Following an excellent week twelve of the 2012 Season, the league announced that four players who play key roles on playoff contenders have been suspended for violating the NFL’s policy on performance enhancing substances, and could have major impacts on their teams chances going forward. First let me get into the information that we have on each player, and then I’ll discuss at length below:
Seattle Cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner:
Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll expects to have his starting cornerbacks available this Sunday in Chicago. After that is anyone’s guess. Carroll said Monday he plans on Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner playing this week against the Bears, despite the possibility they could be facing four-game suspensions for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Both cornerbacks tested positive for Adderall, sources told ESPN. USA Today reported that Sherman accidentally took the drug by drinking from a bottle into which a teammate poured a crushed Adderall pill. Carroll didn’t say much regarding the duo at his regularly scheduled media availability, trying not to violate league rules. But his belief is that Sherman and Browner will be able to play in potentially Seattle’s most important game of the season. “As of right now, I’m planning on those guys playing,” Carroll said. The hearing for Sherman and Browner will not be held this week, sources told ESPN, and as a result, both can continue to play. ESPN.com first reported Sunday afternoon, following the Seahawks’ 24-21 loss at Miami, that Browner and Sherman are facing suspensions and are in the process of appealing. The team said Sunday night it was aware of the report and according to the league’s collective bargaining agreement, players can continue to play until the appeal is heard and settled. The team is limited in what it can say regarding the possible suspensions, and Carroll eventually said he wouldn’t comment further until there is some resolution. “Because it’s so important we do this properly, I’m not going to comment on anything about it. That’s the best way to do this because these are league issues,” Carroll said. “At this point, I’m going to keep it there and hope you can respect that this is the way we have to do that, and we can talk about it later on.” In a phone interview with Seattle reporters after Carroll’s news conference finished, Browner’s agent Peter Schaffer said his client received notice of the failed test only last week. “Brandon Browner has no knowledge of how any illegal substance could have gotten into his system,” Schaffer said. “He is an outstanding person and a very good football player. He takes tremendous care of his body and he is very careful with what he puts into it. We’re exploring all avenues to try and figure out how any substance out of the ordinary would be in his system.” Schaffer added that the league typically schedules appeals within 20 days of the notice being received, depending on circumstances. He did not provide specifics on when Browner’s appeal would take place. “It’s too early to tell what we’re going to need, what witnesses and evidence and experts are going to be required, so there is no way to even guess at this point,” he said. Sherman, an active participant in social media, posted on his Twitter account late Sunday night after arriving back in the Northwest, “This … issue will be resolved soon and the truth will come out. Not worried.” If Browner and Sherman are found guilty of violating the league’s policy, they would be the fourth and fifth Seahawks players in the past calendar year to be violators. Guard John Moffitt was suspended four games late last season. Reserve offensive lineman Allen Barbre was suspended for the first four games of this season before being released by the team once his suspension was up. And just last week, rookie safety Winston Guy was handed a four-game suspension after taking an over-the-counter product that had a banned substance in the ingredients, according to his agent. None of those suspensions could have the impact of Browner and Sherman, and it could not come at a much worse time with the Seahawks trying to hold on to the final wild-card spot in the NFC. The Seahawks (6-5) are tied with Tampa Bay and Minnesota but hold the tiebreakers. Seattle’s defense is predicated on the ability of its cornerbacks to play man coverage and lock up receivers. Sherman and Browner allow strong safety Kam Chancellor to play closer to the line of scrimmage in run support and give free safety Earl Thomas the chance to roam the secondary with his speed. If the duo does miss time, Seattle would turn to veteran Marcus Trufant and a trio of youngsters — Walter Thurmond, Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane –to fill the spots. Trufant was a starter until getting injured during the 2011 season, while Seattle has hoped Thurmond would develop into a key contributor, but he has been slowed by injuries. Thurmond has yet to be active for a game this season after starting the year on the physically unable to perform list. “They’ve been special in their effectiveness, and a lot of it has to do with the way we ask them to play. It suits them very well. It fits. They’ve been a big factor for us. We love the way they’re playing. … How it develops in the future with our guys when they get a chance they can play at the level and style that we want,” Carroll said. “We still try and tailor our expectation of our play to the athlete and what he can do and what they’re capable of doing, and we’ve always looked at it that way. Some guys play a little different than others and we have a pretty good group of guys to battle and give us versatility, I think.”
