Brandon Browner's appeal was heard today by the NFL and now the Seahawk corner must wait to find out whether his one-year suspension will be reduced or overturned. According to PFT, the substance-abuse policy requires that a decision be reached "[w]ithin a reasonable time." My best guess is that Browner's most rational hope is that his suspension will be reduced to four games, which would make him eligible again by the time the playoffs roll around (though it's worth noting he's still suffering from a serious groin pull). If the one-year ruling is upheld, his career will possibly be over.
The whole situation is strange. Long story short, ProFootballTalk had postulated and John Clayton and a few others have suggested a similar scenario, that there's a chance that Browner found himself in Phase III of the NFL's Substance Abuse Program because when he went to the CFL and played in Calgary, he stopped making himself available for random testing. Being in Phase III essentially means you're to the point where if you fail one more test, you're gone for a year.
According to Clayton, Browner was in the substance-abuse program when he was a rookie with the Broncos back in 2005, and when he failed to show up for drug testing after he was released that season, it counted against him. Browner's argument, according to Clayton, is that he was not aware and/or was never notified that he was still required to take drug tests while he was unsigned and technically not an NFL employee.
"He's just out of college, he doesn't have a cell phone, he's collecting unemployment, there's no way to get a hold of him," Clayton said, "and the league is contacting him and saying, 'OK, you've got to test.' Well, can they show proper proof that they did try to contact him?"
While Clayton conceded the odds are against Browner, he noted:
"Don't discount the chance of him winning this case. He could win this case," adding, "This thing is not over."
Because these potential missed tests while Browner was in Canada apparently count as a strike against you in this program, there is the source-backed theory that Browner has not, in fact, failed several drug tests but perhaps only one, which happened recently (I guess). So, Browner now faces a year-long suspension instead of being subject to normal protocol around a failed drug test, which ranges from program-oriented sanctions to eventually a 4-game suspension, before the 'death penalty' of a year-long suspension is levied.
Browner played for the Broncos in 2005. Cut in 2006, Browner surfaced the following year in the CFL. Unless Browner violated the substance-abuse policy enough times in one-plus year with the Broncos to land in Stage Three, there's a chance he fell victim to the unfair expectation that players who have been dumped by the NFL still have to submit to NFL-implemented drug tests, and that he returned to the NFL in 2011 with a lifetime membership in Stage Three.
That's how Stage Three works. Once a guy enters Stage Three, he never gets out. And if he makes one false move while in Stage Three, via a positive test or a failure to show up for a test, he's done for at least a year.
At this point, it seems plausible that this Canada thing will be Browner's defense. Whether the NFL cares about this, assuming it's true, is another story. CBSSports' Jason La Canfora opined today that he wouldn't 'rule out litigation, depending on outcome.' Hopefully it doesn't come to that, because that could drag on for years. Ultimately, if Browner's suspension is upheld, it would mean he would be suing for monetary reimbursement, not to quickly get back into the league, I would think.
It's worth noting that Browner did appear to know he was already on the league's watch list of some sort as being a part of the program, though it's unclear if he knew it was 'one-strike you're out' deal. As examiner.com points out, Jason La Canfora told KJR last year during Browner's PED suspension that the corner is/was ...
"...Tested regularly -- up to three times a week.
So he's told people, ‘Look, I knew what I was up against. I don't even drink a beer because I'm so wary of having a positive for anything.' So he's been adamant that ‘I'm not on anything. I've gone out of my way not to put any sort of substance, supplement or anything other than what you would normally eat and drink.'"
Browner's agent, Peter Schaffer, told reporters last November, "Brandon Browner has no knowledge of how any illegal substance could have gotten into his system. ... He takes tremendous care of his body and he is very careful with what he puts into it. We're exploring all avenues to try and figure out how any substance out of the ordinary would be in his system."
So, regardless, the bottom line is that reduced/overturned suspension or not, it would appear that Browner either recently missed a test or failed a test, which spurred this reaction. Browner's hope is that the league agrees to a punishment more suitable for a one- or two-strike offender and not a phase III type offender.
In related news, the Seahawks released CB Perrish Cox about 24 hours after signing him. Taking his spot on the 53-man roster is practice squad corner/safety Deshawn Shead. Browner remains on the roster, evidently pending results of this appeal. Antoine Winfield, according to several reports floating around, is still an option for the Hawks, but just not this week.
- Brandon Browner's unique path to the NFL & his uncertain future
- Explosive Opponent Preview: The New Orleans Saints
- Playoff Seeds and Championships
- Pete Carroll following "most consistent, proven championship formula in the history of this game"
- The Watch: Week 13 NFL/NFC Standings, NFL Draft order, rooting interest guide, more