Since he arrived in Green Bay, Julius Peppers has always said he plans to play until his body tells him to stop.
So far, it's giving him a big thumbs up.
A month shy of his 36th birthday, Peppers has missed only one practice open to the media in nearly two full seasons in Green Bay. It happened last month and only because coach Mike McCarthy wanted to give him a day off between back-to-back Thursday night games.
Statistically, his performance remains on par with previous 13 NFL seasons. He needs another ½ sack to notch his ninth season of registering 10 or more sacks. Along with two forced fumbles, Peppers' 9½ sacks lead the Packers’ defense and is tied for 10th in the league.
Peppers can’t say for certain what next season holds, but he has a hunch.
“Well, right now we’re just taking it one season, one game at a time, right now. Two months from now, we’ll see how I feel,” Peppers said. “I feel great now. If I was making the decision today, yeah, of course I can play another year. But we’ll see. We’ll see when the time comes.”
Peppers is in the second year of the three-year, $26 million deal he struck with the Packers on March 14, 2014. His $7.5 million signing bonus was the only guarantee, giving Green Bay room to get out of the deal if age caught up with Peppers or he couldn’t pull off the switch to outside linebacker.
Instead, he’s led the defense with 16½ sacks and 65 pressures over the last 30 regular-season games, according to Pro Football Focus. Peppers was voted an alternate for the Pro Bowl earlier this week.
He’s scheduled to make $8 million in 2016. While Peppers says “nobody knows” what the Packers’ front office will decide going forward, it’s difficult to see them letting go of their leading pass-rusher for the benefit of $5.5 million in cap relief (he’d count $2.5 million against the cap in dead money).
Historically, Thompson and chief negotiator Russ Ball have been responsible with their cap space. While they’ll have several prominent players coming up for contracts after the 2016 season, they locked up their biggest impending 2015 free agent, defensive lineman Mike Daniels, two weeks ago.
The few guys older than Peppers keep dwindling. Earlier this week, former Packers defensive back Charles Woodson announced his retirement after 18 NFL seasons at 39. How long can Peppers play? That’s up for his body to decide.
So far, so good.
“You think about it sometimes,” said Peppers of retirement. “I try not to think about it too much. You think about you can’t play forever. I’ll be 36 next year. I don’t know too many pass rushers playing at 40. So I guess in the next three or four years, that’ll be it. But as far as specifics, I really have no clue. I’m just going – I guess I’ll go until the body tells me to stop.”
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