As first reported by ESPN's Adam Schefter, Denver Broncos receiver Wes Welker has been suspended for the opening four games of the 2014 regular season for amphetamine usage. Sources have told Mike Klis of the Denver Post that Welker tested positive for Adderall, a drug used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder that has gained in popularity with NFL players over the last few years.
However, a Pro Football Talk report indicates that Welker had been taking "Molly," a nickname for MDMA or Ecstasy, a substance that also led to the four-game suspension of Dallas Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick. PFT reports that in Welker's case, the "Molly" was cut with amphetamines, and he took it at the most recent Kentucky Derby. PFT's Mike Florio speculates that straight MDMA would not have triggered a suspendable result under the league's policies against performance-enhancing drugs and overall substance abuse, but that the presence of amphetamines did.
"I'm as shocked as everyone at todays news," Welker said in an e-mail to The Denver Post, in which he called the NFL's drug policy 'clearly flawed.' "I want to make one thing abundantly clear: I would NEVER knowingly take a substance to gain a competitive advantage in any way. Anyone who has ever played a down with me, lifted a weight with me, even eaten a meal with me, knows that I focus purely on what I put in my body and on the hard work I put in year round to perform at the highest levels year-in and year-out.
"I want any youth football players and all sports fans to know, there are NO shortcuts to success, and nothing but hard work and studying, leads to success."
Welker, who has been dealing with concussion issues through the preseason, caught 73 passes for 778 yards and 10 touchdowns for the AFC champion Broncos in 2013. Through his career, he's caught 841 passes for 9,358 yards and 48 touchdowns. One of the best slot receivers in NFL history, Welker has been an integral part of Denver's offense since the Broncos signed him to a two-year, $12 million contract in March, 2013. He had appeared on the practice field Monday for the first time since suffering a concussion against the Houston Texans on Aug. 23. Welker suffered two concussions in 2013, and the second forced him to miss the last three games of the regular season.
"Tonight’s news regarding Wes is very disappointing for our team, but we understand the league’s authority in this area," Broncos head coach John Fox said in a team-released statement. "While it’s unfortunate to not have him to start the year, I have full confidence in our wide receivers and expect that group to continue playing at a high level. I have no doubt that Wes will remain focused on his preparations for the season and stay in excellent shape during his time away from the team.”
Over their first four games of the regular season, the Broncos will face the Indianapolis Colts and Kansas City Chiefs at home, then the Seattle Seahawks on the road and the Arizona Cardinals at home. They have a Week 4 bye, but Welker's suspension is for four games, not four weeks.
The Broncos signed free agent receiver Emmanuel Sanders, formerly of the Steelers, and selected Indiana receiver Cody Latimer in the second round of the 2014 draft. With Eric Decker gone to the New York Jets in free agency, Peyton Manning was looking for new targets, and this obviously ups the ante for both of the new guys. While Sanders is more of an outside speed receiver, Latimer has the size (6-3, 215), toughness and concentration to be an excellent slot target. Denver can also put tight end Julius Thomas in the slot and flex positions to increase Manning's options. According to Pro Football Focus' metrics, Latimer caught two passes for 61 yards from the slot in his first preseason.
But there's no question that this is a major hit for Denver's passing offense, Welker often commands the attention of a linebacker or safety, leaving more options open for his teammates, and he's been one of the most targeted players in the NFL over the last decade.
“I think we are well beyond where we were at this time last year, but at the same time there is still a lot of work to do and a lot of stuff we need to get better at and will get better at," Welker said of Denver's offense in late July. "It just takes time and practice and that is what we need to do. I am excited about where we are at and what we are doing up to this point ... Obviously, Emmanuel has made a lot of plays out here for us through training camp and is really going to help us this year and we look forward to him being out here. Latimer, for him it is really just really standing on the offense and really picking everything up and making mistakes and learning from them and different things like that. That is what we get to do at this point.”
Now, at this point, both of those guys will have to amp it up a notch if the Broncos are to take their place back at the top of their conference.
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