Bears release eight-time Pro Bowl defensive end Peppers

LAKE FOREST, Ill. — The Chicago Bears released eight-time Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers on Tuesday, one of several moves they made to reshape their struggling defense.

The Bears also agreed to a five-year contract with former Oakland Raiders defensive end Lamarr Houston, a two-year contract with former Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants safety Ryan Mundy, and one-year deals with linebackers Jordan Senn and D.J. Williams.

But the biggest move as they tried to shore up a defense that got shredded by injuries and ranked among the league’s worst last season involved Peppers. Given the way he struggled last season and the fact that his salary cap hit for next season was for more than $18 million, the Bears were expected to let him go or restructure his contract.

“We appreciate Julius’ contributions to the Bears over the last four years,” general manager Phil Emery said in a statement. “He was a leader on our defense starting every game since coming to Chicago. His accomplishments over his NFL career place him among the best defensive ends over the past 20 years. The Chicagoland community has benefited greatly from his quiet generosity. We wish him the best.”

Peppers is the second high-profile player to part ways with the Bears this offseason, joining record returner Devin Hester. Those moves come after they split with Brian Urlacher following the 2012 season.

Peppers, who turned 34 in January, finished with just seven sacks, his lowest total in four seasons with Chicago and the fewest for him since he had a career-low 2 ½ with Carolina in 2007. Three times last year he failed to register a tackle, and the Bears’ defense ranked among the worst in the NFL.

But Peppers has been one of the best at his position during his career.

In his 12 seasons with Carolina (2002-2009) and Chicago (2010-13), he ranks second in the NFL with 118 1/2 sacks. He has nine interceptions — the most by a defensive lineman since 2002 — and his 39 career forced fumbles are fifth most in the league during that time. On special teams, Peppers has 11 blocked kicks during his career.

With the Bears, Peppers had 38 sacks along with three interceptions, nine forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries. But he was inconsistent last season. At times, he showed that old burst. Too often, he was a nonfactor.

The defense, overall, was a mess for the Bears last season because of injuries and poor execution.

Williams, Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman, and Henry Melton missed big chunks of the season. Nickel back Kelvin Hayden and defensive tackle Nate Collins also suffered season-ending injuries. And the Bears couldn’t stop the run or get to the quarterback.

Chicago allowed a league-high 5.3 yards per carry, half a yard more than any other team, and tied Jacksonville with an NFL-worst with 31 sacks.

Houston started all 16 games last season for Oakland and was one of the few playmakers on a 4-12 team. He led the Raiders with a career-high six sacks and got 16 in four seasons with them.

Mundy made a career-high nine starts with the Giants last season after spending his first four with Pittsburgh. He had 70 tackles and a 91-yard interception return along with two pass breakups and a fumble recovery. He also had seven special teams stops.

Senn has appeared in 83 games with seven starts over six seasons with Indianapolis (2008-09) and Carolina (2009-13). He was primarily a special-teams player last season.

Williams appeared in six games and made four starts at middle linebacker last season after signing a one-year deal with Chicago. A ruptured pectoral muscle tendon cut short his season.

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