Julius Peppers-DE-Free Agent 2010:The Chicago Bears organization over the years has been known as a cautious one. Rarely does the organization rush to sign the top free agent of any given year, thus setting the bar for the NFL. Much more frequently they proceed with caution, only signing known commodities to team-friendly contracts. In fairness to the Bears, this could be due to their history of striking out when they have set the bar (Bryan Cox in 1996, which turned out to be a disaster).
Entering free agency in March 2010, Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers was agreed to be unquestionably the top free agent available. A stud pass rusher is coveted in any defense but especially in Lovie Smith’s, which requires a strong pass rush being generated by down linemen with little reliance on blitzing. Adewale Ogunelye had served as the Bears’ top pass rusher for six years, but by the end of 2009 it was clear he had little left in the tank and would not be re-signed.
Peppers was the second overall pick in the 2002 draft by the Panthers, and in his eight years with Carolina he had amassed 81 sacks. Still, his contract demands for several years, and a down season in 2007 during which he recorded only 2.5 made it look probable the Panthers would not try to re-sign him. This despite the fact that teams rarely allow a generationally-great player get away from their team.
Rumors began to leak just prior to the free agent signing period that the Bears were surprisingly the top team in pursuit of Peppers. Rumors became reality on the opening morning of free agency when Smith boarded a plane to personally visit and recruit Peppers just hours after he became eligible to sign. And the personal attention paid off when Peppers quickly agreed to a six-year, $91.5 million contract with the Bears.