Journeyman defensive lineman Mike Pennel and the Kansas City Chiefs are preparing to take on the NFC champion San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV. It has taken a few stops along the way before the 28-year-old could reach this point of his NFL career. Before landing with the Chiefs this season, Pennel played for a handful of teams, including the Green Bay Packers and New York Jets.
His most recent team outside of Kansas City, however, was the New England Patriots. Pennel joined the defending Super Bowl champions on a two-year, $5 million contract on the first day of free agency last spring. In a drastic turn of events, the sixth-year defensive tackle didn’t make it out of his first preseason as Bill Belichick and his coaching staff cut Pennel last August.
The dominant run stuffer signed on with the Chiefs two months later in October and has since helped revitalize Kansas City’s front seven, alongside the likes of DT Chris Jones and DE Frank Clark.
During Super Bowl “Opening Night” at Marlins Park on Monday evening, Pennel detailed his thoughts on what went awry in New England, telling reporters that he and the team were not on the same page.
“It was just with how the preseason was going and everything like that, me being a veteran, I kind of knew what was going on with the (decreased) reps and everything like that,” said Pennel. “I didn’t really understand what was going on and didn’t really get any answers. So after that point, it was a little bit of confusion, a little bit of relief when I got cut. But I’m just glad to be somewhere with a lot more transparency.”
Per NESN’s Patriots beat writer Zack Cox, Pennel specified that there was a “disconnection between something I was doing with the defensive line coach” during his brief stint with the team. That defensive line coach was Bret Bielema, who has since departed along with former Patriots special teams coordinator Joe Judge for a new role with the New York Giants.
“It’s different when you go up to your coach and talk life and not just football,” Pennel continued. “It’s different when you can have a different technique or be able to talk through techniques with your coach. Some places you can do that; some places you can’t. New England wasn’t the place to do that.”
Interestingly enough, Pennel’s current defensive line coach and run game coordinator, Brendan Daly, joined the Chiefs via the Patriots following the 2018 season. He spent the prior four years as New England’s defensive line coach before Belichick hired Bielema to fill his void last season.
Despite the reported disconnect between him and the Patriots staff, Pennel stood true to his identity and strengths as a player, as he shared with reporters during Monday’s media night.
“It was something where, as a player, you come and you try to conform sometimes,” said the veteran lineman. “But you can conform too much and get taken out of your playing style. So after weeks and weeks and going through training camp and everything like that, I think on both ends, it was kind of a (realization that) we’re over this. This is over with. So we respectfully parted ways after that, and that was it.”
In his eight regular season games with the Chiefs, Pennel racked up 24 total tackles and his second-career sack. He’ll look to add one more to the record books as Kansas City goes for its first Super Bowl title in 50 years.
For more NFL updates, follow Chris Licata on Twitter: @Chris__Licata