Mike Pennel's suspension will slow his ascent

Pete Dougherty
View Comments

Mike Pennel’s four-game suspension won’t ruin his NFL career, but it probably will slow what has been an ascending career and likely cost the Green Bay Packers defensive lineman on a future contract.

Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) throws under pressure from Green Bay Packers defensive end Mike Pennel (64) and defensive end Mike Daniels (76) at Lambeau Field on Nov. 26.

In a Friday afternoon news dump, the NFL and Packers announced Pennel’s suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

Pennel just finished his second season with the Packers, and a promising season it was. By the end of it, he was a starter in their 3-4 personnel. He was on track to becoming a reliable, important player for the Packers’ defense in 2016 after entering the NFL as an undrafted rookie two years ago.

Now, though, Pennel will have to sit out the first four weeks of the 2016 regular season — no practice, no games. For many players, a four-game suspension really means blowing half a season, because they need several weeks to get back into football shape after sitting out a month.

Look at Packers defensive lineman Letroy Guion last season. He missed the first three games because of a suspension, was a non-factor for several weeks after his return and wasn’t back to playing good football until the second half of the season.

Pennel’s suspension won’t hurt him financially as much as Guion’s did. Guion couldn’t have picked a worse time for his trouble because he was only weeks from becoming a free agent and on his way to signing a lucrative deal with the Packers before his arrest for felony possession of marijuana a year ago.

After the arrest, he ended up with a one-year, prove-it deal with the Packers that paid him $2.75 million, and then this offseason signed a three-year, $11.05 million deal that included only a $500,000 guarantee. That small signing bonus was a direct result of his trouble with the law.

Pennel won’t be a free agent until March of 2018, so he still has two seasons to get his career back on track before he hits the open market. But players with a previous drug suspension usually have an inherently lower value because of the risk that they’ll get suspended again. The NFL’s substance-abuse policy is complex enough that we can’t know Pennel’s drug-test history for sure, but based on the policy’s structure, there’s a good chance this is the third time he has tested positive for an illegal substance since entering the NFL.

As for the Packers’ defensive line, it’s now clear why general manager Ted Thompson was so eager to reach a contract with Guion early this offseason. He knew Pennel would be a non-factor for the first half of the season.

The suspension leaves the Packers a little short-handed on the defensive line for early next season and might improve the odds that they’ll either re-sign B.J. Raji or draft a defensive lineman.

But they also return defensive linemen Guion, Mike Daniels, Datone Jones, Josh Boyd (from a season-ending ankle injury last September), practice-squad player Christian Ringo and offseason street signee William Campbell. The Packers liked Ringo enough last year to raise his pay from the $6,600 weekly practice-squad salary to the NFL weekly rookie minimum of $25,588 after another team tried to sign him. and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty.

View Comments