Seattle Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner was officially reinstated by the NFL, but he will be suspended for the first four games of the 2014 regular season and pay an additional four-game fine, the league and NFLPA jointly announced Wednesday.
Browner, who played the last three seasons with the Seahawks after playing four seasons in the Canadian Football League, is now free to sign with any NFL team when free agency starts next week.
The NFL and the players association announced the negotiated compromise, which staved off litigation that would have challenged the league's decision to discipline Browner for missing drug tests while he wasn't playing in the NFL.
The joint statement read:
"The NFL and NFL Players Association have agreed to conditionally reinstate Brandon Browner from his indefinite suspension under the Policy and Program on Substances of Abuse.
"Browner was suspended without pay for the Seattle Seahawks' final five games of the 2013 season, including the playoffs. His contract with the Seahawks expires at the end of the 2013 League Year on March 11. He will be eligible to sign with a club and participate in offseason and preseason activities.
"Should he comply with the terms of the Substance Abuse Policy and Program, he will be fully reinstated after serving a four-game suspension without pay at the start of the 2014 regular season and forfeiting an additional four weeks of pay."
On Tuesday, Browner wrote on Twitter that his suspension was lifted by the NFL, but he never mentioned the four-game suspension.
Browner tweeted, "I received wonderful news today. The NFL has reinstated me, and I now have the opportunity to prove to the fans and my teammates how important this sport is to me. I realize now more than ever that being part of the NFL is not a right, but a privilege. I am grateful that Commissioner (Roger) Goodell and my agent were able to resolve this issue in a positive, productive manner so I can continue my career, provide for my family, and help my team win a Super Bowl. Thank you to all who have gone out of their way to show their support. I will live up to your expectations of me."
After Browner was suspended last year, he said he was unfairly placed in Stage 3 of the NFL's testing program because of missed tests while he was playing in the CFL.
The planned lawsuit reportedly would have targeted the NFL's policy banning marijuana, which is legal in Washington and Colorado.
Browner refused a deal with the NFL that could have reduced his suspension to one year in November.
A Pro Bowl cornerback in 2011, Browner drew a check and will receive a Super Bowl ring from the Seahawks, he said in February.
Agent Peter Schaffer had told USA Today, "He was out of the league in 2006 and 2007. That opens up a whole new can of worms. They're trying to put punishment on Brandon for not going to drug tests when he wasn't in the league, tests he wasn't even informed he was supposed to take."
--The quest to build upon the Seattle Seahawks' first Super Bowl title began in earnest for general manager John Schneider upon landing in Indianapolis for the Scouting Combine.
He has harped on the desire to build a sustained winner, and not "buzz" in for one Lombardi Trophy and then fade away.
An offseason rife with big decisions gets rolling with teams beginning to talk to pending free agents and the Seahawks' personnel department taking the next big step in compiling prospect evaluations for May's NFL Draft.
The Seahawks have 13 pending free agents, and received the franchise tag. But there are several key contributors who will gauge the market's interest in their services, chief among them being wide receiver Golden Tate.
"It's important for us, it's a huge goal for us to keep this team together for as long as possible," said Schneider. "We have some tough decisions to make. We have to work through those issues.
"He is a big priority for us," Schneider said of Tate. "We have a number of free agents. Golden knows we love him, and how much we want him back."
The reality is the Seahawks will not be able to retain everyone. Other key pending free agents include defensive tackles Tony McDaniel and Clinton McDonald and offensive linemen Breno Giacomini and Paul McQuistan.
As Schneider noted, "But if you want to be a consistent, championship-caliber football team, you have to have those tough decisions made. You can't keep everybody. And it's actually a sad thing. But if you play sports you know that last game, you are always thinking to yourself 'this is the last time we are all going to be together.' Whether you won the Super Bowl or not you always have that feeling and (coach) Pete (Carroll) addressed the team that 'this is the last time we are all going to be in this locker room everybody.' So tough decisions ahead, absolutely.''
Working in Seattle's favor has been the home runs hit in the middle and late rounds of the NFL Draft, landing the likes of stars including quarterback Russell Wilson and cornerback Richard Sherman, who are still playing under their rookie contracts.
"The rules are what they are, it has been a good deal for us," Schneider acknowledged, while pointing out the collective bargaining agreement prevents the team from even approaching Wilson with a new contract until next offseason. "Those are the rules, and we have to abide by them."
The pressure for Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll will come in continuing to replace departing veterans through the draft. Seattle has seven picks in May's draft, including No. 32 overall, and the "war room" on draft day remains a collaborative effort.
