GREEN BAY — No one is comparing Julius Peppers' signing with the Green Bay Packers to the 1993 Titletown arrival of Reggie White.
Not coach Mike McCarthy, who was in his first year as a lowly offensive quality control coach with the Kansas City Chiefs, his first NFL job; not Ted Thompson, who'd just joined the Packers' scouting staff a year before White's arrival; not even the few players in the Packers locker room who can be considered semi-football historians and know what White's arrival meant to the franchise. (Five players on the roster hadn't even celebrated their first birthday when White signed on April 6, 1993.)
White was 31 years old, not 34, when the Packers signed him. He was in his prime, not nearing the end of the line. He was the most sought-after free agent in the NFL's brief history of unfettered player movement, not cast adrift by his team in a cost-cutting move.
But it was in 1996 — when White was 34 years old to start the season — that the Packers broke through and won Super Bowl XXXI. White had 8.5 sacks that season — and then had a Super Bowl record-tying three sacks in the Packers' victory over New England in New Orleans — his impact was much greater than the number itself. Two seasons later, his last in Green Bay, he registered 16 sacks and was named NFL defensive player of the year, even though he turned 37 before season's end.
According to terrific research by the Green Bay Press-Gazette's Pete Dougherty
, since the NFL began keeping sacks as an official statistic in 1982, only 14 pass rushers who'd reached their 34th birthday have ever registered double-digit sacks. They've done it a combined 26 times.
While Peppers didn't have double-digit sacks last year for Chicago — he finished with 7.5 — he has had at least 10 sacks in eight of his 12 NFL seasons. He had 11 sacks in 2011 and 11.5 in 2012, If he can have something resembling that kind of production — while also helping fellow elite pass rusher Clay Matthews and others on defense be more productive — then McCarthy should be able to deliver on his "big letters" promise of defensive improvement.
"Julius is such an impressive person from all angles. Very professional in his approach, takes great care of himself, you can see that in [the initial offseason] workouts," McCarthy said. "Then we hit the field [for organized team activity practices] for the first time, and just the way he moves. He looks awesome in (No.) 56. I was a little worried about finding a shirt to fit him, but we worked that out. He looks very natural at the outside linebacker position."
The Packers intend to use Peppers in a hybrid position they've dubbed "elephant," which is a defensive end/outside linebacker. After playing 855 snaps last year for the Bears, the Packers don't plan on asking him to play that much.
What they do plan on seeing is how he and Matthews can work in tandem, and how two big-name, big-time pass rushers not only work in concert, but how they help others (Mike Neal, Mike Daniels, Datone Jones, Nick Perry, and the inside linebacker group).
"I was a little shocked [by Peppers' signing]," said Matthews, who had 7.5 sacks last season despite missing six games with the right thumb he broke twice. "I know we don't make too many offseason acquisitions especially, you know, such a big name. But obviously I'm happy to have him on this side of the ball. I know he's a tremendous threat. Tackles know what he possesses, as well as offensive coordinators, so I think it's just going to present new elements to this defense that we've been looking for. I'm excited, I know he is. Looking to make some plays this year."
For his part, Peppers has never been paired with a player of Matthews' caliber. Now that he is, he's got as good a chance as anyone to join those other 14 players who had 10-plus sacks at age 34 or older.
"I haven't really played with a guy like Clay, really my whole career," Peppers said. "A really dominant player on the outside, I really haven't had that ever. I'm excited to get out there with him and see what we can do."