New England Patriots: Defensive End Cunningham Suspended Four Games by the NFL

Kyle CormierContributor IIINovember 26, 2012

Aug 20, 2012; Foxborough, MA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick (7) is tackled by New England Patriots linebacker Jermaine Cunningham (96) during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Vick was injured on the play.  Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-US PRESSWIRE

New England Patriots defensive end Jermaine Cunningham has been suspended four games by the NFL for violating the league's policy on performance enhancing substances, the league announced Monday.

Cunningham had been filling in for injured starter, rookie Chandler Jones the past two games and was likely to continue in that role in Jones' absence. Despite being looked at as a player on the bubble this summer, Cunningham was in the midst of his most effective season as a pass-rusher, forcing 2.5 sacks in 11 games and drawing holding flags on a number of other plays.

The possibility of being without Jones and Cunningham this weekend against Miami is not welcome news to Bill Belichick and the New England coaching staff. It would not be a surprise if Cunningham's fellow third-year lineman Brandon Deaderick now becomes more of a key cog in the defense than he has been recently.Veteran Trevor Scott and rookie Jake Bequette will also factor into the mix, but they would be a far more obvious drop-off from Cunningham. 

Cunningham is now the second Patriot in the past month to face a suspension for P.E.D.'s after the suspension of rookie running back Brandon Bolden on November 9. Without an appeal, Cunningham will be eligible to return week 17 against the Miami Dolphins.