Panthers DE Johnson gets 4 game suspension

The Panthers will be without starting defensive end Charles Johnson for this Sunday’s pivotal NFC showdown with the New Orleans Saints.

Johnson, an 11-year veteran, has been suspended without pay for the team’s next four games for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing substances. The NFL announced the suspension Friday. Johnson’s suspension begins immediately. He’s eligible to return to the Panthers’ active roster on Dec. 25.

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Panthers coach Ron Rivera said the suspension is disappointing. He said Julius Peppers will start in Johnson’s spot and Bryan Cox Jr. will work into the defensive line rotation.

Johnson released a statement through the team’s website saying he accepts full responsibility. The linemen says he has “been recovering from back surgery, dealing with the daily grind of football and mistakenly thought this could help. It was an error in judgment.”

It’s the first time Johnson has been suspended in his 11 seasons with Carolina.

From 2011-14, Johnson recorded 9.0, 12.5, 11.0 and 8.5 sacks, 11th in the NFL over that span. The Georgia football alumnus has started every game this season while compiling 16 tackles and 1 pass defensed. Johnson, who ranks second on the team’s all-time sacks list with 67.5, also is subject to a fine of four-seventeenths of his 2017 salary. He re-signed with the Panthers prior to this season on a two-year deal worth $9.5 million. His base salary this year is $1 million.

Julius Peppers, the franchise’s career leader with 89.5 sacks, will replace Johnson in the starting lineup opposite Mario Addison. Rookie Bryan Cox Jr., who has played in two games, will be active and join the rotation that also includes Wes Horton.

The Panthers will activate Damiere Byrd from injured reserve to replace Johnson on the 53-man roster. The plan already was to activate Byrd to add more speed at receiver with second-round pick Curtis Samuel out for the year with an ankle injury.

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