Last week, the Green Bay Packers got ahead of the free-agent curve by re-signing Letroy Guion to a three-year contract.
Now, perhaps we know why general manager Ted Thompson was so proactive.
On Friday, the NFL announced it had suspended defensive tackle Mike Pennel without pay for the first four games of the 2016 NFL season. The NFL only announces suspensions once the appeals process has run its course, so the Packers certainly weren’t caught off-guard with the news.
Pennel, an undrafted free agent out of Colorado State-Pueblo in 2014, played in all 16 games with five starts 2015. He finished with 35 tackles, one sack and one forced fumble. His rate of one tackle for every 8.40 snaps paced the defensive line. Plus, he chipped in seven pressures, more than all but Mike Daniels among the defensive line corps, and three quarterback hits. At 6-foot-4 and 332 pounds, he has rare athleticism, which showed as he played surprisingly well at defensive end after spending his rookie year primarily as a backup nose tackle. Teams averaged 0.11 yards less per carry with Pennel on the field in 2015 compared to when he was on the sideline.
Losing Pennel for the first quarter of the season is a big blow, even with Guion back in the fold. Given the possibility of B.J. Raji departing in free agency, the Packers could be short on numbers at a position group in which only Daniels, backups Datone Jones and Josh Boyd — who spent almost all of last season on injured reserve — and three returning practice-squad players are under contract.
Without Raji, a full-strength defense would line up with Daniels at one end and, most likely, Guion at nose tackle and Pennel at end. Without Raji and Pennel, the Packers would have to insert Jones at defensive end.
This will be the second consecutive season in which a Packers defensive lineman has started the season on the NFL's suspended list. Last year, Guion missed the first three games due to an offseason arrest in Florida and Jones was suspended for the first game for violating the substance-abuse policy. Pennel took Guion’s place in the starting lineup to start the season, with starts in two of the first three games and again in Week 4, then moved ahead of Guion in the rotation down the stretch, with two starts in the final four regular-season games.
Pennel, who will be entering his final season under contract, is eligible to participate in offseason workouts, training camp and the preseason games. He was suspended twice in his lone season at Arizona State in 2012 but hadn't been a problem in Green Bay.
The Packers did not comment.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.