Black Monday is an annual NFL tradition, when coaches and general managers around the league are dismissed on the Monday following Week 17’s games. So why not a Black Thursday? Yesterday, on the Thursday before a holiday weekend, the league announced four suspensions over the course of the afternoon, including three four-game bans for standout players. Those penalties could end up having a real impact on a handful of teams as they pursue postseason berths this season.
Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson and Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain were suspended four games each for violating the league’s substance abuse policy; Packers pass rusher Datone Jones got one game for violating the same policy; and Chargers tight end Antonio Gates was banned four games for a violation of the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.
Because Jones’ suspension is just for one game, and he hasn’t been a top performer so far in Green Bay, we won’t feature him in this discussion, but the other three players are all extremely important to their respective teams.
Richardson is coming off a Pro Bowl season, and was expected to once again contribute to one of the best defensive lines in the NFL, alongside Damon Harrison and Muhammad Wilkerson. Now, sixth overall pick Leonard Williams will presumably be pressed into starting action immediately, while Richardson sits out the season’s first month.
In Dallas, the Cowboys’ new-look linebacker corps includes offseason signees Andrew Gachkar and Jasper Brinkley, along with Sean Lee, who is returning from a torn ACL. But the team will certainly miss McClain, who ranked as the league’s eighth-best inside linebacker out of 60 qualified players in 2014, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), despite only playing 13 games.
Of course, the most recognizable name among the suspended players is Gates. The future Hall-of-Famer hasn’t earned a Pro Bowl nod since the 2011 season, but he remains a focal point for the Chargers’ passing attack, having racked up 146 receptions and 16 touchdowns over the last two years. Young tight end Ladarius Green, who many observers pegged as a breakout candidate last year, will be tasked with filling Gates’ shoes for the first month of the 2015 campaign.
While all three suspended players are key contributors, their teams have viable replacements, and should be able to get by for a few weeks while they wait for their veterans to return. Still, those players will be missed. Which suspension do you expect to have the biggest impact on that player’s team? Cast your vote in the poll and feel free to weigh in below in the comments section to explain your reasoning.