- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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The NFL announced New England Patriots defensive end Jermaine Cunningham is suspended four games without pay for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancement drug policy. Barring an appeal, Cunningham will be out until the regular-season finale against the Miami Dolphins on Dec. 30.
Here are several thoughts on Cunningham’s suspension:
It is interesting to think back to how much Patriots head coach Bill Belichick raved about Cunningham’s improvement in the offseason. Entering 2012, Cunningham was a draft bust who couldn’t get on the field. But this year he showed considerable improvement and was busted for performance enhancers. Maybe those two are related. Maybe that's not the case. But it is curious now to connect the dots.
Cunningham’s suspension makes it more important for rookie defensive end Chandler Jones to return from his ankle injury. Jones missed his first game of the season against the New York Jets on Thanksgiving, and the Patriots didn’t miss a beat. New England’s defense played well in a 49-19 win over the Jets. But New England’s schedule will only get tougher. The Patriots will play at Miami (5-6) on Sunday, followed by games against the Houston Texans (10-1) and San Francisco 49ers (8-2-1). The Patriots need all hands on deck during this battle for playoff positioning.
This suspension could put Cunningham’s long-term future with the Patriots in jeopardy. He was a draft bust for most of his career and then busted for PEDs after finally showing improvement. Cunningham will return for the regular-season finale and the playoffs. But his roster spot may be one to keep an eye on in the offseason.