KANSAS CITY, MO. (AP) - Injuries could already keep two defensive starters out of the Chiefs’ season-opener against Atlanta. Now, a suspension has sidelined their best pass rusher.
Pro Bowl linebacker Tamba Hali will miss the Sept. 9 game against the Falcons without pay after violating the NFLs substance-abuse policy, the league said Monday. Hali will be fined an additional game check and be eligible to return in Week 2.
The league did not disclose the nature of the violation and Hali did not speak to the media after practice, instead issuing a one-paragraph statement through the team.
“I accept the discipline from the league and will return Week 2 of the NFL season with a commitment to erase this mistake with my play on the field and my conduct off of it,” Hali said.
The Chiefs are already missing starting cornerback Brandon Flowers, who has been sidelined by a nagging foot injury, and safety Kendrick Lewis, who hurt his right shoulder in Friday night’s preseason game against St. Louis. It’s unknown when either of them will be back.
It’s perfectly clear when Hali will return: at Buffalo on Sept. 16.
“Tamba’s situation is unfortunate,” Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli said in a statement. “Obviously we are disappointed and will miss him during the suspension, but the NFL’s policies are very clear and we respect the league’s decision in this matter.”
Hali long ago established himself as the Chiefs’ best pass rusher, reaching his first Pro Bowl last season alongside fellow linebacker Derrick Johnson.
The former first-round draft pick has started every game he’s played the past six seasons. The past two years have been his best _ Hali had 14 1/2 sacks two years ago and 12 last season, when he helped a team ravaged by injuries to the doorstep of the playoffs.
“We’re disappointed. We’re disappointed for him, for the team, for the organization and the fans, but it is what it is,” Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel said. “He’s a guy who is very prideful, he’s been a very good team member for this team, and I think the team will rally around him.”
Indeed, Hali has become one of the faces of the franchise, even though he goes about his business away from the spotlight. He routinely signs hundreds of autographs for fans and is known for his charitable work in the community, but he rarely speaks to the media.
Instead, Hali lets his performance speak for itself.
He’s racked up 266 tackles and 53 1/2 sacks in his career, along with an interception and a safety. He’s also forced 22 fumbles, many of them after tearing around some woebegone offensive tackle and swiping the ball from the hands of an unsuspecting quarterback.
It was little surprise that Pioli made signing Hali to a long-term deal a priority, and the sides agreed last season on a five-year, $60 million contract with $35 million guaranteed.
“You have to step up,” Johnson said of Hali’s suspension. “It’s just like having an injury. This is the NFL, and we’ll handle it like pros.”