Should the Packers Have Re-Signed Julius Peppers?

Blue 58 listener John asks

In retrospect, it is interesting to see how the decision to let Julius Peppers go has turned out. He costs $3.5 million this year and has 6.5 sacks. $3.5 million is the same as Ahmad Brooks. I know this is a bit unfair, because Vince Biegel played heavily in the plans, and they could not predict the injury. However, $3.5 million for a known entity that seemed to find two or three big plays a game seems like a high upside, low cost option. This is especially true in a league where you can never too many pass rushers, and on a roster where we currently have a few "nice to haves". It would be interesting to hear your thoughts in this in an upcoming podcast.

Well, the podcast has arrived and I do have some thoughts. First, let’s take a look at what we wrote when he signed with the Panthers. I said this:

It’s less of a worry about losing production and more a concern about the amount of competent pass rushers on the Packers’ roster. Currently, the Packers employ Nick Perry, Clay Matthews, Kyler Fackrell, and nobody else as far as pass rushers go [Note: this was prior to the NFL Draft, so Vince Biegel was not yet on the roster.] The Packers almost can’t worry about production at this point; they really just need bodies.
Peppers impact as a turnover producing machine also can’t be discounted. In just three seasons, he produced a dozen turnovers just by himself. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett produced 14 combined. That sort of production is hard to replace, and the Packers will need to find someone to step up.

So has Ahmad Brooks, the guy Packers signed instead of Julius Peppers, stepped up? No, but that's not really his fault. He's been injured and I think the same would go for Vince Biegle, who is also a guy the Packers were counting on to step up in lieu of Julius Peppers.

The bigger question, I think, then and now is about the amount to pass rushers the Packers have. I think Ted Thompson has built his roster a lot like you do when you play a game of Madden. You kind of just get your two starting guys at the outside linebacker position and just go from there. You don't play backups a whole lot because you really don't need them if you’ve got two good starters.

Unfortunately that's not really how the Packers deploy pass rushers, because they like to rotate through a bunch of guys who keeps guys fresh. It allows them to play at high intensity all the time and it allows them to get into some interesting sub packages. As a result, I think the Packers need a lot of pass rushers and they've never really taken a volume approach when it comes to getting pass rushers on the field.

So should they have signed Julius Peppers? I think so. I think $3.5 million for Julius Peppers would have been a terrific investment. The worst part for me is I don't think this was a mutually exclusive thing. The Packers could have signed Julius Peppers to the contract that he got with the Panthers and done literally everything else that they did in addition. They could have signed Ahmad Brooks, they could have drafted Vince Biegle, and still had plenty of room to do whatever they wanted to do. I think they should have signed Julius Peppers, and I think some of the stuff we're seeing with the defense now is a result of them not pursuing pass rushers more forcefully.

This post is adapted from the most recent episode of Blue 58, a Packers podcast from The Power Sweep. You can listen to the full episode below and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.