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Bears snag biggest free agent prize, sign Julius Peppers to deal

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For the second straight offseason, the Chicago Bears have made the biggest splash in the NFL.

One year after trading for Denver Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler(notes), the Bears signed defensive end Julius Peppers(notes) to a reported six-year, $72 million contract on Friday. Peppers is expected to receive $40 milion over the first three years of the deal.

The former Carolina Panthers star was the most coveted free agent on the market. Chicago had long been an expected destination, although there had been rumors in recent days that the Washington Redskins would make its annual push to bring in the top stars via free agency.

The 30-year-old Peppers has played eight seasons in Carolina. He'll be expected to boost the Bears' mediocre sack totals (9th in the NFC last year) and will likely draw added attention from opposing offensive lines, thus freeing up the team's tackles to stop the run.

Peppers is far from a sure thing though. He has been known to take plays off and there's no telling how he'll react to having the pressures that come along with a massive contract. But, for now, it's the type of signing that should give the Bears a good chance of returning to the playoffs for the first time since the 2006 season.

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