ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Broncos linebacker Von Miller will serve a six-game suspension under the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, a violation the linebacker said did not result from a positive test.
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 spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity Tuesday because details about the negotiations were not public.
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. He can return to the team 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. During my time off the field, I will work tirelessly and focus exclusively on remaining in peak shape. I look forward to contributing immediately upon my return to the field and bringing a championship back to the people of Denver.”
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.
The Broncos had been operating throughout the preseason as if Miller would be with them for their regular-season opener Sept. 5.
Now, a team with Super Bowl aspirations must scramble to replace its best player on defense, the second pick of the 2011 draft, who was the NFL’s 2011 Defensive Rookie of the Year and runner-up last season for the league’s Defensive Player of the Year.
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.
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 about 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.”
Manning, of course, is the lynchpin of a team built to win the Super Bowl now.
But it’s Miller whom executive vice president John Elway recently called the most talented football player he’d ever seen.
The linebacker 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.
While Miller’s gone, the Broncos will be forced to shuffle at the linebacker position.
Miller has been practicing with the first team, though a window into the team’s thinking came last Thursday, when he missed practice while he met with lawyers. Nate Irving, normally a middle linebacker, played on the strong side, and Phillips filled in at Miller’s spot. Middle linebacker Stewart Bradley hurt his left wrist Saturday night, throwing another wrench into the ever-developing contingency plans.
On Tuesday before the suspension was announced, the Broncos signed 12th-year veteran linebacker Paris Lenon.
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