Most of the NFL's news during June and July is bad news, or no news at all.
The Colts managed to flip the script when they signed Ahmad Bradshaw a few weeks ago, picking up the kind of impact signing usually reserved for the first few weeks of free agency.
Unfortunately, the news today falls into the off-field-problems category, the one that fans dread to hear about when their team is brought up.
The NFL announced today that 2012 sixth-round pick LaVon Brazill has been suspended without pay for the first four games of the 2013 regular season for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. Due to the league's agreement with the NFLPA, the details of Brazill's infraction were not released.
Brazill will be eligible to participate in training camp and preseason games, but will be inactive for the first four regular season.
The suspension is a costly one for Brazill, who projected to be the Colts' fourth wide receiver. Brazill was on thin ice this offseason after Irsay leaked that the Colts' wanted to see him build a "dedication to his craft." Part of the reason was Brazill's lack of involvement this offseason in Indianapolis, disappearing for most of the early spring. The Colts even moved Brazill's locker so he'd be next to veteran Reggie Wayne.
Now, with the suspension, the whispers about Brazill's lack of dedication will grow louder, and Brazill's future in Indianapolis will become even murkier.
While some have thrown out the idea that this suspension will lead to Brazill's release at some point before final cuts, I don't think this will keep the second-year receiver from making the roster, for two main reasons.
- The team has known about this for a while. Substance abuse suspensions usually take a while to get through the league office, and team's usually know about the infraction and probable suspension weeks in advance. It's possible that even the Irsay quote and locker relocation came in response to the Colts' learning of the the possible suspension.
- The Colts' depth at wide receiver isn't loaded with talent. Yes, fans love Griff Whalen, and Nathan Palmer has reportedly been impressive in OTAs. But, the fact is that neither is as naturally talented as Brazill, and don't have the upside that Brazill does. The team isn't going to give up on him because of a four-game suspension. If they did, another team would snatch him up off of waivers in a heart beat.
I'd expect Brazill to still make the final roster regardless, unless Brazill makes another big mistake this offseason, or honestly loses the job in training camp (unlikely).
The loss of Brazill shouldn't hurt the Colts much at all in those four games; with the Colts to run much more tight end-heavy sets under Pep Hamilton, four wide receiver sets should be fairly rare.
The wide receiver training camp battle does get more interesting now, however. Prior to the suspension, I fully expected the Colts to go into the regular season with five wide receivers on the roster. They kept six after training camp last season, but with more depth at other positions (like offensive and defensive line), I expected them to try and open up spots for other talented players to stay in Indianapolis.
However, going into the first four games with just four active receivers would be risky. So with Brazill inactive, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Colts keep six receivers after final cuts, and then releasing one of the bottom two when Brazill was active again.*
Griff Whalen and Nathan Palmer seem to be the front runners as of now, but guys like Jeremy Kelley, Jabin Sambrano, Lanear Sampson, and Rodrick Rumble will be in the competition as well.
*Note: Brazill won't count toward the 53-man roster while suspended, as the Colts should receive a roster exemption for him for those four weeks.
UPDATE: As Browns blogger Justin Higdon pointed out to me on Twitter, the Brazill suspension means that this is actually Brazill's second infraction. According to the NFL's drug policy, a player is only given a four-game suspension after their second offense (pg 16).