Julius Peppers, one of the era’s great pass-rushers and perhaps a future member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, announced his retirement from the game earlier this offseason after spending 17 years in the league between the Carolina Panthers, the Chicago Bears, and the Green Bay Packers. He finished his career with 159.5 sacks, including 11 sacks most recently in 2017.
But just because he is not on an NFL roster does not mean that he won’t be in a training camp this summer. Not if new Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Steve Wilks can help it. Wilks, who got the opportunity to coach Peppers in that 2017 season, was asked about the potential of calling on Peppers this year.
Not as a player, of course, at the age of 39, but as simply a visitor. Peppers is somebody whom Myles Garrett has studied, and with whom he has spoken about the craft previously. Garrett posted 13.5 sacks in his second season in 2018 en route to the Pro Bowl, but there is always room for improvement.
“That’s always a possibility. You always try to look, whether it’s former players or coaches with different traits and skills that you’d like to try to bring in, so that’s definitely a thought”, Wilks said when asked about the possibility of placing a phone call to Peppers. “I’m sure that he’s going to have a lot of time on his hands now with retiring. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to be able to coach him that one year. A great football player”.
Garrett is the only significant pressure that the Browns currently have off the edge, having recorded over 20 sacks between his first two seasons—just a bit more than Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt has, both of them being named to the Pro Bowl for this past season.
“You can never have enough rushers, whether you complement him from the inside with a strong 3 technique that can rush and get off the ball or where it’s another guy from the outside because I think at that particular time, it affects their pass protection”, Wilks said. “They can’t really lean to one side, and it really takes some pressure off him”.
The Browns passed on the opportunity to add another premium edge rusher with the fourth-overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft with Bradley Chubb available, instead choosing to bolster their secondary with cornerback Denzel Ward. Of course, Ward ended up making the Pro Bowl.
Nevertheless, Cleveland will still be in the market for another pass rusher this spring, whether in free agency or the draft, with which to complement Garrett, whom they hope can become the next Julius Peppers in his own right, even if it takes Peppers to show him how to get to that point.