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Packers: Unsure of future, Julius Peppers suddenly a force again on defense

December 7, 2016 GMT

GREEN BAY — Julius Peppers doesn’t know what will come next. Perhaps, another NFL season — with the Green Bay Packers or elsewhere. Perhaps retirement, and a return to his adopted home of South Florida, where he can find another calling and wait for a call from the Pro Football Hall of Fame that seems likely to come.

But the Packers veteran defensive lineman/outside linebacker is certain of this much: Whenever he does call it a career, he will not be reborn as a Kardashian-style reality star, living out his post-football life in front of the cameras and being someone’s guilty TV pleasure. His fiancée, Claudia Sampedro, starred in “WAGS Miami” on the E! television network this fall — Peppers made a recent cameo in which he and Sampedro discussed marriage — but Peppers envisions a life away from the public eye.

“No, no, no, no. We ain’t going for that,” Peppers said with a laugh earlier this week. “When I walk out of here one day and I’m done, you probably aren’t going to see me for about 10 years — anywhere.”

For now, though, he’s being seen more and more on the field, after having his snaps limited early in the year in hopes of keeping him fresh for the stretch run. Set to turn 37 next month, injuries on defense have led to Peppers playing 43 of a possible 59 snaps (73 percent) at Philadelphia two weeks ago and 58 of 66 snaps (88 percent) in Sunday’s win over Houston. Both the 58 snaps and 88 percent playing time were season highs as Clay Matthews (shoulder) and Nick Perry (hand) were limited by injuries.

“I’m not sure this was the plan — to have everybody get injured to where I’d be forced to play more, but that’s the way it’s worked out. And I feel good,” Peppers said.

“I’m not saying that I don’t want to play next year. I’m not saying that I do. I’m just saying that right now, I don’t know and I’ll figure it out at some point. There’s a lot of things that can happen between now and February.”

Against the Texans, Peppers registered five tackles and a sack — his third in three games, giving him 6.5 sacks entering Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks and 142.5 for his career, good for fifth on the NFL’s all-time list. Having passed Michael Strahan (141.5) on Sunday, only Chris Doleman (150.5), Kevin Greene (160), Reggie White (198) and Bruce Smith (200) have more since the sack became a recognized statistic in 1982. With Greene having been enshrined this past summer, all four of those players are in Canton.

“It speaks a lot about his career to be where he is in sacks,” said Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers, who also coached Greene in Pittsburgh and Carolina. “Those guys are rare guys to do it over their career and be able to perform the way Julius is performing.

“You want to keep your best players on the field (late in the season). Every play is important, and (so) these guys like Julius will play more now than what they have earlier.”

Earlier in the season, though, there was reason to wonder if Peppers had hit the wall. He was a non-factor in 19 snaps in the team’s Nov. 13 blowout loss at Tennessee, and some questioned if he was washed up.

“We kind of looked old and not real good in that game overall defensively, so it wasn’t just Julius,” Capers said with a smirk. “From one week to the next, those things change. That’s why you’ve got to be careful not to just jump out there and make a statement.”

Perhaps that’s why Peppers was non-committal when asked about his future this week. Nearing the end of the three-year, $26 million free agent deal he signed with the Packers in March 2014, he must decide whether after 15 NFL seasons, his passion for the game still burns. The Packers, meanwhile, must decide whether he has enough left in the tank to merit a return engagement, presumably at an appreciably lower price tag.

“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. “Who knows? I don’t know. You have to ask them that.”

Pennel gets 4 games

Defensive tackle Mike Pennel settled his lawsuit over a violation of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy and will be suspended for the team’s final four regular-season games.

Pennel, who was suspended for four games to start this season for a previous violation of the policy, was facing a one-year ban and had filed suit seeking a third-party arbitrator to hear his case. Pennel, who has played in eight games this season, will start his suspension with Sunday’s game against Seattle. He will be eligible for the playoffs.