The Oakland Raiders will have to finish the regular season without one of their best players after the NFL suspended Pro Bowl fullback Marcel Reece for four games, as ESPN's Field Yates reported Monday.
Since Oakland is mathematically out of the AFC playoff race, Reece's absence won't have a significant impact on the team in Week 17. Far more deleterious will be his absence in the first three weeks of next season.
The 30-year-old is among the NFL's premier fullbacks, earning a trip to the Pro Bowl in each of the last four seasons. An NFL spokesman confirmed, though, he'll be unable to take part in this year's event as a result of his suspension, per the team's official website.
Aside from the Pro Bowl, his punishment will only apply to the regular season, leaving him available to participate in training camp and the preseason.
The Raiders have made positive strides in 2015 after finishing 3-13 in 2014. If they can win eight games, it would tie them for the most since their trip to Super Bowl XXXVII. The aerial combo of quarterback Derek Carr and wide receiver Amari Cooper also brings a level of optimism about Oakland's offense not seen in years.
Not having Reece for the start of next season won't prevent the Raiders from building on that progress, but it could hurt the team out of the gate.
Reece's suspension does, however, provide an opportunity for Jamize Olawale to stake his claim on the starting job. Pro Football Focus is somewhat bullish on the 26-year-old, grading him the ninth-best fullback in the NFL, only three spots behind Reece.
For ESPN's Bill Williamson, this news could be a blessing in disguise:
The Raiders thought enough of Olawale to offer him a three-year extension earlier in the month.
Oakland could be planning for Olawale to be Reece's successor, and Reece's missing nearly a fourth of the season in 2016 could speed up those plans.