The New York Jets will begin the regular season without one of their most important players.
The NFL announced Thursday that defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson has been suspended without pay for the first four games of the 2015 regular season for violating the NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse. Richardson can return to the team's active roster on Oct. 5, a day after the team's Week 4 matchup against the Miami Dolphins.
Richardson is eligible to participate in all offseason and preseason practices and games.
"I apologize for letting down my family, teammates, this organization and the fans," Richardson said in a statement released by the team. "However, words aren't enough. This is something that can only be addressed by how I handle myself from this point on. I don't want this to take away from what the team is trying to accomplish. While I won't be there at the start of the regular season, I will do whatever I can to support my teammates until I'm able to return to the field."
Jets coach Todd Bowles called the news of Richardson's ban "disappointing for Sheldon and the team."
"We're going to support Sheldon and welcome him back upon his return," Bowles' statement read. "We will keep moving forward with our preparations for the upcoming season."
Richardson, the 2013 Defensive Rookie Of The Year, is expected to be a key cog in a talented Jets defensive line this season. His absence may clear the way for a greater immediate role for Leonard Williams, who Jets selected with the sixth overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.