So the NFL wants to suspend Green Bay Packers linebackers Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers. We still doubt that will happen, but the threat has definitely been presented.
Certainly the Packers aren’t going to be better off without two of their star defenders. However, they appear poised to mitigate any potential loss. Before we get into how, we should mention that even if there are suspensions, we’re not going to be talking about a year-long benching. We’d estimate between one and four games.
How would the Packers survive?
When the organization trotted out Ted Thompson on Tuesday, he mentioned that the team has a contingency plan in place at every position.
One of their best contingency plans might be at outside linebacker, where they seemingly have unprecedented depth.
Matthews would clearly be the bigger loss, as Peppers isn’t a full-time player at this point in his career. Although Julius is a No. 1 on the depth chart, Nick Perry is poised to get more snaps than Peppers anyway.
If you think back to last year, Matthews was on the inside. Mike Neal, who was no better than mediocre, got more snaps than Peppers at outside linebacker. The Packers are in a better position with a healthy Perry and no Peppers than they were with Neal starting.
Matthews is tougher to replace and we suspect the Packers would do that by committee. That committee would be made up of Jayrone Elliott, Datone Jones and possibly Lerentee McCray.
Elliott, a former undrafted free agent, is already expected to have an expanded role in his third season. We’ve seen flashes of playmaking ability in limited action in the past. See last year’s victory over Seattle as Example 1.
Jones, a former defensive end, has shown ability as a pass rusher at outside linebacker and McCray has been one of the pleasant surprises in camp.
We haven’t even mentioned third-round pick Kyler Fackrell yet. Fackrell doesn’t look ready to contribute just yet, but even if there are suspensions, he probably won’t have to.
The Packers defense wouldn’t be as good without Matthews and Peppers, but they could definitely still be a serviceable unit if those guys were lost for a period of time.