By John Boyle Herald Writer
The Seattle Seahawks are in the midst of a dream season, but it’s been a nightmarish two days for the team as players return to work from their bye week.
A day after news came out that Walter Thurmond is facing a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, multiple reports surfaced Monday that fellow cornerback Brandon Browner is also facing a suspension. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Browner is appealing a one-year suspension for violating the substance abuse policy. The league’s website broke the Browner news, though it originally published a report saying Browner’s suspension was for violating the league’s policy on performance enhancing drugs. Browner served a four-game suspension last year for a PED violation, and both he and his agent quickly denied the NFL.com allegations, though they refuted that he was facing a PED suspension, not any suspension.
Browner’s agent did not return a phone call and text message from The Herald.
Like Thurmond, Browner is a free agent after this season, and if he is indeed facing a one-year ban, it’s safe to assume his days as a Seahawk are likely over. The Seahawks were going to have to make tough choices on which players to re-sign as several key young players reach the end of their rookie deals. And knowing Browner is going to serve a second suspension in as many years would seemingly make one of those hard decisions a lot easier.
While Browner’s suspension may not have much effect on the fate of the 10-1 Seahawks in 2013 — he has a groin injury that Pete Carroll said would keep him out at least four to six weeks — this news, combined with Thurmond’s pending suspension, will certainly create a perception problem for the Seahawks.
It was only six months ago that Carroll and several players talked about the need for more personal responsibility after linebacker Bruce Irvin was suspended for a PED violation. Irvin’s suspension followed PED suspensions served by guard John Moffitt, Browner, offensive lineman Allen Barbre and safety Winston Guy under Carroll’s watch. Which is why, in a year with heightened expectations, the talk last spring was that the Seahawks had to make better decisions.
“We’ve got a lot of challenges coming up, and it ain’t easy, but we’ll find out where our commitment is and how close we can stay and how directed we can be to taking this as far as we can,” Carroll said in May. “That’s really my challenge every day and I expect that we’re going to have to encounter some more stuff and we’ll see if we can do it really well as we move forward. … It’s serious, it’s real serious. And we need to let you know that we understand that.”
Granted, Carroll was talking about PED suspensions at the time. But the bigger picture was the fact that an individual had made a mistake that potentially could hurt the team. In that sense, a suspension is a suspension when it comes to how it impacts the team’s Super Bowl hopes, regardless of the reason.
And while substance-abuse suspensions don’t come with the same “cheating” stigma as do PED violations, they also represent potentially worse examples of decision making. The four-game suspensions handed out to the aforementioned Seahawks for PED violations were for first-time offenses under the league’s collective bargaining agreement. First-time substance abuse offenders, however, are not suspended; instead they are subject to more frequent random testing. That means, assuming the reports of Thurmond and Browner’s suspensions are indeed accurate, both players knew they were being watched more closely, in free-agent seasons, no less, yet still put themselves in a position to be caught.
When Browner was suspended for a PED violation last year, reports surfaced that he was subject to extra testing at the time having failed a drug test during his time in Denver, which likely explains the longer suspension this time.
Carroll and the Seahawks can’t talk about the suspensions that Thurmond and Browner are facing — the collective bargaining agreement strictly forbids teams from speaking on such manners — but that doesn’t mean the Seahawks can’t begin planning for their absence.
With Thurmond and Browner both unavailable, the Seahawks will obviously need to bolster depth at cornerback, and they are exploring several options to do so. On Monday Seattle worked out former Seahawk Marcus Trufant, and worked out Perrish Cox earlier this month after he was released by the San Francisco 49ers.
Another option, possibly the most appealing one, is a reunion with veteran corner Antoine Winfield, who signed with Seattle in free agency and spent training camp with the Seahawks before being released prior to the start of the season. Winfield, a three-time Pro Bowler, was expected to be the team’s nickel corner, but a finally-healthy Thurmond performed so well the Seahawks felt comfortable parting ways with the more expensive veteran.
The 36-year-old Winfield said he was retiring at the time of his release, but he has not filed retirement papers, and according to Fox Sports’ Mike Garafolo, has been working out and has been in contact with Seattle.
Carroll, who was not available to the media Monday, said on his weekly radio show on 710 ESPN Seattle that he couldn’t comment on the Thurmond situation, but he did acknowledge that Winfield could end up back in Seattle this season.
“He’s a really good football player,” Carroll said. “With the needs we may have here going into this game, that’s a possibility. We’ll figure that out when the time comes, but he’s a great kid, a really quality kid to bring into your team at a time like this. He’s knows his way around, everybody knows him and respects the heck out of him. That’s a possibility.”
While the Seahawks would need Winfield to show he’s physically ready after a long layoff for a deal to happen, Winfield would probably be looking for some assurances that his employment wouldn’t be temporary. Winfield made it clear when he signed with Seattle that he was looking for a chance to win his first championship, and it’s unlikely he would end his quasi-retirement if he thought the Seahawks were going to use him as a four-week stopgap in Thurmond’s absence.
The Seahawks have some in-house options as well to add depth behind Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane. Carroll said that practice squad player DeShawn Shead is “very close to being a part of this club on the regular roster. He’s been practicing beautifully throughout the season so far. We really trust him.” Rookie Tharold Simon, who has been on the physically unable to performs list with a foot injury, is also expected to return to practice this week, though it’s hard to see a rookie who has almost no practice experience under his belt coming in and contributing this season.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.