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Packers finally spend money in free agency, improve defense with Julius Peppers

The Green Bay Packers don't usually spend a lot of money in free agency, but they were active on Saturday, signing Julius Peppers to a three-year deal.


The Green Bay Packers have long been a dominant but flawed team. Green Bay's current iteration wins football games with a prolific offense headed by Aaron Rodgers, a player who was drafted, groomed on the bench and eventually pushed into a starting role in a way that franchises only dream about. It rarely works out that well, but the Packers executed it perfectly, and everywhere you look on that roster, you can find home-grown talent.

Green Bay is not a big player in free agency. Historically, they just don't take part in the market very much. Big-name signings are rare, and signing multiple outside free agents is even rarer. The last time the Packers signed five free agents in a single free agency period was 2006.

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Of course, the team has made it a point in the past to give their own players contract extensions. Tight end Jermichael Finley received a healthy two-year contract extension in 2012, and they extended cornerback Jarrett Bush for three years at the same time.

In that time, the Packers watched Ryan Grant, Greg Jennings, Desmond Bishop and Charles Woodson all walk. The biggest players the Packers have brought in from the outside in recent years include Jeff Saturday and Anthony Hargrove.

But this year has been different, as many expected the Packers to take advantage of about $30 million in 2014 cap space by actually eschewing the normal modus operandi to improve the defense. Rodgers and that offense can win games single-handedly, but the secondary and pass rush were so poor last season the Packers stood little chance of competing with the teams that eventually made a deep push into the playoffs.

The Packers got out to an early start with their spending money, signing Sam Shields to a massive contract. That's not out of the norm, however, given that Shields was set to be a departing free agent and doesn't really fit the spirit of the team eschewing front office tradition. No, they did sit on the sidelines for a little while, with things looking like they might not pick up at all.

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Then on Saturday the Packers signed free agent defensive end Julius Peppers to a three-year deal. Signing Peppers in 2014 isn't as big a deal as signing Peppers three or four years ago, but he's still an impact player. Peppers' three-year deal is reportedly for $30 million with $7.5 million guaranteed and $8.5 million in the first year.

That's a solid deal for the Packers given that they're really only on the hook for the first year. If Peppers doesn't pan out, they can release him in 2015 without much issue. But the contract itself isn't the point: Peppers was the biggest name remaining on the market, and the Packers actually brought him in.

Green Bay desperately needs some help on defense, from the secondary to the pass rush. Re-signing Shields and re-signing B.J. Raji were solid steps in the right direction, but bringing in Peppers is a clear indicator that the Packers are taking this seriously. They know they have a winning football team and they know that now is the time to add key players who can make an impact immediately and not potentially three to four years down the line.

The Packers will remain a football team that relies on the NFL Draft and re-signing its own young players to build a successful organization. That's how they'll remain as long as the current regime is in charge, and that's fine because that's what works. But adapting is also key, and the Packers showed a willingness to do so by going out and getting Peppers.