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Buccaneers WR Antonio Brown, S Mike Edwards, along with FA John Franklin, suspended for COVID-19 violations

Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown and safety Mike Edwards, along with free-agent wide receiver John Franklin III, were suspended three games on Thursday for violating the join NFL-NFL Players Association COVID-19 protocols.

The suspensions come following a review of allegations that the players misrepresented their vaccination status and the review showed all three violated NFL-NFLPA COVID-19 protocols.

The suspensions are effective immediately, as all three players have accepted the discipline and have foregone their right to appeal, per the league statement.

Brown and Edwards will be eligible to return to the Bucs for their Week 16 game against the Panthers on Dec. 26. Franklin, if he is signed by a team, would be ineligible to play the next three games.

"The health and safety of players and personnel is our top priority," a joint NFL-NFLPA statement read. "The protocols were jointly developed working with our respective experts to ensure that we are practicing and playing football as safely as possible during the ongoing pandemic. The NFL-NFLPA jointly reinforce their commitment and further emphasize the importance of strict adherence to the protocols to protect the well-being of everyone associated with the NFL."

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported that the Buccaneers were not fined and assisted the league in its investigation.

The team released a statement shortly after the announcement of the suspensions.

"We appreciate the league's timely handling of this matter and recognize the importance of the health and safety protocols that have been established," the statement read. "We will continue to implement all league COVID-19 protocols."

The suspensions follow a Nov. 18 report published in the Tampa Bay Times in which Brown's former chef alleged that the Bucs' wideout obtained a fake COVID-19 vaccine card.

Brown's attorney, Sean Burstyn, told Rapoport at the time that Brown was vaccinated against COVID and maintained that stance Thursday.

"Mr. Brown is vaccinated and continues to support the vaccine for any person for whom it is appropriate," Burstyn said in a statement obtained by Rapoport. "The NFL made its determination and, instead of going through the drawn out and distracting process of challenging the outcome, Mr. Brown wrapped this up promptly and he will make this most of this time by treating his ankle injury. Mr. Brown will be motivated, well rested, and in the best shape of his life when he returns in [W]eek 16."

Following the November report, the Buccaneers released a statement stating they had received COVID-19 vaccination cards from all their players and "no irregularities were observed." NFL clubs are responsible for verifying player and team personnel vaccination status.

Any and all attempts by team personnel or players to use fake or forged cards, which is a federal criminal offense, are cause for review under the NFL's personal-conduct policy.

Brown is in his second season with the Bucs, but has not played since Oct. 14 due to an ankle injury and has missed five consecutive games. In five games this year, Brown has 29 receptions for 418 yards and four touchdowns. Rapoport noted that Brown was expected to miss the next two games of the season due to his ankle injury.

Brown, 33, has appeared in 14 games combined with the Buccaneers and Patriots over the past three seasons. He was traded by the Steelers to the Raiders prior to the 2019 season, but Brown was released by the then-Oakland team before the start of the season.

Brown, then a free agent, was previously suspended for eight games in July of 2020 for multiple violations of the league's personal-conduct policy. That suspension stemmed from Brown's no contest plea to burglary and battery chargers from a January 2020 incident, as well as accusations he sent intimidating texts to a woman who had accused Brown of making unwanted advances to her.

Edwards, 25, has played in 11 games so far this season for the Bucs, with three starts, and has tallied three interceptions, including two returned for a touchdown, and 35 tackles. This is Edwards' third season with Tampa Bay, which drafted him in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft.

Franklin, 27, was waived by the Bucs in August and has played just one NFL game, which came with Tampa Bay in 2019.

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