ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Broncos linebacker Von Miller received a six-game suspension under the NFL’s substance-abuse policy Tuesday, taking away the best defensive player from a team many expect to make a run at the Super Bowl.
The league wanted a longer penalty for the third-year linebacker, but the sides agreed to less than half the season, a person familiar with the negotiations between the linebacker and the NFL told The Associated Press.
The person who spoke to the AP did not want to be identified because details about the negotiations were not public.
Broncos executive vice president John Elway said the team was frustrated with what happened “and, I think, disappointed in Von.”
“We’ll live with that decision,” Elway said. “What I’d like to do is try to do everything we can to prevent any other situations.”
According to the NFL, Miller is eligible to play and practice through the last two preseason games. His suspension, without pay, will begin Aug. 31, and will cost him more than $800,000 of the nearly $2.3 million he’s scheduled to make this season.
He’ll be allowed at the team facility, but not at practice during the suspension. He can return to the field Oct. 14, the day after Denver’s home game against Jacksonville, and will be eligible for an Oct. 20 contest at the Indianapolis Colts.
After being notified of the decision, Miller released a statement saying, “although my suspension doesn’t result from a positive test, there is no excuse for my violations of the rules.”
“I made mistakes and my suspension has hurt my team, Broncos fans, and myself,” he said. “I am especially sorry for the effect of my bad decisions on others. I will not make the same mistakes about adhering to the policy in the future. “
The NFL has two drug policies — one that covers use of performance-enhancing substances and the “Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse” that applied to Miller’s case.
There are ways to violate the drug policy without necessarily testing positive. They include missing a test, refusing to test, tampering with tests or giving a diluted urine sample.
The Broncos had been operating throughout the preseason as if Miller would be with them for their regular-season opener Sept. 5.
“I don’t know if that was confidence as much as it was wishful thinking,” coach John Fox said. “I think we all tend to look at the glass half full instead of half empty. But now the reality is there and I’m kind of glad we’ve gotten to where it is finalized.”
It gives Fox a chance to finalize “Plan B” for a team listed at most Vegas sports books as the favorite to win the Super Bowl. Miller is the best player on the Broncos defense — the second pick of the 2011 draft, the NFL’s 2011 Defensive Rookie of the Year and runner-up last season for the league’s Defensive Player of the Year. He had 18½ sacks last season and 30 over his two years.
Likely to take his spot at the rush linebacker position is Shaun Phillips, a 10-year veteran the Broncos signed in free agency during the offseason.
Others in the mix in a juggled linebacker corps include Nate Irving, Wesley Woodyard and Danny Trevathan. Another linebacker, Stewart Bradley, had emerged as a front-runner over Irving at middle linebacker during training camp, but he hurt his left wrist in a preseason game Saturday night and underwent surgery.
On Tuesday, the Broncos signed 12th-year veteran Paris Lenon, who played ahead of Bradley in Arizona last year.
“We’re going to have to have guys play better,” Fox said. “Everybody is going to have to step up. I know it’s ‘Next man up,’ but he’s a hard man to replace.”
Miller, meanwhile, has a number of issues pending before his return. Among them, staying in playing shape while not being allowed to practice with the team. He also must clear up his recent arrest for failing to appear in court for traffic violations. News of the arrest came as Miller was deep in negotiations with the league and the union over his case, about which he repeatedly insisted he had “done nothing wrong.”
Then, there’s the issue of keeping the trust of his teammates, who have steadfastly backed him during a summer filled with turmoil.
“Has not changed,” Peyton Manning said Tuesday, before word of the six-game suspension became official. “There’s been a lot of noise and speculation. But Von is one of our teammates. He’s part of the family, and I certainly have his back as his teammate and I know that all the players do and the organization does.”
The organization has been hit by a number of distracting stories since last season ended with a loss to Baltimore in the divisional playoffs.
The Broncos lost their second-leading sack man, Elvis Dumervil, because of a foul-up with a fax machine while his contract was being finalized. Two front-office executives got arrested on drunken-driving charges and were suspended. Miller’s status has been the news since training camp started, though it has shared headlines with a steady beat of injuries coming out of training camp.
All of which threatens the focus of a team that brought Manning in to win the Super Bowl now.
“I think sometimes you can use distractions to your benefit, in the fact that distractions are also when you are getting patted on the back all the time, which we have been quite a bit,” Elway said. “Von was a big part of our defense and we’re going to have to play and pick up that slack.”
Miller will be sidelined for the season opener against Baltimore, then at the New York Giants, home against Philadelphia and Oakland, at Dallas and home against Jacksonville. His return coincides with Manning’s first game in Indianapolis since he last put on a Colts uniform.
“The guys around him have to play better,” Fox said. “The guys on the other side of the ball have to play better. That will be the challenge to our team.”