Quoting head coach Marc Trestman, Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery once said, "Decisions are made when they have to be made," and for defensive end Julius Peppers that time came Tuesday when the club released the eight-time Pro Bowler.
With Peppers set to receive a base salary of $13.9 million in 2014 and count $18.183 million against the cap, the move was inevitable, especially after the Bears signed former Oakland Raiders defensive end Lamarr Houston to a five-year deal worth $35 million that included $15 million guaranteed.
"We appreciate Julius' contributions to the Bears over the last four years," Emery said in a statement. "He was a leader on our defense, starting every game since coming to Chicago. His accomplishments over his NFL career place him among the best defensive ends over the past 20 years. The Chicagoland community has benefited greatly from his quiet generosity. We wish him the best."
Peppers spent the past four seasons with the Bears after being drafted by the Carolina Panthers in the first round of the 2002 draft.
Peppers signed a blockbuster six-year deal worth $84 million in 2010, and restructured his contract on two occasions to give the club more salary cap room. But in doing so, each time, Peppers' cap number grew in the later years of the deal. When Peppers last restructured his contract with the Bears in 2013, his cap numbers grew to $18.183 million in 2014 and $20.683 million in 2015.
Those high figures were unsustainable for the Bears, who in Jan. signed quarterback Jay Cutler to a seven-year deal that includes a base salary of $22.5 million in 2014.
Peppers, 34, led the Bears last season with 7.5 sacks -- the fewest he's had in a Bears uniform. Peppers has 118.5 career sacks, which ranks second in the league since his entry (2002).
In four years playing for the Bears, Peppers started in every game (64), and racked up 37.5 sacks in addition to making the Pro Bowl in every season with the team except for 2013. In all, Peppers has posted 118.5 sacks, which ranks as the 17th-most in NFL history since 1982, when the league first started recording sacks as an official statistic.
Peppers earned $53.5 million throughout his tenure with the Bears, and Tuesday's move frees the club from compensation of $14 million in 2014 and $16.5 million in 2015.
Peppers made $53.5 million in four seasons. The move saves the Bears $14 million in total compensation for 2014, and $16.5 million in 2015.
Despite the release, Peppers' agent Carl Carey said his client was in good spirits.