NFL Post: Wes Welker Suspended; Cowboys looking at Michael Sam; Colts Owner Punished

F910C76B7339DF02585F9D181DC20BEA_787_442
Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker has been suspended four games for use of amphetamines, sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

Receiver Wes Welker is the second Bronco to be suspended this week. A team that had coveted a quiet summer has had anything but that as the regular-season opener approaches, writes Jeff Legwold. Story

Welker was excused from practice Aug. 20-21 to attend his appeal hearing, sources told ESPN Senior NFL Analyst Chris Mortensen.

Welker tested positive from a sample taken shortly after he attended the Kentucky Derby, according to sources. He argued that the sample was tainted.

Team sources say some within the organization believe Welker -- if cleared medically through the concussion protocol -- may have a chance to play during Sunday night's regular-season opener against the Indianapolis Colts because the suspension has not been officially announced by the NFL.

Welker returned to the practice field Monday as he continues through the NFL's concussion protocol. He would have to be symptom free to take part in a full practice and then remain symptom free after that and be cleared medically by an independent doctor to play. Welker suffered his third concussion since Nov. 17 during the preseason against the Texans.

The wide receiver had not been cleared for contact and Monday's appearance on the practice field was his first since he suffered a concussion Aug. 23.

Wes Welker will miss the Broncos first four games this season, three of which are at home. Welker caught eight of his career-high 10 touchdowns at home last season

Welker's suspension is a huge blow to the Broncos' receiving game. Last season only four wide receivers caught passes for Denver and nearly 60 percent of those receptions will not be on the field in Week 1, as Eric Decker is now with the Jets and Welker is suspended, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

The Broncos signed free agent receiver Emmanuel Sanders during the offseason and drafted rookie receiver Cody Latimer.

Over the last two seasons, only five players in the NFL averaged more targets per game than Welker. Welker ranks tied for eighth in the league in total targets over that span, despite missing three games, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

The Broncos have a tough start to the season, as they open up with four straight games against teams that won 10-or-more games last season.

michael-sam-delorean-burkman
Michael Sam is flying into Dallas on Tuesday night and will take a physical for the Cowboys on Wednesday, a source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

If Sam passes his physical, the Cowboys intend to sign him to their practice squad, the source said.

Sam, who is seeking to become the first openly gay athlete to play in the NFL, was cut by the St. Louis Rams on Saturday.

The Rams spent a seventh-round draft pick, No. 249 overall, on Sam in May's draft. He put together a solid preseason performance, coming up with 11 tackles and three sacks. In Thursday night's preseason finale against Miami, Sam finished his preseason work with a team-high six tackles.

Sam cleared waivers Sunday and is free to sign with any team.

The Rams finalized their 10-player practice squad on Monday, and it did not include Sam.

Coach Jeff Fisher had suggested that a lack of bodies at positions with little depth could leave the defensive end on the outside looking in when the team added to that unit.

The Cowboys announced Tuesday that rookie defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, their second-round pick, has been placed on injured reserve with a designated to return tag. That means Lawrence, who is recovering from surgery to repair a broken foot suffered early in training camp, is ineligible to practice for six weeks and must sit out the first eight games. The Cowboys signed defensive end Jack Crawford, a two-year veteran cut last week by the Oakland Raiders, to take Lawrence's place on the roster.

The Cowboys also signed offensive tackle John Wetzel and defensive back Jemea Thomas, who were both cut by Dallas after making the initial 53-man roster, to the practice squad. The Cowboys now have 10 players on the practice squad, meaning they would have to release one to make room for Sam.

nfl_a_irsay01jr_600x400
Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay has been suspended six games and fined $500,000 after pleading guilty to one misdemeanor count of operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

The NFL announced the penalties Tuesday, stating that Irsay violated the league's personal conduct policy. The suspension takes effect at 5 p.m. ET on Wednesday, and Irsay will be eligible to return after Indianapolis' game against the Houston Texans on Oct. 9.

Hours prior to the NFL's announcement, Irsay was in an Indiana courtroom, pleading guilty to a misdemeanor account of driving while intoxicated. The 55-year-old Irsay admitted to a judge he was under the influence of the painkillers oxycodone and hydrocodone when he was arrested March 16 near his home in the Indianapolis suburb of Carmel.

