If there’s anyone who wants Julius Peppers back, it’s Clay Matthews
Green Bay Packers General Manager Ted Thompson jumped out of his comfort zone last spring and shocked the football world by signing future Hall-of-Famer Julius Peppers in the middle of the night – a move that has turned out to be one of his best moves – ever.
You can compare it to the signing of Charles Woodson back in 2006 – a move that helped lead the Green Bay Packers to a Super Bowl championship in 2010.
And while Peppers was brought to Green Bay in a deal that would allow the Packers to part ways with Peppers after this season and walk away without any damage to their salary cap, there is a growing feeling that Peppers isn’t done.
Julius Peppers returns an interception for a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports photograph
Far from it.
Just ask Clay Matthews.
Matthews, who signed his own long-term extension last year with the Packers, has been playing like we all expect.
And aside from his own talents that he brings to the field, a good part of the reason he’s been lighting it up is because of the guy across from him – Peppers.
For years, the Packers have been looking for that player who could complement Matthews and take some of the pressure off him – to allow him to play without having to fight off double teams.
While it took some time before Matthews stepped up his play this season, his production rose with Dom Capers’ decision to move him around – to allow him to attack the middle, the outside and to even drop into coverage.
None of this would have been possible without having Peppers on the field with him.
Green Bay Packers defensive end Julius Peppers rushes Oakland Raiders quarterback Matt Schaub. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports photograph
So, what will the Packers do after this season comes to an end and they have to make a decision on whether to bring Peppers back or to release him?
Last night, Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press Gazette, wrote a column saying that Thompson should step away from the norm and bring Peppers back.
Despite his age, Dougherty argues, Peppers is far from an ordinary player. He is a beast; he is a player who can make a difference in a game at any given moment – a player who should be paid. He’s earned his contract this year and has earned the right to wear number 56 with the Packers at least one more year.
Here’s an important passage by Dougherty – one that includes his compelling argument on why Peppers is a valued player who can continue to help the Packers:
"For one, Peppers’ play doesn’t appear to have declined from last season. He has the same number of sacks (seven) as he finished with in 2013 and has one game to play. Also, according to Pro Football Focus his other pass-rushing and playmaking numbers are about the same: 10 quarterback hits this season to six last year; 26 hurries to 27 last year; three batted passes in both seasons; and 24 stops (defined as a solo tackle that constitutes a failed play for the offense) to 26 last season.More importantly, Peppers is the exception that tests the rule. He is not the normal 34-year-old NFL player and won’t be the normal 35-year-old. He has exceptional size, and he still plays with good flexibility in his legs and hips. He’s never had a major injury and has missed only six of 207 games in his career, which also bodes well for longevity.The Packers have used him a little more than they probably would like — he’s played 775 defensive snaps, compared with 851 in 2013 and 785 in ’12. But in the last three games, he’s had seven combined sacks, hits and hurries, which is about his pace for the season. And last week in more limited playing time (only 31 snaps) against Tampa Bay he had two sacks and a forced fumble. So he hasn’t crashed late in the season, as older players often do."
And if there’s any player who would welcome Peppers back, it’s Clay Matthews – not to mention that both Mike Neal and Nick Perry would most likely also be on that bandwagon. Both of those players have also benefitted by having Peppers on the field.
Green Bay Packers Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers share a conversation during a team offseason workout session.
In fact, the entire team has benefitted.
Peppers not only produces on the field, but he’s also gained the confidence and respect of this teammates. He was selected as one of the six playoff captains – demonstrating that others understand his importance.
I would suspect that Thompson is paying close attention to these developments.
With one game remaining in the regular season and at least one game in the Playoffs, Peppers still has time to continue to build a case for his return. He was brought to Green Bay to make plays.
He’s done that.
But more importantly, he was brought in to make other players better.
He’s done that, too.
Yes, Peppers has certainly earned his keep and he’s earned another shot at returning to Green Bay.
Just ask Clay Matthews.