GREEN BAY - Julius Peppers isn’t done with his Hall of Fame career yet.
Though a free agent, the Green Bay Packers outside linebacker plans to play a 16th NFL season in 2017, agent Carl Carey confirmed Monday.
Peppers’ decision will come as no surprise to the Packers. They’ve suspected he would eschew retirement all along.
Coach Mike McCarthy was adamant last week at the NFL scouting combine that Peppers remained a player he wanted in his locker room.
“I’d love to have him back,” McCarthy said. “What he brings to your football team is so unique: leadership. Talk about a guy making a play every game. I don’t know if there’s a game you go through that Pep doesn’t jump up and make a big play. I think he’s still a valuable asset.”
The Packers have spent the past week focused on re-signing a class of 11 players who will become unrestricted free agents this week. Free agency starts Tuesday with a “legal tampering” period, when teams can negotiate with players from other clubs. Teams can sign unrestricted free agents from their competitors starting Thursday.
The Packers' current class of free agents includes right guard T.J. Lang, tight end Jared Cook, outside linebacker Nick Perry, running back Eddie Lacy, and defensive back Micah Hyde.
Now, it also includes Peppers.
After turning 37 in January, it’s uncertain what kind of market Peppers will have, though it certainly will be less than the three-year, $26 million contract he signed with the Packers before the 2014 season. At the right price, the Packers’ desire for Peppers to return shouldn’t be surprising. He is a leader in the locker room, voted as a defensive playoff captain each of the past three seasons. His production on the field continually has justified that honor.
Even at age 36, Peppers was the Packers' second-leading pass rusher with 7.5 sacks last season – 2.5 more than Clay Matthews. The Packers limited his snaps last season, hoping he'd play less than half. Injuries to fellow outside linebackers made that impossible, but Peppers remained durable. He ended the season playing all 16 games and a shade under 60 percent of the Packers' defensive snaps.
The limited snap count seemed to help Peppers stay fresh. Peppers had four sacks in the final seven regular-season games and added another sack in the Packers' wild-card win over the New York Giants. He has 4½ sacks in seven playoff games with the Packers. In 14 regular-season games played in December or January, Peppers has 8½ sacks.
"I feel like if I wanted to play, that I could," Peppers said late last season. "Yeah, I could, for sure."
At times, Peppers appeared frustrated last season adjusting to a part-time role for the first time in his career. It was more difficult than expected, he admitted. That won’t change if he returns to Green Bay, but the chance to compete for an elusive Super Bowl ring was too much to walk away from.
After playing in the Super Bowl with the Carolina Panthers as a rookie, Peppers has never returned. He’s also never been closer to returning, with the Packers reaching two NFC title games in the past three seasons.
Whether with Green Bay or elsewhere, Peppers will try to get back to the Super Bowl in 2017.
“He can play until he’s 60 years old,” teammate and fellow free-agent edge rusher Datone Jones said a day after the Packers’ loss in the NFC championship game at Atlanta. “A lot of people don’t know that. Julius can play until he’s 60."