ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — The Denver Broncos will be without Wes Welker for the first four games of the season after the NFL said the receiver violated the league's performance-enhancing drug policy.
Normally, the league announces such violations on Monday. News of Welker's ban didn't come down until late Tuesday, after the league offices had closed and the Broncos had already finished drawing up blueprints for their opener against Indianapolis, undoubtedly with Welker playing a prominent role.
ESPN first reported Welker's suspension, saying the violation had to do with amphetamines.
Welker told the Denver Post in an email that he was "as shocked as everyone at today's news." He noted he's meticulous about what he puts in his body and would "never knowingly take a substance to gain a competitive advantage in any way."
The 11th-year pro who's been the NFL's top slot receiver over the last decade added that he never concerned himself with the league's drug rules but now realizes those policies "are clearly flawed."
While it takes multiple violations of the league's substance-abuse policies to trigger a suspension, a four-game ban is issued for a single violation of the NFL's ban on performance-enhancing substances.
Welker's suspension will cost him roughly $706,000 in base salary.
"Tonight's news regarding Wes is very disappointing, but we understand the league's authority in this area," coach John Fox said in a statement. "While it's unfortunate to not have him to start the year, I have full confidence in our wide receivers and expect that group to continue playing at a high level."
Welker played a key role in the two greatest statistical offenses in NFL history: the 2007 New England Patriots and last year's Broncos.
He caught 73 passes for 778 yards and a career-high 10 TDs despite missing the last 3 1/2 games of last season. He returned for the playoffs and had 18 catches for 160 yards and a TD.
Without Welker, Peyton Manning will have to lean more on speedy wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who's played in the slot before, or tight end Jacob Tamme, who filled the role at times last year when Welker was out.
Tight end Julius Thomas is also better working the middle of the field. And if Sanders moves inside, that opens up playing time for rookie Cody Latimer or Bubba Caldwell opposite flanker Demaryius Thomas.
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