Despite rash of retirements, no sign Julius Peppers is ready to call it quits

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Players around the NFL are preparing farewell speeches or, in the case of Marshawn Lynch, cryptic retirement tweets.

From Lynch to Calvin Johnson to Justin Tuck to Charles Woodson -- and likely Peyton Manning -- they’re saying goodbye left and right.

Then there’s Julius Peppers.

Or should we say 36-year-old Julius Peppers? It's like his age has become part of his first name. He’s older -- and not by a little -- than Lynch, Johnson and Tuck.

But at this point, the Green Bay Packers have no reason to think that Peppers won’t be back for his 15th NFL season, his third in Green Bay.

Although Peppers said in the hour after the Jan. 16 playoff loss at Arizona that he was “not sure about that,” when asked whether he would be back with the Packers in 2016 and added that “everybody has decisions to make, [and] we’ll talk about that when it’s time,” the Packers are operating under the assumption that he will return for the final year of his contract.

All indications are they want him back.

Peppers is scheduled to make $8 million in 2016, the final season of a three-year, $26-million contract. He has a $7 million base salary plus bonuses of $500,000 for taking part in the offseason program and up to $500,000 in weekly roster bonuses ($31,250 per game active). That’s actually less than what the Packers paid him in 2015, when he made $9.5 million in salary and bonuses.

If the Packers cut him or if Peppers retires, they would pick up $5.5 million in salary-cap space. Only the remaining prorated portion ($2.5 million) of his original signing bonus ($7.5 million) would count on the 2016 salary cap, and the $8 million in pay for this season would be wiped off their ledger.

But the Packers aren’t planning for either scenario.

“Julius brings so much to the team, I think,” Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said shortly after the season. “As a coach, and if you’ve got a lot of young guys, it’s far more effective to point to Julius Peppers and say, ‘There’s a reason why that guy has played for 13 years or whatever -- because he’s a true pro.’ You go into any meeting and he’s sitting up front taking notes, never misses a practice.”

Well, Peppers did miss one practice, and it doesn’t sound like it was his choice. The Packers held him out of a Monday practice in advance of the Week 13 Thursday night game at Detroit. It’s the only time Peppers has been on an injury report since he came to Green Bay, and it wasn’t even injury-related. Coach Mike McCarthy simply wanted to rest him.

Peppers responded with a sack against the Lions and then added 3.5 more sacks over the final three weeks of the season to finish the regular season with 10.5. It marked his ninth double-digit sack season, and he added another in the playoffs.

With an outside linebacker rotation that featured Mike Neal, Nick Perry, Jayrone Elliott and even Datone Jones and Clay Matthews at times, the Packers reduced Peppers’ playing time from 74.1 percent of defensive snaps in 2014 to 66.2 percent in 2015.

Peppers said late in the season that he felt good and saw no reason why he wouldn’t play another year. He said he would play “until the body tells me to stop.”

“I think he’s really played his best the last two years at the end of the season,” Capers said. “I thought last year in the playoffs he played outstanding. What, he ended up with 11.5 sacks, I think. I thought he really rushed and played really well in the game [against the Cardinals]. As I look at him, you don’t see the signs at the end of the season that the arrow is not pointing up. He’s played his best at the end of the season. I think part of that is we’ve been able to control his reps and to try to keep him fresh so he’d be at his best when we get to that point in the playoffs.”