Green Bay Packers linebackers Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews, along with now-former Packers linebacker Mike Neal, were implicated in a drug ring by Al Jazeera back in December. The NFL announced they were launching an investigation in January and then… nothing.
As you may recall, former Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning was the biggest name implicated and was at the forefront of the report. Al Jazeera claimed Manning’s wife Ashley received HGH shipments from an Indianapolis anti-aging clinic.
The alleged roles of Peppers, Matthews and Neal weren’t as clearly defined, although they were tied to specific types of drugs. Matthews was tied to painkillers and both Neal and Peppers were tied to HGH.
As we noted at the time, Neal was suspended for performance-enhancing drugs back in 2012. He currently remains unsigned and his past suspension and the current investigation could be playing a role.
However, if the NFL is planning on handing down any suspensions now, they’re certainly taking their sweet time in doing so.
USA Today found that the league hasn’t even spoken to the players mentioned in the report yet, but they do still plan on doing so.
“It’s our expectation that we will interview the players involved over the next month or so,”NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart said, adding that the NFL is “in conversations with the union over the timing” of the interviews.
Lockhart also said the league is reviewing “extensive forensic evidence,” which at least sounds like it might take a while.
Another theory is the league isn’t too anxious to pry into the matters of the former face of the NFL and two of its marquee defenders for fear of what they might find.
That’s not to suggest stars are outside the reach of NFL justice. You need look no further than Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to see that’s not the case. Brady is scheduled to sit the first four games of 2016 for deflating footballs.
For their part, all three Packers denied any wrongdoing. Matthews called the report bullshit and Peppers expressed shock that his name was mentioned.
Neal’s denial — or misdirection — wasn’t quite as believable.
“You might as well stop asking me questions,” Neal said. “I mean, I’m sure you saw how pissed off Peyton Manning was about somebody coming out with talk like this. If you want to piss me off, that’s one thing, but please don’t … if you want to talk about football, let’s talk about football.”
Not exactly a denial, as you can see.
Players can be suspended four games for a first-time HGH violation and 1o games for a second violation. Those suspensions are based on a positive test, however.
As far as we know, the league doesn’t have a positive test from anyone implicated. They only have the report.
Therefore, if punishment is doled out, it may not even fall under a drug-policy violation.
There’s one question — how to handle punishment without a positive test if there is punishment?
There are so many others.
With Peppers likely in his final season — his contract with the Packers expires after 2016 — would the league purposely drag their feet if they found Peppers did wrong? Suspending a future Hall of Famer in his final season doesn’t seem like a real desirable move for the NFL.
You could clearly tell the league wasn’t in any hurry to paint Manning in a negative light during the playoffs. That would be bad for business. Why not just sweep this whole thing under the rug?
As for Matthews, even if he did acquire painkillers, is that against the rules? We can’t see a scenario that could be constructed where it would be, unless he’s using them recreationally.
In that case, Matthews could potentially be suspended under the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Even that seems highly unlikely, though. On top of that, the substance abuse policy allows for two strikes before a suspension.
After one positive test, a player enters the program. Only after a second do they actually get suspended. Plus, again, these are protocols based on positive tests, not other evidence.
Frankly, we wouldn’t be surprised if this just all quietly went away. And maybe that was the idea before someone got nosey and reminded us all about it.