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.——————
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. Follow @KrisLBurke