The Green Bay Packers, a team that usually doesn't dip deeply into the free-agent market, reached agreement on a three-year contract with linebacker Julius Peppers. A pass-rushing defensive end during his career with the Carolina Panthers and Chicago Bears, Peppers was released earlier in the week by the Bears.
The reported value of his contract is up to $30 million with $7.5 million guaranteed.
Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac coached Peppers from 2002 to 2008 when they were with the Panthers. Trgovac was defensive line coach in 2002 and defensive coordinator from 2003 to 2008.
During his 12-year career, Peppers ranks second in the NFL with 118.5 sacks.
While it is expected Peppers will be a linebacker in Green Bay's 3-4 defense, Peppers said, "I'm going to let coach (Mike) McCarthy deal with questions about the position and the scheme. I'm not really sure. We haven't talked in detail about what the plan is going to be for me, but I can say it's going to be something different."
With 7.5 sacks last season, Peppers acknowledged his play was "not up to my personal standards," and insisted, "I have a lot left in the tank. I have a lot left to give, a lot left to offer. I want to show people I can still play the game at a high level. ... My goal is to play football at a high level. I'm a pass rusher, so that's going to be a big part of what I can do. Play hard and have an impact in every game."
--Rather than give agent Drew Rosenhaus any leeway to discuss his client with other teams when the three-day window for negotiating with impending free agents opened Saturday, the Packers pounced by locking up cornerback Sam Shields that same day.
The signing of Shields to a hefty four-year, $39 million contract became official Monday on the eve of the start of free agency.
"It was a blessing today to be able to actually sign back with my fam for a few more years but this only the beginning #gopack," Shields tweeted Monday night.
That the watershed pact for Shields, a converted wide receiver with just four pro seasons under his belt at age 26, included a $12.5 million signing bonus and projected earnings of $15 million next season is no big deal for the Packers. Even with more than $5.5 million committed to Shields in the first year of his contract, Green Bay still has nearly $30 million at hand under the newly established $133 million salary cap.
What Thompson does next isn't as predictable as his time-honored approach in past years, when he has more often than not sat out the early free-agent frenzy in March.
"Well, who knows?" Thompson said last month in his famously evasive manner.
While he may have just been giving lip service to the state of his dismal defense by defending the existing personnel when he talked at the NFL Scouting Combine, Thompson is no fool. He knows better than anyone changes have to be made on that side of the ball.
At what expense, however, is the burning question with money to burn.
"We like to have our own guys back, and if we can find value in the free-agent market to help us, we'll do that, too," Thompson said. "We'll do whatever, as will the 31 other teams. They're all going to go about this the same way."
The Thompson way since becoming Green Bay's general manager in 2005 has been a mix of retention by re-signing key free agents and replenishment by loading up on prospects in the draft.
The NFL announced each team's preseason schedule without precise dates or times, except for national TV games and the final preseason week in which all games will be on Thurs. Aug. 28. Week 1 games are Aug. 7-10, Week 2 Aug. 14-18 and Week 3 Aug. 21-24.
The Packers will play at home against Oakland in Week 3 and Kansas City in Week 4, while going on the road to play Tennessee in Week 1 and St. Louis in Week 2. The game against the Raiders will be at 7 p.m. Central Friday, Aug. 22 on CBS.
--The signing of Sam Shields, the team's top cornerback, to a four-year contract for a whopping $39 million took the mystery out of one potential storyline for the Packers heading into the start of free agency.
That doesn't mean Green Bay won't be any less active as the shopping and bidding period gets going Tuesday.
The Packers still had 16 players set to become unrestricted free agents and two more who are restricted free agents.
While a lot of attention is being given to numerous holes the team needs to fill on its porous defense from last season, it may be left with a significant void on offense.
Center Evan Dietrich-Smith signed with Tampa Bay, so the Packers appear ready to give JC Tretter a shot to anchor the middle of the offensive line.
Tretter, a standout left tackle in college at Cornell, was taken in the fourth round of last year's draft but didn't play as a rookie after missing most of the season because of a leg injury he sustained in an offseason workout.
--Defensive tackle Johnny Jolly may have planted a seed with the team's decision-makers with the announcement he made mere hours before the start of free agency Tuesday.
Jolly tweeted, "Great news from doc today. Neck Fusion is healed perfectly n have green light to start some strength work."
Jolly, an unrestricted free agent, underwent a single-fusion procedure Jan. 10 to repair a bulging disc in his neck. Jolly missed the last three games of the season because of shoulder and neck injuries, cutting short his comeback season after being out of football for three years because of a league-imposed suspension for violations of its substance-abuse policy.
If they have assurances from their medical staff that Jolly, 31, will be good to play again next season, the Packers figure to be in favor of re-signing him.
