No team has more player suspensions for violations of the league's various substance abuse policies over the last three seasons than the Seattle Seahawks. And just as it did in the waning weeks of the 2012 regular season, the inability of certain players to keep a lock on their situations will affect Seattle's defense in ways that head coach Pete Carroll and his staff would not prefer.
On Sunday, Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported that cornerback Walter Thurmond was facing a four-game suspension for violating the league's non-PED drug policy. Dave Mahler of Seattle radio station KJR-AM reported that marijuana was the substance in question. The Seahawks are looking to sign veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield, who they first signed this offseason and later released, to replace Thurmond on the roster.
Thurmond will be back in time for the playoffs for the 10-1 Seahawks, but the story for cornerback Brandon Browner could be far more complex. Mike Silver of the NFL Network first reported Monday that Browner was facing an eight-game suspension for violating the NFL's policies on performance-enhancing drugs. Browner served a four-game PED suspension in 2012 and would be suspended for eight games this time. Browner is currently sidelined with a groin injury, and wasn't expected back on the field until mid-December at the earliest.
Browner refuted the specific language of Silver's report, and his agent, Peter Schaffer, did the same.
I'm not facing suspension for PEDs, it's sad that the NFL is reporting this...
— Brandon Browner (@bbrowner27) November 25, 2013
Soon after, ESPN's Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen reported that Browner is in fact facing a one-year suspension from the league. This length of suspension is usually given to Stage 3 offenders. The ESPN report says that Browner has already appealed the suspension, and if he loses that appeal, he won't be eligible to play for any team until Week 13 next season. The former CFL star, who surprised many with a Pro Bowl season in 2011, will be a free agent in 2014. His game had trailed off this season, and Thurmond had been replacing him outside opposite Richard Sherman much more often.
"This is a challenge -- it’s a challenge for us, and it’s a challenge for the league," Carroll said during a five-minute statement at the beginning of a press conference in May, shortly after it was announced that outside linebacker Bruce Irvin would be suspended for the first four games of the 2013 season for a PED violation. "The league is doing everything they can to help guys make it through these young careers that they have, from teaching, to instructing, also the punitive side of it. They're doing a really good job and they’re in it for the right reasons, and we are too. We go beyond with what the league does. We go well past with what the guidelines ask us to do as far as working with our young guys trying to give them the direction, trying to give them the counseling. We have people on staff that are here specifically to work with our individual guys because I really see this as an individual challenge."
Irvin's suspension followed the suspensions of Sherman and Browner in 2012 (both for Adderall, though Sherman's was later overturned on appeal), and the earlier suspensions of guard John Moffitt, offensive tackle Allen Barbre, and defensive back Winston Guy. Moffit admitted that he took Adderall before he knew he needed a medical exemption. Take the Sherman appeal out, and the Seahawks still lead the league when it comes to such suspensions since 2010.
And the new additions to the list, rightly or wrongly, will forward the perception that Carroll can't control his team.
"It comes down to the player at the end of the day, and the player's responsible for what he puts into his body," fullback Michael Robinson told me back in May. "Guys have to be smarter." So far, no good.