New England Patriots fans, allow me to introduce Mike Pennel.
First things first, Pennel’s name is pronounced “puh-Nel.” At 6ft 4” and 330lbs, you better believe you get that one right if you do ever get to speak to him.
The 28-year old from Kansas, was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by the Green Bay Packers in 2014 out of Arizona State. His rookie season started slowly. Despite featuring in 13 games, he made minimal impact. His sophomore season was a bit better, he played in all 16 games and had 25 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. Not bad for a rotational run-stuffer.
Pennel’s career took a downward turn in 2016 when he had two 4-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. These suspensions book-ended his 2016 season and most likely led to his subsequent release from the Packers in January 2017.
A month later, Pennel signed with the Jets under the defensive stewardship of Todd Bowles. It is here that his career really began to bloom again. He featured in all 32 of the Jets games over the last two seasons, recording 62 tackles. For an interior Defensive lineman that has, at best, a rotational role, those tackle statistics are fairly impressive.
On the surface, Pennel’s signing on the first day of free-agency signalled a targeted move to bring in a player that the Patriots had coveted. If we dig deeper, we see that as a former Jet, Pennel, was a player that the Patriots would have been quite familiar with, having scouted against him four times in the last two seasons.
In 5 games (including a preseason game with the Packers) Pennel recorded 13 tackles against the Patriots. If we take a player from the same position in former first round pick Malcom Brown, who had 88 tackles having started most games, we see there wasn’t a huge difference in relative production. From a financial standpoint though, Pennel cost the Patriots a 2 year $5million contract compared to the 3 year $15million that the Saints gave Brown. Both players are run-stuffers, despite Brown showing some ability to get to the passer in his first two seasons, he had zero sacks in his final season in Foxborough.
Going back to the point of familiarity, the Patriots have had some success in the past bringing in free agents or making trades for players they had seen up close, whether in joint-practices or from AFC East rivals; Alan Branch, Akiem Hicks, Chris Hogan, Stephon Gilmore, Johnathan Freeny, Ramon Humber and Akeem Ayers have all had some success in New England. Pennel hasn’t received “uncuttable” guaranteed money, but i think the Patriots hope and expectation is that he does indeed replace Brown’s production whilst allowing them to allocate cap space elsewhere.
–Luke O’Brien is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @lukeobrienNFL