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posted: 3/6/2010 12:01 AM

Bears hit free-agent jackpot by signing Peppers, Taylor, TE

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  • Carolina Panthers' Julius Peppers

    Carolina Panthers' Julius Peppers
    Associated Press


With the richest contract in franchise history come huge expectations for five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers, the newest Bear and the biggest prize in this year's free-agent sweepstakes.

Based on a six-year contract that could pay him as much as $91.5 million if he hits every incentive, Peppers will no doubt be seen as a savior by Bears fans longing for the playoffs after a three-year drought.

"I wouldn't necessarily go that far to say that," Peppers said. "This team already has Pro Bowl and all-pro players on the roster. I would see myself coming in as just another piece to add to what's already in place."

But none of those other Pro Bowl players - linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, center Olin Kreutz, defensive tackle Tommie Harris or quarterback Jay Cutler - has a deal that guarantees him $42 million and none will be paid $40.5 million over the next three years, including $20 million this year. Even if Peppers "only" makes $75 million to $80 million, more realistic numbers, his contract is still easily the richest in franchise history.

The Bears also added former Vikings running back Chester Taylor for $12.5 million over four years with $7 million guaranteed and former Chargers tight end Brandon Manumaleuna, who signed a five-year contract with $6 million guaranteed and a total value of more than $17 million.

But Peppers was clearly the biggest story on the biggest day financially in Bears history.

"We talked about improving our pass rush," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "We've done that.

"Being able to generate pressure from the front four is huge. Julius will help all of our players. He'll help Tommie Harris, he'll help the rest of our inside players. He'll help our other defensive end and just make it better for our coverage and everything else."

Peppers has 81 sacks and has forced 30 fumbles in his eight-year career. He had 101/2 sacks last season and has had at least 10 in six seasons. No Bear has had back-to-back double-digit sack seasons since Rosevelt Colvin in 2001 and '02.

That's why Smith flew to North Carolina on Thursday night to bring Peppers back to Chicago on Friday morning, a scenario Peppers wasn't expecting.

"I found out about midnight (Thursday) that he was in town," said Peppers, who was informed by agent Carl Carey. "It took me a little while to get over there to meet him, so, yeah, I was caught off guard by it."

Peppers was also sleeping, but when he got to the airport, he heard what he wanted to from Smith.

"I just went by to say hello," Peppers said. "I had no plans on coming (to Chicago on Thursday night). But I met him, it felt right, it felt good, and that's when I made a decision to come."

Peppers said he doesn't care whether he plays left end or right end. He's done both and dominated from both sides. The only knock on him is a tendency to occasionally take plays off, which he believes is an overblown criticism.

"I feel like somebody said that when I was playing in college and it's followed me throughout my career," Peppers said. "If we had the film on, and we were watching it and you wanted to pick one person out that was taking a play off, you could pick anybody. It's not only me. I'm not the only one who's doing it, but I'm the only one who people are saying it about.

"Sometimes when you're on the field you get tired. If I'm not playing as hard on play No. 66 as I was on play No. 1, then come on."

Peppers' presence should be especially valuable to a Bears defense that had 35 sacks last season, including 24 by the defensive line. Those aren't bad numbers, but for the defense to excel, the pass rush has to get better. With Peppers it will.

"The guy's a monster, he's an animal," Bears defensive end Alex Brown said on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" Thursday on ESPN 1000. "He's the biggest guy and fastest guy I think I've ever seen. He's as gifted as (linebacker Brian) Urlacher, I think. He's just about 30 pounds heavier. He's unbelievable."

That's what the Bears are paying him to be.

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