Future Hall of Famer Julius Peppers announces retirement after 17 seasons, 159.5 career sacks

One of the greatest pass rushers in the history of football is walking away from the sport. On Friday, Panthers legend Julius Peppers, 39, announced his retirement from football with an essay in The Players' Tribune. After 17 seasons in Carolina, Chicago, Green Bay, and Carolina again, Peppers is calling it a career. 

He retires with 159.5 sacks, which ranks fourth on the all-time leaderboard behind only Kevin Greene, Reggie White, and Bruce Smith.

"I wouldn't change a thing about this journey, it was the best teacher I've ever had," Peppers said in a video released by the Panthers. "It was everything I could have hoped for."

He's undoubtedly heading to Canton, where he'll likely become a first-ballot Hall of Famer after a historic career. There were 159.5 sacks, 11 interceptions, four defensive touchdowns, 557 solo tackles, and 266 regular-season games out of 272 possible games -- he missed only six games in 17 seasons. According to Pro Football Reference, Peppers is the only player they can find with more than 150 sacks and more than 50 forced fumbles. He made nine Pro Bowls and was named First Team All-Pro three times. According to Spotrac, he earned $165 million from NFL contracts, which makes him the highest-earning defensive player in NFL history.

He really was one of a kind. 

The second-overall pick out of North Carolina (where he also played basketball) in 2002, Peppers spent the first eight years of his career with the Panthers before he left for the Bears before he left again for the Packers before he headed back home to Carolina to finish out his career. In all, he spent 10 of his 17 seasons with the Panthers (97 sacks), four with the Bears (37.5 sacks), and three with the Packers (25.0).  

What's remarkable is how effective he remained even as he aged. As recently as 2017, he finished with 11 sacks. If he wanted to return for another season, the Panthers likely would've welcomed him back. 

Instead, he'll retire in good health, which is something he noted in his announcement.

"I'm thankful that I have been able to play so long and still be healthy," he wrote in The Players' Tribune. "I'm not all banged up and beaten down. I still feel good."

In the video above, Peppers said he doesn't know what will come next, but he's "grateful, "satisfied," and "at peace." 

As he should be. 

Super Bowl LIII will air on CBS and stream here on CBSSports.com and the CBS Sports App for free on most connected devices.

CBS Sports Writer

Sean Wagner-McGough joined CBS Sports in 2015 after graduating from UC Berkeley. A native of Seattle, Sean now resides in the Bay Area. He spends his spare time defending Jay Cutler on Twitter. Full Bio

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