Yesterday afternoon, our fellow blogger in crime Zach Kruse shared an interesting bit of information over at CheeseheadTV.com. Apparently some Green Bay Packers sources indicated to Pro Football Weekly that they “will not be shocked in the least if the team releases injury-prone DE Mike Neal after the draft.”
Neal’s recent violation of the NFL’s performance-enhancing substances policy earned him a four-game suspension to start the 2012 season, and this has most likely put him on the short list in the mind of Ted Thompson. Of course, this is also just adding to the fact that, due to injuries, Mike Neal has only been active for 9 games in his first two years as a pro football player. And in only 3 of those games did he actually record a tackle.
A lot of fans have been hailing him as the second coming of Justin Harrell, though perhaps a bit prematurely. Now, though, it seems he also has a little bit of Johnny Jolly in him, too.
This is not the way to start an NFL career, especially one that carried so much promise (or “potential”) with it. Mike Neal is a second-round draft pick who showed some good flashes of ability in training camp, but not much else. A decent number of fans have already called for his release, and I’m sure they’re happy with this recent news from Pro Football Weekly. Yet the question remains:
Will Mike Neal play for the Green Bay Packers in 2012?
In this installment of the Packers Beer Mug Perspective, we’ll take a look at the issue from both angles, then determine whether our mug is really “half empty” or “half full.”
THE MUG IS HALF FULL
If the situation with former Packers defensive end Justin Harrell is any indicator, Ted Thompson will ride out the prospect of Mike Neal until there is simply no hope left.
While Neal’s situation is different in many ways from what Harrell went through, the similarities are enough to help us draw some conclusions about what Thompson will do. Both missed significant playing time due to injury despite the potential that came with their draft status. (Harrell was selected in the 1st Round of the 2007 NFL Draft at the 16th overall pick, while Neal was taken as the 56th overall pick in the 2nd Round of the 2010 draft.)
Obviously, Mike Neal is slightly more expendable, since the value of a 56th pick is far less than the value of a 16th overall selection. Still, most of Harrell’s missed time was due to a severe back injury. Neal suffered separate and unrelated injuries, first to his shoulder in 2010 and then to his knee in 2011.
In other words, there’s less hope with a recurring injury than with isolated ones, and it took four years for Harrell to be released.
Unfortunately, that still says nothing about Mike Neal’s latest run-in with the Commissioner. “Packer People” is a term often heard when referring to the types of players Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy like to keep around, and being suspended for failing a drug test doesn’t fit the mold all too well.
But even the Packers give players second chances if they’ve shown improvement in their behavior. The recent signing of Anthony Hargrove, despite his troubled past, is proof of this. We can also look at the case of one Johnny Jolly for more proof.
Jolly was arrested on July 8, 2008 for possession of at least 200 grams of codeine. Charges were at first dropped, but then refilled in December 2009. On July 16, 2010, with Jolly’s trial still pending, the NFL suspended him indefinitely.
So, despite the arrest and pending trial, Jolly continued to play for the Packers until his suspension by the league. They didn’t automatically release him for “bad behavior.” Additionally, when Jolly began applying for reinstatement in 2011, a team source told The Green Bay Press-Gazette that they would be willing to give him a second chance if he’s clean.
All of that in mind, it’s hard to think that Thompson would give up on his second round pick so quickly. Neal’s $490,000 base salary for the 2012 season is not going to break the bank if they keep him around, and if nothing else, they will give him the opportunity in training camp to prove that he is capable of the potential they saw in him before.
THE MUG IS HALF EMPTY
The folks at Rotoworld.com, however, characterize Mike Neal as “expendable” depending on who the Packers draft. They also call him “no more than a potential-ridden ‘prospect.’”
And, truth be told, they’re dead on. Neal only has 6 tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble to his name over two years, with the better performances coming in his rookie season. His play this past season seemed to have regressed rather than grown, and he ended up with the worst tackle-per-snap rate among the Packers defensive lineman.
Part of the concern is whether the injuries have affected Neal mentally as well as physically. Was he playing to win his battles, or was he playing to win his battles and avoid another injury? Neal has been up front about his personal frustration with not being able to play, so it’s possible for that to have created some conflict with his concentration on the field.
Another worry has centered on the performance enhancing substances taken by Neal. Despite his claim of being suspended on a “technicality” for not providing the Packers with prescription drug information, many have remained skeptical. No league sources have confirmed or denied this information, which has left Neal standing on his own. And if, in fact, he was regularly taking PED’s, does that mean we could see another drop in performance?
Aside from all of that, the most damning evidence of Neal’s expendability so far has to be the recent free agency signing by Ted Thompson.
Seemingly apathetic in his approach to free agency over the years, Thompson has signed three non-Packers free agents so far in 2012. Two of these happen to be Daniel Muir and Tony Hargrove, both of whom are defensive linemen. Neither is guaranteed to make the team (though Hargrove has the most upside), but at this point, both will certainly challenge Neal’s roster spot.
Draftniks also figure that Thompson will select at least one more lineman in the draft this year. If that is the case, the defensive line will become crowded very quickly.
Mike Neal will be missing a quarter of the season due to his suspension, and that automatically puts him at a disadvantage for making the roster. Should he suffer another injury in the offseason or during training camp, Thompson won’t take too long to pull the trigger on his failed prospect.
GETTING THROUGH THE FOAM
So who’s learned their lesson here, the fans or Ted Thompson? Is it fruitless to put so much hope into one player after so many setbacks, or is it blind impatience to give up on a potential star so quickly?
While there is a lot of evidence piling up against him, the mug remains half full for Mike Neal – but barely.
I don’t think the Packers will cut him right after the draft, no matter who they end up selecting. They’ll get him into training camp to see where he’s at physically and mentally, allowing him to compete with the rest of the group. With his salary, there’s really not much to lose by doing so.
It’s going to be a very short leash, but if Mike Neal is speaking the truth about his suspension being a “technicality,” then it will be less of a scar on his character in the eyes of the Packers organization.
Besides, if there is one thing we’ve learned the past two years, it’s that you can never have enough depth along your defensive line. Neal might be missing four games no matter what, but the other twelve (and beyond?) still account for a lot. Thompson doesn’t give up on his players easily, and he’ll give Mike Neal every opportunity to get back on the path to success.——————Follow @ChadToporski