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Packers: Julius Peppers plans to return for 16th NFL season

March 8, 2017 GMT

GREEN BAY — Julius Peppers plans to play a 16th NFL season in 2017. The question now is whether he’ll play it with the Green Bay Packers.

Peppers’ agent, Carl Carey, told ESPN on Monday his 37-year-old client — coming off a regular season in which Peppers had 7.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery — wants to play another season after spending the past three years with the Packers.

The news isn’t particularly surprising given how productive Peppers was last year, when the coaches tried to limit his playing time early in the season in an effort to keep him fresh for the stretch run. That approach worked, as Peppers was vital during the team’s eight-game winning streak en route to the NFC Championship Game, as fellow outside linebackers Clay Matthews (shoulder) and Nick Perry (broken hand) missed time or played in a limited capacity because of injuries.

Peppers, on the other hand, has been extremely durable.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy, speaking with reporters at the NFL scouting combine last week, said he expected Peppers to continue his career after the way he played last season.

“I think Julius just wanted to step away from it,” McCarthy said in Indianapolis. “I know he would continue to like to play, just as far as the conversations that we had. But it was important for him to step away.”

Now, the Packers must decide how much they’re willing to pay to have Peppers back for a fourth season with them, especially given the uncertainty at the outside linebacker position. The three-year deal he signed with the Packers in March 2014 after being cut by the Chicago Bears was worth $26 million, and another team that’s thin on edge rushers could have interest in him and offer more than the Packers, who have uncertainty on their outside linebacker depth chart but also a host of other free agents they’d like to re-sign.

“I think about it sometimes. Like, ‘Am I going to play next year? Does Green Bay even want me to come back next year?’ ” Peppers said late in the regular season. “Who knows? I don’t know. You have to ask them that.”

Not only is Peppers an unrestricted free agent, but Perry, who led the team in sacks with 11, is as well. So, too, is 2013 first-round draft pick Datone Jones, a converted defensive end whose fifth-year option was not exercised by the team. Jayrone Elliott, who has played primarily on special teams but has shown flashes of edge-rushing talent, is a restricted free agent. McCarthy also said at the combine that he’d like to move Matthews around on defense more next season.

At the same time, the Packers must decide what they’re willing to pay running back Eddie Lacy, Pro Bowl guard T.J. Lang, athletic tight end Jared Cook and jack-of-all-trades defensive back Micah Hyde, as well as former starting center JC Tretter — making for some potentially difficult decisions in free agency.

As for things Peppers must consider, he ranks fifth in NFL history with 143.5 career sacks — but he’s never won an NFL title. He went to the Super Bowl in his second NFL season in 2003 with the Carolina Panthers, but the closest he’s come since that loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston were the Packers’ 2014 and 2016 NFC Championship Game losses in Seattle and Atlanta.

“Obviously, as a young guy, you think you’re going to be back that next year. You found out how hard it is,” Peppers said after the season-ending loss to the Falcons. “You go through the offseason workouts, you go through training camp and you go through the whole season. You’re never guaranteed tomorrow in the playoffs. When you go out on that field, you never know if this will be the last game or not.”