Wes Welker will miss the first four games of the season, but not because of a concussion.
The NFL has issued the Broncos' slot receiver a four-game suspension for violating the league's performance-enhancement policy.
"I'm as shocked as everyone at todays news," Welker said in an e-mail to The Denver Post. "I want to make one thing abundantly clear: I would NEVER knowingly take a substance to gain a competitive advantage in any way. 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.
"I want any youth football players and all sports fans to know, there are NO shortcuts to success, and nothing but hard work and studying, leads to success.
"I have never been concerned with the leagues performance enhancing or drug abuse policies because under no scenario would they ever apply to me, but I now know, that (drug-policy procedures) are clearly flawed, and I will do everything in my power to ensure they are corrected, so other individuals and teams aren't negatively affected so rashly like this.
"I have worked my whole life to be the best that I can be, and I have encountered many obstacles over my career, and THIS WILL BE NO DIFFERENT!
"Thank you for the outpouring of support, and I want Bronco nation to know, that no one and no thing will get in the way of our goal as a team, to bring Mr. Bowlen the trophy he and this great region deserve."
While it takes two failed tests under the NFL's substance-abuse policy to be suspended four games, one positive test for performance enhancing drugs draws a four-game suspension.
The Broncos were irate at the timing of the Welker's suspension as it occurred Tuesday evening — after the team finished game planning for its regular-season opener Sunday night against Indianapolis.
Ordinarily, the league announces such suspensions on Monday, to give teams adequate time to game plan. Welker's suspension was reported by ESPN on Tuesday evening, nearly two hours after the league and players' union offices closed.
Officially, Welker tested positive for an amphetemine. A source close to the situation said Welker tested positive for Adderall. Welker wasn't sure what exactly flagged his positive test but he was incensed at a report he took a Molly at the Kentucky Derby. He does wonder if someone put something in his drink at the Derby.
“I wouldn't have any idea where to get a Molly or what a Molly is,” he said. “That's a joke. I don't do marijuana, I don't do drugs. I don't do any drugs.”
Welker's suspension is supposed to begin Wednesday, although given the timing of the report, he said he hopes to visit the locker room and apologize to his teammates.
The first quarter of the Broncos' 2014 schedule was daunting enough with Indianapolis, Kansas City, Seattle and Arizona averaging 11.25 wins last season. Now the Broncos are confronting playing that schedule without Welker or kicker Matt Prater, who will be serving a suspension on an alcohol-related violation. The Broncos also will play the first three games without weakside linebacker Danny Trevathan, who is recovering from a leg fracture.
Welker appealed his suspension two weeks ago in Washington D.C. , apparently to no avail. He had gained NFL prominence as the league's best slot receiver from 2007-12 when he averaged 112 catches and played in two Super Bowls with New England.
A free agent in 2013, Welker signed a two-year, $12 million contract with the Broncos. He was having another productive season in 2013, catching 73 passes with a career-best 10 touchdowns through 13 games when his second concussion of the season forced him to miss the final three games. Welker returned for the postseason and added 18 more catches in three games, including eight catches for 84 yards in the Broncos' Super Bowl loss to Seattle.
Welker's 26 career Super Bowl receptions rank third all-time, behind only Hall of Famers' Jerry Rice (33) and Andre Reed (27).
Welker suffered another concussion during the Broncos' preseason game Aug. 23 against Houston, igniting a national discussion about his playing career and long-term health.
However, Welker has progressed well in his recovery from his latest brain injury. It might have helped that Welker was wearing a specially-designed "concussion" helmet when he received the forearm blow from Houston safety D.J. Swearinger.
Welker was back practicing on a limited basis Monday and was on schedule in his recovery to play in the Broncos' season opener.
He may now have more time than he'd like to rest. Unlike Prater, Welker is not allowed at the Broncos' facility during the length of his suspension under terms of the league's performance-enhancement policy. Once Welker's suspension begins, he will not be allowed on the team's headquarter premises under terms of the league's performance-enhancement policy. Regardless of when his suspension begins, Welker will be docked five weeks pay from the league's 17-week season, or $882,352 of his $3 million salary. He might also have to pay back a portion of the $7 million in signing and roster bonuses he has already received.
With Welker out, the Broncos are expected to replace him with a combination of tight end Jacob Tamme, who often operates from the slot, and receivers Andre "Bubba" Caldwell and rookie Cody Latimer. Both Caldwell and Latimer are outside receivers and it's possible the Broncos could move Emmanuel Sanders into the slot area.
The Broncos could also bring along returner Isaiah Burse, a rookie returner who is also a true slot as a receiver.