Mike Pennel's rise up the Green Bay Packers' defensive line depth chart has hit a roadblock.
The 6-foot-4, 332-pound defensive lineman has been suspended the first four games of the 2016 season without pay for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, the league announced Friday.
Pennel, 24, finished last season with a career-high 25 tackles, one sack and a forced fumble in 16 regular-season games (five starts). He was one of two undrafted rookies to make the Packers’ 53-man roster in 2014.
Pennel remains eligible to participate in all offseason and preseason practices and games. The NFL only announces suspensions after the appeals process has ended. Players typically need three violations or missed tests before a suspension is invoked.
The Packers, citing confidentiality of the process, declined comment on Pennel's four-game ban.
It’s the third time the Packers have had a contracted player suspended for violating the league's substance-abuse policy over the past 12 months. Defensive linemen Letroy Guion (three games) and Datone Jones (one game) were suspended for violations last offseason. Cornerback Jarrett Bush, whose contract expired after the 2014 season, also was suspended for 14 games for performance-enhancing and substance-abuse violations.
Coincidentally, it was Pennel who saw his workload rise when the defense was without Guion and Jones early this season. He eventually earned a starting role at defensive end in the 3-4 base defense and registered his first NFL sack in a 38-8 loss to Arizona on Dec. 27.
Pennel’s suspension may shed some light on why the Packers agreed to a three-year, $11 million contract extension last week with Guion that included only a $500,000 signing bonus, and was heavy on bonuses and incentives.
Pennel is scheduled to make $600,000 in the third and final year of his undrafted rookie deal. Assuming he makes the team, Pennel will be placed on the reserve/suspended list when the 53-man roster is set. The four-game ban will cost him $141,176.47.
Guion was suspended last summer following a February arrest in Starke, Fla., for felony possession of marijuana. He reached a plea bargain last March that resulted in a $5,000 fine and returned to Green Bay on a one-year deal.
Jones was cited for possession of marijuana approximately seven hours after last January’s NFC championship game in Seattle. Jones was issued a citation for possession of THC and paid an $880 fine.