Brandon Browner has most likely played his last down for the Seahawks. (Ted S. Warren/AP)
RENTON, Wash. -- The NFL suspended Seattle Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner indefinitely on Wednesday for violations of the league's substance-abuse policy. Browner had first been suspended in late November, and was facing a possible year-long suspension as a Stage 3 offender in the NFL's drug program. Browner was suspended four games late in the 2012 season for a violation of the league's policies against performance-enhancing substances, which is separate from the NFL's drug policy. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport first reported the suspension.
The Seahawks confirmed Browner's suspension in a statement.
"I want to thank the Seahawks organization for the incredible opportunity they gave me when they took a chance on a player who was out of the NFL and playing in the CFL for 4 years," Browner said via Twitter after the suspension was announced. "I also want to thank all of my teammates, coaches, trainers, staff and the 12’s for their support, respect, and friendship and for helping me grow into the player, father, and person I am today. I have been treated with nothing but first class by everyone associated with the Seattle Seahawks and for that I am forever grateful. Although I disagree with the circumstances surrounding my suspension, I accept responsibility for all of my actions and I apologize for any that causes any unflattering reflections of my family and the Seahawks. I believe in my innocence and will continue to fight with all legal resources available to me to. Go Hawks!!!"
Peter Shaffer, Browner's agent, was more succinct about his client's legal remedies, telling Pro Football Talk by phone that he and Browner would "sue the living daylights out of the league" if whatever administrative remedies available are unsuccessfully exhausted.
Browner’s suspension is a more complicated story than is typical. When he first came into the league in 2005, he failed a drug test while in the Denver Broncos’ employ. The Broncos released him in 2006. After that, according to a source familiar with the situation, Browner ran low on money and was sleeping on friends’ couches to stay solvent while he waited for another shot at pro football. He was automatically placed in Stage 3 of the program because he missed multiple notifications for drug tests when his cell phone service apparently lapsed. Browner played with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League from 2006 through 2010, and maintained his Stage 3 status when he returned to the NFL with the Seahawks in 2011.
Browner passed multiple tests per week from 2011 through 2013 without a hitch, but failed another non-PED test recently, and that tripped the year-long suspension. Had he not missed those notifications years ago, he would face a few missed game checks at best, and a four-game suspension at worst. Browner’s appeal concluded in late November, and the Seahawks had been awaiting a result for almost a month.
At his appeal, Browner claimed that he never received any notifications (which the league said existed in writing), and that he missed drug tests when he was not in the league. FOX Sports recently reported that Browner turned down a deal that would have reduced his suspension.
Browner is a pending free agent, and it is not known when he would be allowed to return to the league (per the suspension, he can't apply for re-instatement for a year), but it probably won't be with the Seahawks for a number of reasons. The 29-year-old's play had declined this season, and he was sharing reps with Walter Thurmond when Thurmond was suspended four games in late November for his own violation of the league's drug policy. Thurmond's suspension will end in time for Seattle's Week 17 game against the St. Louis Rams.
In addition, third-year man Byron Maxwell has excelled while subbing for Browner and Thurmond opposite Richard Sherman. Last Sunday in Seattle's 23-0 win over the New York Giants, Maxwell picked off two passes, and he's performed at a very high level when asked. Per Pro Football Focus, in 243 coverage snaps this season, Maxwell has allowed just one touchdown pass to three interceptions, and he's kept opposing quarterbacks to a 45.0 passer rating, the best mark among all of Seattle's cornerbacks this season.
"Byron has done a great job," Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said Wednesday. "He’s just made it through and he’s done a great job of playing. That Wally Pipp story comes to life sometimes, and I’m thrilled about what Byron has done. He’s been such an impact player for us and we had the opportunity to wait it out and see what was going on. We’ve been very fortunate with the way it’s turned out so far.”