This is the time of year when there's not much news of any significant value. If there is, it's usually not good news. And that's exactly what happened today, as Colts All-Pro outside linebacker Robert Mathis was suspended by the NFL for the first four games of the 2014 season by the NFL for violating the league's prohibited substances policy.
Robert Mathis released a statement through the NFLPA. It said:
"It is difficult for me to address the circumstances surrounding this suspension because they involve very personal medical information, but it is very important to me that my fans, particularly young people, understand what did and did not occur. Like many families, my wife and I faced fertility challenges, and I sought medical assistance.
"I specifically asked the doctor if the medication he prescribed for me would present a problem for NFL drug testing, and unfortunately, he incorrectly told me that it would not. I made the mistake of not calling the NFL or NFLPA to double check before I took the medication at the end of last season. The union has worked very closely with me to present all of the facts and medical records for consideration of discipline that does not include a suspension because of the unique facts of my case, but the Commissioner refused the request. I am deeply saddened that this situation will prevent me from contributing to my team for four games, and I regret that I didn't cross check what my doctor told me before I took the medication.
"I hope that my fans will understand the unique circumstances involved here and continue to know that I am a man of integrity who would never intentionally circumvent the performance enhancing substance policy agreed to by the NFL and my union. The incredible blessing of this very upsetting situation is that, after I took the medication very briefly at the end of last season, we learned that my wife is expecting a baby. We are thrilled that we will be welcoming a new member in several months, but I apologize to my teammates, coaches and Colts fans that I will not be able to contribute to my team for the first four weeks of the 2014 season. I will work extremely hard during that time to stay in top football shape and will be prepared to contribute immediately upon my return."
"We are disappointed in Roger's decision. Given the set of facts Robert, medical experts and our union presented, upholding this suspension shows a lack of compassion and perspective. We support Robert and are happy for him and his family."
Obviously, when reading it in the light of what the statement from Mathis said, it's understandable and I can totally see Mathis's side of things. It does seem unfair that he was suspended for that, but I guess rules are rules - and the NFL denied his appeal. I'm happy for Mathis and his family, but this does leave the Colts without their best defensive player for the first four weeks of the season. In those weeks, the Colts will play on Sunday night at the Denver Broncos, on Monday night hosting the Philadelphia Eagles, at the Jacksonville Jaguars, and then home against the Tennessee Titans. In other words, those games won't be easy by any means, and now the man that accounted for nearly half of the Colts pass rush last season by himself won't be there in the first four games. Mathis notched a league-high and franchise record 19.5 sacks last year.
This will mean that it's now time for Bjoern Werner to step up, whether you like it or not. It will be him starting in Mathis's spot alongside Erik Walden, and then perhaps even rookie Jonathan Newsome, depending on how he does in camp, can play a bit too. What this means for the Colts is that their best defensive player won't be on the field in the first four weeks of the season and that one of their leaders won't be as well. The Colts pass rush is very suspect without Mathis, so they'll need to find someone to step up and fill in. But they won't be able to find anyone to replace him, because you can't just replace someone like Robert Mathis.
[UPDATE:] I failed to mention this the first time I published the article and many have already mentioned it on twitter and in the comments, and that is the fact that Mathis could be lying in his statement. We can't rule it out, but Robert Mathis has been nothing but exemplary in his career and he is a genuinely good guy. I believe his story, and at very least I think it's right to give him the benefit of the doubt unless it's proven to be false. I believe Mathis's story - though at the same time, every NFL player knows to double check on anything he puts into his body, and Mathis admitted that he didn't and that he should have. Therefore, while it's a very unfortunate situation, we can't absolve Mathis of all blame here because he didn't follow up and check on it. It's unfortunate that he had to be suspended for this, but he should have checked. But, on the positive side, as I've always tried to emphasize here, there are more important things than football, and while it absolutely SUCKS that the Colts' best defensive player will miss four games, it's absolutely GREAT that him and his wife are expecting.
[UPDATE 2:] Per Ian Rapoport, the drug Mathis was using was clomid. It's reportedly the same one that Manny Ramirez tested positive for as well.
[UPDATE 3:] For all of you doubting Mathis's story (and I'm surprised at how many are), there's this from Kyle Rodriguez of Bleacher Report and Colts Authority:
Mathis' agent says the doctor who prescribed the medicine provided a sworn statement to the league as a part of the NFLPAs "appeal"— Kyle J. Rodriguez (@ColtsAuth_Kyle) May 16, 2014
The doctor also provided all medical records, which indicated that the drug was taken only for a short time at the end of last season.— Kyle J. Rodriguez (@ColtsAuth_Kyle) May 16, 2014
Of course, this doesn't completely prove that Mathis's story is true, but it's yet another good sign that it is. And just to clarify, I believe that Mathis has already appealed and it was already denied. So for those of you wondering whether he'll appeal or whether the suspension will be shortened, I believe this is final. And honestly, while many are going to bash Roger Goodell for this, it would be a very dangerous precedent to create an exception for one player, no matter what the circumstances. Furthermore, Mathis should have double-checked. I've used the word "unfortunate" already way too many times in this article I'm sure, but that's exactly how to best sum up this situation.