CHICAGO — Julius Peppers is no longer a Carolina Panther.
The five-time Pro Bowl defensive end has joined the Chicago Bears, ESPN reported Friday, agreeing to a six-year, $72 million deal that calls for him to earn $40 million in the first three years. ESPN cited a source it did not identify and Peppers' agent, Carl Carey, did not return messages left by The Associated Press.
The Bears declined comment but did schedule a news conference for Friday afternoon.
Signing Peppers would be the biggest move on a busy day for the Bears, who also lured running back Chester Taylor from NFC North champion Minnesota with a four-year contract. The deal is worth $12.5 million with $7 million guaranteed, according to a person with knowledge of the negotiation. The person spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity because the deal had not been announced.
By landing one of the league's top pass rushers and a running back who could challenge incumbent Matt Forte, Chicago showed just how serious it is about contending in the NFC after missing the playoffs the past three years.
General manager Jerry Angelo and coach Lovie Smith are operating on a win-or-else mandate from above after a 7-9 season that left many in Chicago calling for sweeping changes. A coaching staff shake-up that left the Bears with new offensive and defensive coordinators in Mike Martz and Rod Marinelli was just a start.
The signings on Friday do not guarantee a turnaround, as Bears fans learned last season after the trade with Denver for quarterback Jay Cutler. Even so, the Bears did address some big needs, particularly on the defensive line.
The 6-foot-7 Peppers brings uncanny athletic ability and questionable consistency, along with the 81 sacks he collected in eight seasons with Carolina — 10 1/2 last year. In Chicago, he'll get to play alongside Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher and Tommie Harris, and give a much-needed boost to a defense that ranked 17th overall and tied for 13th in sacks with 35.
Peppers had been looking to get out of Carolina the past few years and he basically got his wish when the Panthers decided not to place the restrictive franchise tag on their career sacks leader for a second consecutive year at a cost of at least $20.1 million.
That decision ended two rocky years of negotiations between the Panthers and Peppers, who played at North Carolina and was drafted second overall by Carolina in 2002.
Peppers acknowledged in a radio interview last month that he turned down a contract offer after the 2007 season that would have made him the NFL's highest-paid defensive player. A year later, the Panthers ignored his public pleas to be allowed to leave in free agency and slapped him with the franchise tag and a one-year, $16.7 million tender.
Peppers eventually softened his stance and began negotiating on a long-term contract. They couldn't agree, and he wound up earning $18.2 million in 2009, including a $1.5 million bonus for making the Pro Bowl.
Taylor, meanwhile, backed up All-Pro Adrian Peterson in Minnesota. He'll challenge Forte for time in the Bears backfield after Chicago's hallmark running game slipped last season.
Taylor had 42 catches for 389 yards and 94 carries for 338 yards as a valuable third-down player for the Vikings. He rushed for 1,214 yards in 14 games in 2006 before Peterson arrived and reduced his role.