Irsay's toxicology report also showed he had alprazolam, which is used to treat anxiety, in his system when he was arrested. Alprazolam, which goes by the trade name Xanax, can be habit-forming and is a schedule IV controlled substance. It is used to treat anxiety disorders and panic disorder and sometimes used to treat depression, among other conditions.

"I acknowledge the mistake I made last March and stand responsible for the consequences of that mistake, for which I sincerely apologize to our community and to Colts fans everywhere," Irsay said in a statement released shortly after the NFL announced the penalties. "Even more importantly, though, I am committed to do everything in my power to turn this whole experience into a positive event for myself, my family, and the community."

Under the terms of the suspension, Irsay cannot attend any games or practices and is not allowed to be present at the Colts' facility.

The NFL also has barred Irsay from representing the Colts at any league-affiliated event, including league committee meetings. Irsay, who is active on social media, is also forbidden from discussing the Colts or NFL on his Twitter account.

The NFL owners will meet Oct. 7-8 in New York City, and Irsay will be banned from those meetings as part of his suspension.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell opted against the forfeiture of a draft pick or any other competitive penalty against the Colts because Irsay's conduct did not have competitive consequences.

According to the NFL's constitution, Irsay cannot be fined more than $500,000 unless Goodell goes to all owners to request heavier penalties. The collective bargaining agreement says that a player with a first offense DUI misdemeanor would receive no suspension and a maximum fine of $50,000.

"I have stated on numerous occasions that owners, management personnel and coaches must be held to a higher standard than players," Goodell said to Irsay in a letter, which was attached to the league's statement. "We discussed this during our meeting and you expressed your support for that view, volunteering that owners should be held to the highest standard."

The fine matches the fourth-largest in NFL history and is the heftiest handed down by Goodell since 2007, when New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick also was fined $500,000 for his role in the infamous "Spygate" scandal.
The case was closely watched around the NFL -- not least among players -- because there are few examples of the league punishing an owner like Irsay. Detroit Lions president Tom Lewand was suspended for 30 days and fined $100,000 in 2010 for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy following his guilty plea to driving while impaired.

Irsay will be on probation for a year and is prohibited from drinking or possessing alcohol during that time. Ninety days was added to his yearlong suspension of his driver's license. Judge J. Richard Campbell asked Irsay about his history of prescription drug troubles.

"Yes, I've had it in the past ... when I was dealing with the effects after having surgery,'' Irsay said in court. He left the courtroom with his attorneys once the hearing ended and didn't immediately speak with reporters.

Irsay acknowledged in 2002 he had become dependent on painkillers after several years of orthopedic operations. He said then that he had overcome the problem.
Less than 48 hours after his March arrest, the Colts said Irsay had entered a treatment facility. He was back with the Colts management at the NFL draft in early May.

Carmel police said Irsay was arrested after an officer spotted him driving slowly, stopping in the roadway and failing to use a turn signal. Officers said he had trouble reciting the alphabet and failed field sobriety tests. Various prescription drugs were found in his vehicle, along with more than $29,000 in cash.

"In retrospect, I now know that the incident opened my eyes to issues in my life that needed addressing and helped put me on the path to regain my health," Irsay said in his statement Tuesday. "I truly hope and pray that my episode will help in some small measure to diminish the stigma surrounding our country's terrible and deadly problem of addiction. It is a disease like other progressive, terminal diseases -- one that can only be successfully treated by understanding, committed hard work, and spiritual growth. I am deeply grateful for the tremendous outpouring of love and support during these past few months from my family, friends, care-givers, and our great community. Please know I am firmly committed to staying on my path to good health and I look forward to a great season."

Irsay told the judge he is still under the care of a doctor and an orthopedic specialist who prescribe medications for him. Under terms of his probation, Irsay must provide officials with all current medication prescriptions.

Irsay became the Colts owner in 1997 after the death of his father, Robert Irsay, and a lengthy legal battle with his father's second wife. Forbes magazine has estimated Irsay's net worth at $1.6 billion.

He has helped build the Colts into a top NFL team over the past decade behind quarterback Peyton Manning, now with Denver. He is working with some success to rebuild the team behind young quarterback Andrew Luck while coping with a divorce that follows a decade-long separation from his wife of 33 years.

sources: 1, 2 and 3