Tampa Bay Cornerback Eric Wright:
TAMPA, Fla. — For the second time this season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have lost a starting cornerback because of a violation of the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. Eric Wright will be suspended for the next four games, coach Greg Schiano told the media Monday afternoon. In a statement released by the team, Wright said Adderall was the cause of the positive test. “This is a result of taking Adderall at the end of July for health issues I was experiencing,” the statement read, according to the Tampa Tribune. “I am extremely disappointed that the suspension was upheld at my appeal.” Wright’s four-game suspension for Adderall use follows that of former Buccaneers starting cornerback Aqib Talib, who also was docked four games earlier this season. Talib said he took Adderall without a prescription during training camp. Talib served three games of his suspension before the Buccaneers traded him to New England Nov. 1. Wright was one of Tampa Bay’s big free-agent signings in the offseason. But he’s been hampered by an Achilles tendon injury in recent weeks and missed Sunday’s game against Atlanta. The Bucs started undrafted rookie Leonard Johnson in his place. E.J. Biggers took over when Talib was suspended and has remained in the starting lineup, but the Bucs have very little depth beyond that. Wright, who signed a five-year, $37.5 million contract when he joined the Bucs in March, will lose $1.706 million because of the suspension. The guaranteed money in Wright’s contract for next season is now null and void under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. Wright is scheduled to make $7.75 million in base salary next season, which no longer is guaranteed. The $7.75 million had been guaranteed for skill and injury. So if the Buccaneers decide to part ways with Wright after this season, this four-game suspension will wind up costing him $9.45 million.
New England Defensive End Jermaine Cunningham:
New England Patriots third-year defensive end Jermaine Cunningham had been one of the more pleasant surprises of the Patriots’ 2012 season, but now his bounce-back campaign is stained by a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. The league announced the suspension Monday, though the actual substance was not revealed. He is the second Patriots player to be suspended for performance enhancers this season. Running back Brandon Bolden was also suspended four games earlier this month. Cunningham, 24, can return to the active roster on Monday, Dec. 24, and won’t be eligible to play until the regular-season finale against the Miami Dolphins on Dec. 30. He has 23 tackles and 2.5 sacks on the season. Cunningham played in all 11 games this season, logging 50.3 percent of the snaps while emerging as one of the club’s top pass-rushers. He had carved out a niche at 3-technique (over the guard’s outside shoulder), rushing from an interior position at times in the base defense, while playing a larger role as a designated pass-rusher in sub packages. When looking at the standard base defense, Cunningham is the top backup at right defensive end behind Chandler Jones, who injured his ankle Nov. 11 and has been sidelined since. The timing couldn’t be much worse. This was Cunningham’s chance to re-establish himself as a starter-caliber player, which he was as a rookie (3-4 outside linebacker) before dipping considerably in his second year. One aspect that somewhat softens the blow for the Patriots is that defensive end is one of the deeper positions on their roster. Five-year veteran Trevor Scott, a former Oakland Raider, now gets bumped up the depth chart. He was running with the first unit at the start of training camp before Jones — the team’s top draft choice (21st overall) — emerged quicker than many anticipated to bump Scott to a backup role. Scott would project as one of the team’s starters if Jones doesn’t play in Sunday’s road game against the Dolphins. The suspension also elevates rookie free agent Justin Francis (Rutgers) and third-round pick Jake Bequette (Arkansas) up the depth chart. Francis has been used in sub packages in recent weeks and shown some explosiveness as a pass-rusher, while Bequette has dressed for only two games (17 snaps played, all at the end of games). Another possibility, if the coaching staff wants to get creative, is using linebacker Dont’a Hightower at end in sub packages, a role he played at times in college at Alabama. Cunningham is the third Patriots player to be suspended under the league’s performance-enhancing substance rules in the past three years. Brandon Spikes was suspended in December 2010. Bolden is eligible to return from his suspension next Monday.
The Patriots will win the AFC East and are a lock for the playoffs, and although Cunningham will be missed, they will be just fine without him until his return. The other three suspensions are gigantic in the grand scheme of things. Seattle will be in big trouble without both Browner and Sherman, who are two of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, and these suspensions could not have come at a worse time as the (6-5) are currently fighting to hang on to the last wildcard spot in the NFC playoff picture. The Buccaneers (6-5) will also miss Eric Wright dearly, especially after trading away their other starting cornerback a few weeks ago, however he was dealing with injuries. The bigger news for the Buccaneers is that the suspension voids Wright’s $7.75 million dollar base salary for next season, which is no longer guaranteed, so they can dump their grossly overpaid cornerback without any cap penalties.
One final note about these suspensions. I noticed that many of the players who are violating the NFL’s performance enhancing substance policy had tested positive for Adderall, a common drug for dealing with Attention Deficit Disorder, so I looked into why this is happening. It turns out that this may not always be the case, when a player fails a drug test, it would be a violation of privacy to disclose exactly which performance enhancing substance they have tested positive for. Their agents have been telling them all to say it was Adderall, which is a common prescription to treat ADD (or ADHD) and is perceived as a harmless drug to the general American public. As it turns out, there is a chance that the players and their agents are lying by telling the public that they are using a drug perceived as harmless to save their image and cover up the substance that they were actually using, as a way to make sure this does not have a negative effect on their client’s future earnings. I am not saying that this is always the case, some of the players are likely using Adderall to enhance focus, but in some scenarios it is likely a cover up for another banned supplement.