Packers DE Mike Neal Suspended: What Lies Ahead?

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Packers DE Mike Neal
Will Mike Neal be in camp this summer?

As Al alluded to earlier, the Green Bay Packers are making headlines during the first day of free agency. Unfortunately, none of them are the good kind.

The news about Scott Wells likely leaving aside, the big topic of the day in Packer Nation is the four-game suspension of defensive end Mike Neal for violation of the league’s performance enhancing drugs policy. Neal has missed a large amount of time his first two seasons due to injury and today’s news raises a few questions.

First is a simple “why?” Neal was becoming the next Packer defender to have the “injury prone” label slapped on his forehead after the merciful departure of Justin Harrell.  Neal knew he wasn’t seeing the field that much so why take the PEDs? Was he hoping to get the upper hand over his teammates ahead of him on the depth chart?

If that’s the case, could it be time to hand him his walking papers?.  That’s not how things are done in Green Bay and Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson will not hesitate in making that message crystal clear to Neal. McCarthy and Thompson pride themselves on running their team the right way and shenanigans like this will not be tolerated one bit.

While he may deserve a second chance, he’s teetering on thin ice due to his injury history and with him entering his critical third year this is the last thing neal needed as he makes his case to remain a Packers.

The second and more important question this suspension raises is how it affects the Packers’ draft plans.  Neal was looking at some playing time next season should he have remained healthy but he was far from being a key cog in Dom Capers’ defensive unit.  Defensive end had already been identified as a position of need for the Packers (yes, Thompson drafts the best available player but he has to know the team is lacking in this area) but they may have been thinking of taking one in a later round.

Instead this forces Thompson to strongly consider using his first round pick on a defensive end.  This may have been the plan all along, but only Thompson and his team know for sure.  Regardless, the team will be down one defensive end for the first quarter of the 2012 season and that hole will need to be addressed.

Finally, is it time to wonder if this is the nail in the coffin in the career of Neal despite only being in the league two years? He has flashed all sorts of potential in training camp only to end up injured and out for large chunks of time.  Potential alone only buys you so much time in the NFL and entering his third season, with two major injuries and now a PED suspension to boot, time is running very thin for Mike Neal.

Many were beginning to give him the “Justin Harrell eye” last season already but when you add this suspension into the mix, patience with Neal is growing thin amongst the fans.  The fans saw their team go 15-1 last season despite having a defense that was fatally flawed.  The Packers’ exit in the divisional round showed this, and many fans were hoping Neal would be able to contribute to a defensive resurgence in 2012.

He very well could, but he won’t for the first four games of the season thanks to some foolish decision making on his part.

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Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com.

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  • Bearmeat

    Don’t cut him. He made a mistake. He’s got talent. And we need help at the position.

    Relax.

    Draft DL/OLB/DL or something similar if at all possible.

    Neal is certainly on thin ice – after 2012

  • JimR_in_DC

    Thompson doesn’t have to use the first round pick on a DE, but he probably will use no lower than a #3.

  • CSS

    There’s no way the cut him prior to camp, that’s a bit extreme for a 1st time PED violation with no off field incidents or altercations.

    That being said, he will get a full camp to produce and stay healthy. Should he get injured in camp and miss time, anything goes.

    • PackersRS

      His fate will be decided in training camp. Either he shows enough to earn a starting role, or he’s dismissed.

      I doubt they’ll keep an injury-prone backup with 4 games of suspension.

  • BTF

    Why- we will probably never know but I still think the most likely explanation is that in his desperation to play last year and trying to avoid the injury prone label Neal did something stupid. I hope so anyway because while that’s not excusable it’s understandable.

    Don’t see us cutting him but as you say he’s now on thin ice…

  • Lucas

    He needs to decide, is he Justin Harrell, Johnny Jolly, or Ryan Pickett.

  • Ron

    Maybe Neil thought the risk of getting caught was worth the risk. Maybe he thought without the steroids he would not have time to recover fully from his knee injury before next season and would not be of value to the team. Now, with the help of steroids, he may fully heal and make an impact in 2012, starting with the 5th game.

  • Ron LC

    If he is using PED’s, he desparately needs a new supplier. He took himself off the field for 4 games already. That’s only 12 left to play. Anyone think he can start immediately after suspension? Thats 2 more games. That’s 40% of the season gone before he plays a game. The only question left – who has 1 game in the Neal injuury pool? This guy needs to be dumped now and start looking for a replacement. He is a waste of a roster spot.

    • CSS

      Correction, they would have 15 left to play if you include both playoff wins and the inevitable SB win.

      • JimR_in_DC

        I like how you think, CSS! :D

      • Ron LC

        Ah yes how silly of me.