posted at least one sack.
Peppers was also responsible for five turnovers in 2010, including two INTs, two sacks in which he stripped the quarterback, and a batted pass that led to an interception. In 38 games, Peppers has forced 32 fumbles, which ranks as third-most by a defensive lineman since 2002.
Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.