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Are Julius Peppers’ days with the Bears numbered?

Updated: December 4, 2013 2:11PM

Two-and-a-half sacks, two tackles for loss and a pass breakup.

Defensive end Julius Peppers had a big-money performance against the Minnesota Vikings this past Sunday, and he shrugged off the notion that it was wasted in the Bears’ wacky overtime loss, simply saying no when directly asked about it.

Not even when the offseason looks full of change?

“To be honest with you, I don’t even think about anything concerning the offseason right now,” Peppers said. “All of the focus is put on next week [against the Dallas Cowboys].”

But in a few weeks — barring a semi-miraculous playoff appearance, of course — some important folks at Halas Hall will be focusing on the future.

Peppers’ contract isn’t up after this season, but whether the eight-time Pro Bowl selection remains with the Bears next season is a legitimate question, and it was posed to general manager Phil Emery during an online chat with fans on the team’s official website Tuesday.

“Is Julius Peppers a Bear in 2014?” a fan asked.

“I thought Julius played his finest game this past week since I’ve been back with the Bears,” Emery said. “It was an outstanding performance. On the plane back to Chicago, I let Julius know how impressed I was. Obviously, he’s under contract for the next two years.”

Coach Marc Trestman said it was probably Peppers’ best game, calling him “very disruptive.”

But you still have to wonder whether it would be wise to keep Peppers at his price — $13.9 million with an even heftier cap hit in 2014 — with so many other players, namely quarterback Jay Cutler, having expiring contracts.

Cutting Peppers still would cost the Bears money — more than $8.3 million in dead money — but it also would free up ample salary-cap room.

Let’s just say this: The Bears should thoroughly examine Peppers’ play over the last four weeks as much as the production of those players whose contracts are expiring. If he continues to perform like he did in Minnesota, it might serve the Bears best to keep him around for at least one more year.

Of course, his deal can be renegotiated to give the Bears more flexibility — remember, it takes both sides to do that — like it was in September. His base salary dropped from $12.9 million to $9.9 million by converting $3 million into a signing bonus.

But an interesting result from that renegotiation is that Peppers’ cap hits for 2014 and 2015 increased to $18,183,333 and $20,683,335. That’s a small fortune for an inconsistent, aging player and for a team that has other players to lock in.

But the Bears appear to have found a way to tap into Peppers’ reserves.

They have been mindful of Peppers’ work at practice, especially since their bye week in Week 8. The 33-year-old needs rest, not reps, and it has helped.

Peppers has produced 51/2 of his team-best 61/2 sacks, 261/2 of his 371/2 tackles (per coach reviews), all four of his pass breakups and his only interception since the Bears’ bye week.

His early-season problems when he barely showed up on stat sheets look like overblown concerns right now.

“Do I feel like I’m back? Back from what?” Peppers said when asked in Minnesota about his play. “There will be a time to review the performance and evaluate that. Right now is not the time. At the end of the season, we can go back and see how I played in what games. I’m not really concerned about my individual performance. I’m concerned about getting wins.”


Twitter: @adamjahns

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