All three of Green Bay's primary starters on the defensive line last season are unrestricted free agents, including Jolly, B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Matt Flynn agreed to contract terms and will re-sign with the Packers as the primary backup to quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Flynn rejoined the Packers last season following a series of unexpected moves led him back to Green Bay as a street free agent.
Flynn signed a three-year, $26 million deal with the Seattle Seahawks as an unrestricted free agent following four years as a backup with the Packers. He started two games with Green Bay, including the epic 480-yard, six-touchdown record-setting performance in a Week 17 game against the Detroit Lions.
Elbow issues opened the door for then-rookie Russell Wilson to pass Flynn for the starting quarterback job in 2012. A year later, the Oakland Raiders traded for Flynn with the plan of using him as their starter. The Raiders had shipped Carson Palmer, the incumbent starter, to the Arizona Cardinals. But Flynn lost out to Terrelle Pryor and was later released. He was with the Bills before ending up back with the Packers.
Flynn made five starts for the Packers last season with Rodgers (collarbone) injured and had seven touchdowns and four interceptions.
--SAFETY: The Packers are at a point of no return for adding a quality player to pair with Morgan Burnett in the starting lineup. The position group's inability to create one turnover contributed to another dismal season by the defense.
--TIGHT END: Unrestricted free agent Jermichael Finley is rehabbing early in the offseason with an eye on being ready to play again next season following surgery in November for a bruised spinal cord. Green Bay may not be as eager to roll the dice on Finley, thus leaving a big void in the offensive attack.
--DEFENSIVE END: Last season's starting trio of B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly is headed to free agency. Despite speculation Raji could be ready to return on a one-year deal after an unproductive season, it's not far-fetched the Packers start anew with their starters across the line.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--RB Kahlil Bell joined the team late in the season but didn't play a snap on offense. The five-year veteran probably won't be back given the glut of young talent Green Bay has at halfback.
--TE Jermichael Finley is on the comeback trail, vowing to play again after suffering what was feared to be a career-threatening bruised spinal cord in October. As Finley soldiers on with his rehab work, the team will need to be plenty sure he's medically sound before it entertains re-signing the pass-catching playmaker.
--LB Robert Francois is expected to be close to full strength when the team's offseason workouts start April 21 after he missed most of last season because of a torn Achilles. As dependable as Francois has been in the past as a special-teams enforcer and a starting fill-in on defense, his time in Green Bay could be up.
--DT Johnny Jolly is in the same boat as Finley, trying to convince the Packers or another team he will be good to resume playing next season after undergoing neck-fusion surgery in January. A healthy Jolly, who recently turned 31, showed in his comeback last season from a three-year layoff that he can be a positive factor on the line with his athleticism.
--DT Ryan Pickett has been a rock on Green Bay's defensive line, starting all 17 games (including playoffs) last season and 123 games total since his arrival from St. Louis as a free agent in 2006. The 34-year-old Pickett, though, may be cast aside as the Packers look to get younger and more athletic across the line.
--QB Seneca Wallace fizzled as the first of three fill-in starters during Aaron Rodgers' prolonged absence the second half of last season. With the possible return of Flynn and Scott Tolzien already under contract, the 33-year-old Wallace figures to be looking to hook on with yet another team in his nomadic career.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--LB Jamari Lattimore (tendered at $1.431M with no compensation) has appeal for coming back. Lattimore is a coverage ace on special teams and made four starts with some pop for an injured Brad Jones at inside linebacker last season.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
--S Chris Banjo: Potential ERFA; $495,000/1 yr.
--QB Matt Flynn: UFA; terms unknown.
--FB John Kuhn: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--DE/OLB Mike Neal: UFA; $8M/2 yrs, $2.5M SB.
--TE Andrew Quarless; UFA; $3M/2 yrs, $350,000 SB.
--DT B.J. Raji: UFA; $4M/1 yr.
--CB Sam Shields: Potential UFA; $39M/4 yrs, $12.5M SB.
--RB James Starks: UFA; $3.165M/2 yrs, $725,000 SB.
--DL Letroy Guion: FA Vikings; $985,000/1 yr, $100,000 SB.
--LB Julius Peppers: FA Bears; $26M/3 yrs, $7.5 SB.
--C Evan Dietrich-Smith: UFA Buccaneers; $14.2M/4 yrs.
--WR James Jones: UFA Raiders; $10M/3 yrs, $3.65M guaranteed.
--S M.D. Jennings: Not tendered as RFA/Bears; terms unknown.
--T Marshall Newhouse: UFA Bengals; terms unknown.
--C/G Greg Van Roten (released).
--DE C.J. Wilson: UFA Raiders; $795,000/1 yr, $65,000 SB.
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