Wes Welker won't be available for the start of the season, but it has nothing to do with the concussion he recently suffered.
Welker has been suspended four games for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy, the team announced Tuesday evening. Welker's positive test was for amphetamines, sources told NFL Media's Albert Breer, who also reports Welker's appeal happened two weeks ago and parties were notified Tuesday that he lost the appeal.
In a email sent to The Denver Post, Welker said that he was "as shocked as everyone" at the decision.
"I want to make one thing abundantly clear: I would NEVER knowingly take a substance to gain a competitive advantage in any way," the email said. "Anyone who has ever played a down with me, lifted a weight with me, even eaten a meal with me, knows that I focus purely on what I put in my body and on the hard work I put in year round to perform at the highest levels year-in and year-out."
Breer reports that Welker's positive test came in May, so the suspension doesn't hit the Broncos brass as a surprise. They are far more well-equipped to handle the loss on the field than most squads. Emmanuel Sanders looked fantastic in the preseason, and he's better playing out of the slot than on the outside. Tight end Julius Thomas can handle a lot of the dirty work between the numbers where Welker resides. Veteran Andre Caldwell and second-round pick Cody Latimer should also get more snaps.
"Tonight's news regarding Wes is very disappointing for our team, but we understand the league's authority in this area," head 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.
"I have no doubt that Wes will remain focused on his preparations for the season and stay in excellent shape during his time away from the team."
The news is still a big setback for the Broncos during a challenging start of the season. They open the season with Indianapolis, Kansas City, Seattle and Arizona. Their rebuilt defense will pick up more of the slack now, but we saw last season that this team isn't going to fall apart just because it's missing one player.
Welker suffered his third concussion in the last 10 months only two weeks ago. His mandatory departure from the team will give him additional time to recover, but it doesn't help Welker's chances of returning in 2015 -- he's a free agent at the end of the season.
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