"We're very open with our communication," said Schneider. "When we pick a player, we have a cool buy-in environment from the coaches."
Schneider also chuckled at the notion the Seahawks have a "blueprint" that other franchises will now attempt to replicate. He views the player evaluation process as unique to each player and a simple result of attempting to improve the team on a daily basis.
He did acknowledge the Seahawks have built an environment in which competition and having fun hold equal importance.
"We're outgoing, fun, aggressive ... life is too short to stress yourself out and stress other people out."
While fostering a laid-back environment, the Seahawks managed to win their first Super Bowl title with one of the league's youngest rosters.
"It's a fun culture. We have fun, and we work our butts off 24/7," he said. "We just asked that you don't take advantage of it."
--The Seahawks re-signed defensive end Michael Bennett to a four-year contract.
"I don't think there's any better situation, no matter how much money is involved," Bennett said Monday afternoon.
Bennett was an afterthought in 2013 free agency but became vital to the Seahawks' Super Bowl-winning defense. Bennett's brother, Martellus, plays tight end for the Chicago Bears, who were making a strong play for the defensive end. But Michael Bennett said Monday there was no deal available with more guaranteed money.
Bennett will make a reported $28.5 million over four years. He gets $10 million in 2014, $16 million through the first two years, and $21 million over three. Of the total, $16 million is guaranteed, according to multiple reports.
Bennett became a free agent last year, after finishing a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Seahawks.
Bennett, 28, only participated in 57 percent of the snaps last season but had 8.5 sacks to lead the team. He had another 1.5 sacks in the playoffs.
"I think this is the No. 1 football city in America," Bennett said.
There had been persistent speculation that Bennett would sign with the Bears where his brother Martellus plays as a tight end.
Michael Bennett admitted, "It was so hard to tell my brother that I was going to re-sign in Seattle but he understood; he knows it's best for me."
As for the reports that he turned down more money from other teams, including Chicago, Michael Bennett said, "Yeah there was more, but I wanted to be here man. There are a lot of young guys here, and there are a lot of winning ways and I just love the organization and the things that they are about. I love the staff, from the equipment staff to the medical staff; it just goes on and on. Everybody here are just good people and I really enjoy that. Sometimes guys go to different places and sign big-time contracts and it just doesn't work out. I love playing in Seattle.
"At the end of the day it was about being comfortable and being in a good situation. Sometimes going to a whole other organization doesn't work out the way it worked out for me coming here and being with these guys. I saw people take a lot of money and they go to other places and that place isn't what you thought it would be. I know what this place is and I'm familiar with the staff and the players and it makes it a big deal to be here."
He did say that the guarantees in his Seattle contract were important: "You could have a five-year, $90 million deal with only $2 million guaranteed so it doesn't really matter at the end. You kind of want to worry about the guaranteed part. That was the most important part."
--The Seahawks released defensive end Red Bryant and wide receiver Sidney Rice in the first two significant moves of what promises to be a difficult offseason for the Super Bowl champions.
While Rice was expected to be released after finishing his third season in Seattle on injured reserve due to a knee injury, the team had hoped to renegotiate Bryant's contract to lower his salary cap figure from around $8 million in 2014.
Bryant, a fourth-round pick in 2008, was moved from tackle to end by coach Pete Carroll's staff in 2010 and became an integral part of the run defense. He has played in 64 games with the Seahawks, including 55 starts, recording 121 tackles, 3.5 sacks, two interceptions and seven passes defensed.
Signed as a free agent in 2011, Rice finished his first and last seasons in Seattle on injured reserve. In between, he started all 16 games in 2012 for the first time in his career. He caught 15 passes for 231 yards and three touchdowns before suffering a torn ACL at St. Louis on Monday Night Football on Oct. 28, 2013.
"We want to thank both Red and Sidney for their effort, commitment and contribution to the Seattle Seahawks over the last few years," said executive vice president/general manager John Schneider. "These are extremely tough decisions, but we wanted to give them a head start on free agency. We wish them well in the future."
Bryant and Rice were the first two moves as the Seahawks seek to clear cap room, and tight end Zach Miller could be next on the renegotiation-or-cut list. Seattle has several key free agents it wants to re-sign, including wide receiver Golden Tate and defensive end Michael Bennett.
Commenting on the departures, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said, "We've had some difficult choices to make. Every season teams are faced with these kinds of decisions. Again, we've taken it under great advisement, we've done what we've had to do at this point. There are other tough decisions that will come up I'm sure, but the magnitude of these were really impacting for our football team and guys we're going to miss. Maybe we have a chance to get them back, maybe we don't. We'll have to wait and see."
--Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has made the talk-show rounds and even reported to the Texas Rangers' spring training workouts, but the Super Bowl winning quarterback said he turned down an offer to compete on ABC's "Dancing With the Stars."
Wilson told Access Hollywood that he has been invited to participate on the show twice.
"I need to focus on my football career right now," Wilson said. "I'm trying to do as much as I can in terms of winning football games for the Seattle Seahawks and our franchise. But I will do it at some point, for sure."
Wilson, 25, said he is a big fan of the show.
"I'm gonna do it at some point," Wilson said. "I'm gonna definitely do it. I love 'Dancing with the Stars.' I love watching it. I love dancing myself. So hopefully I can win it."
Wilson, who said last week he would like to own an NFL franchise some day, also runs a passing academy during the offseason that will travel to six locations this year, including his hometown of Richmond, Va. and Seattle. The camp will also be held in Raleigh, N.C. and Madison, Wis., the two places he played in college, Vancouver, B.C. and Los Angeles.
--Running back Marshawn Lynch agreed to plead guilty to reckless driving in Oakland, Calif. stemming from a 2012 DUI charge, according to ESPN.
"We have a strong case for trial and could win the case, but the last thing he needs is to go through a public trial," said Ivan Golde, Lynch's attorney. "He's a Super Bowl champion, and he has endorsements pending. For a guy in his position, it just doesn't make any sense to go through a public trial. He has a lot at stake here. You know Marshawn. He's not a media guy. It wouldn't have been good for him to go through all that."
Lynch will receive two years of probation and a monetary fine to be determined by the judge, according to the report. It is unknown if he will face further discipline from the NFL.
"I can't speak for the commissioner (Roger Goodell)," Golde said, "but my feeling is Marshawn is OK and will avoid a suspension."
--Defensive end Michael Bennett will become a free agent in March after playing on a one-year, $5 million deal this past season. Bennett told SiriusXM NFL Radio he wouldn't be willing to accept another similar contract for 2014.
"That would be taking a pay cut, to me," Bennett said. "I had to prove myself as a player in back-to-back years. Basically, I took a one year deal the year before, did a first-round tender in Tampa (as a restricted free agent), so I definitely just want to be paid. You know, I'm not trying to be the highest-paid guy but I want to be compensated with the top guys."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Things got out of hand. It was a moment of weakness. They all have to have cameras now." - Seahawks GM John Schneider on photos that surfaced on social media of him shirtless and wearing a wrestling belt the day before Super Bowl XLVIII.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Seahawks signed center Lemuel Jeanpierre and safety Jeron Johnson to one-year contracts. Both were scheduled to be restricted free agents. Johnson signed his $2.187 million tender.
Both players are considered key reserves. Jeanpierre is a versatile lineman who has started at guard and center, while Johnson is a reserve safety who also contributes heavily to special teams.
"We are pleased to sign two players that were part of a special championship season," said executive vice president/general ,anager John Schneider. "Lem has performed well when called upon in starting opportunities and we are excited to have him be a part of our 2014 season going forward, while Jeron brings physicality and toughness that plays a key role in our special teams unit."
Jeanpierre has developed since signing with the Seahawks' practice squad in 2010, and has played in 47 games with eight starts since being signed to the active roster in 2011. He handled the center duties capably when Max Unger missed three games last season.
Johnson was signed as an undrafted rookie in 2011. He has 16 special teams tackles in 30 career games to go with eight tackles, 2.0 sacks and a forced fumble on defense.
Scheduled to be unrestricted Tuesday
--CB Brandon Browner
--TE Kellen Davis
--OT Breno Giacomini
--PK Steven Hauschka
--QB Tarvaris Jackson
--FS Chris Maragos
--DT Tony McDaniel
--DT Clinton McDonald
--OG Paul McQuistan
--FB Michael Robinson
--LB O'Brien Schofield
--WR Golden Tate
--CB Walter Thurmond
OFFENSIVE LINE: The Seahawks struggled to protect quarterback Russell Wilson all season, allowing 44 sacks, and will look to upgrade and add depth.
TIGHT END: Zach Miller could be a salary-cap victim, forcing the Seahawks to consider other options. Depth is needed, too.
WIDE RECEIVER: Sidney Rice was released and it's possible Golden Tate won't return, which could mean the Seahawks will be looking for a replacements.
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