The league has given a one-game suspension to the Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Tamba Hali for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. Hali will miss the first week of the regular season against the Atlanta Falcons and return against the Buffalo Bills in Week 2.
Hali is arguably the best player in Kansas City and his absence in Week 1 will have an impact on the Chiefs defense against an Atlanta team that can throw the ball. However, the league gave Hali the NFL equivalent of warning shot and the league fired it straight across his bow. One game is basically the minimum suspension and should help curb Hali's usage of the banned substance.
There will be wild speculation as to what substance Hali used, but it wasn't performance enhancing drugs or any other substance clearly defined in the NFL's policy per a tweet from Kent Babb citing NFL spokesman Greg Aiello:
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello tells me that Hali's situation/suspension is unique and isn't defined specifically by the substance policy.— Kent Babb (@kentbabb) August 20, 2012
It doesn't matter what substance Hali used; he made a mistake and used a banned substance. Tight end Virgil Green in Denver was suspended four games for taking ADHD medication with a valid prescription, but without the proper exemption from the NFL according to ESPN's Josina Anderson. Green's suspension was for a procedural error and his suspension will be four times as long as Hali's.
Maybe it's just me, but a player that failed to get an exemption for taking a drug his doctor prescribed should not have a suspension four times as long as a player that knowingly took a banned substance, regardless of how innocuous that banned substance might be.
That's not to say both didn't deserve a suspension, but proves that Hali's suspension was light for the offense and the Kansas City Chiefs and the fans should consider themselves lucky.
The team released this statement via its official website:
"Tamba’s situation is unfortunate," said Kansas City Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli. "Obviously, we are disappointed and will miss him during this suspension, but the NFL's policies are very clear and we respect the league's decision in this matter. We are unable to comment further on this matter or any aspect of the NFL’s Drug Policy.”
Nowhere in any of the releases does it say Hali appealed, will appeal or disagrees with his suspension and per Pioli's comments the team will "respect the league's decision" on the matter. Hali and the Chiefs know they got the best possible result in the situation and will now focus on how to beat the Atlanta Falcons without his services.
It's almost impossible to replace a player like Hali and the Chiefs will miss him against the Falcons, but the team should be able to survive defensively with a little help from the fans at Arrowhead. The Chiefs are at home against the Falcons and therefore will have the roar of 80,000 fans to mess with the Falcons offensive line.
In Hali's place the Chiefs will turn to Andy Studebaker and Cameron Sheffield. Sheffield would be the sub package linebacker that can rush the passer while Studebaker fills against the run and helps without outside containment. Combined, the Chiefs should be able to survive without Hali as long as the other pass-rushers produce as expected.
While Studebaker and Sheffield get expanded snaps, it's Justin Houston that the Chiefs will hope can make up for Hali's pass rush. Houston had 5.5 sacks his rookie season and has looked explosive off the edge this preseason. A jump and a good game from Houston could bring the Chiefs through Hali's suspension with a win.
A good defensive showing against the Falcons could have the Chiefs defense on their way to elite status once Hali returns or expose them for having quality starters and very little depth.
Whether Hali's absence is the difference between good and elite or the difference between good and average, the fans should just be thankful it's just one game and they will have him back when they head on the road to Buffalo in Week 2.