Browner had a case and the NFL blinked

March, 4, 2014
Mar 4
9:30
PM ET
It’s not often that the mighty NFL backs down. But when former Seattle Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner stood his ground and was prepared take legal action to save his career, the NFL blinked.

Browner tweeted Tuesday night that the league ended his suspension and reinstated him after serving 2 months of a one-year suspension for marijuana use.

The news comes just in time for Browner to hit the free-agent market. He’s an unrestricted free agent, and the 2011 Pro Bowler likely will receive some decent offers, although not what he would have seen had the suspension never happened.

But it appears Browner had a legitimate case, legally speaking, and NFL officials determined not to continue the suspension.

It all centered over whether Browner deserved to be in Stage 3 on the NFL’s substance-abuse program. He first tested positive for marijuana use in 2006 while playing for the Denver Broncos. Browner was later released and played in the Canadian Football league from 2007-10.

With one violation, players are expected to submit to testing by the NFL. Browner didn’t do that while playing in the CFL, so the NFL counted that as a second violation when he returned.

When he failed a test in 2013, the NFL considered it a third violation. Browner and his attorney appealed, saying it was only his second violation and he couldn’t be required to submit to testing when he wasn’t in the NFL. League officials said he was actively seeking employment in the NFL, so he was required to test.

It’s a debatable point, which means Browner had a case he possibly could win in federal court. So it seems the league didn’t want to fight the fight.

And NFL officials already have stated that restrictions over marijuana use could change in the future if research shows it has medicinal purposes when players are injured, not to mention the fact the marijuana now is legal in Washington and Colorado.

The reinstatement probably has saved Browner’s career. He turns 30 this summer. Had he been forced to sit out the 2014 season, he chances of returning were limited at best.

Now he’s a free agent with rare skills, a physical corner who is 6-foot-4, 220 pounds. He likely has gone from sitting at home in 2014, in danger of not playing again, to probably starting next season.

But returning to the Seahawks seems unlikely unless Browner comes a lot cheaper than expected. Seattle learned it had a standout waiting in the wings with Byron Maxwell, who got his chance when cornerback Walter Thurmond also was suspended for marijuana use.

Seattle already has released defensive end Red Bryant and wide receiver Sidney Rice to make cap space to try to re-sign defensive lineman Michael Bennett, receiver Golden Tate and kicker Steven Hauschka, all of whom are unrestricted free agents.

Browner will not be a priority over those three, especially since the Seahawks have free safety Earl Thomas and cornerback Richard Sherman to worry about as free agents after the 2014 season.

But Browner was getting plenty of love on Twitter Tuesday night from his old teammates, including receiver Doug Baldwin: “Couldn’t be happier for my brotha @bbrowner27. That’s family right there. We all celebrating now!”

Thomas wrote this tweet: “Just heard the GREAT NEWS that my brother @bbrowner27 was reinstated!!! Can't wait to see him back out on that field next year!!!”

Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin and safety Jeron Johnson also congratulated Browner on Twitter.

Whether he returns to Seattle or not, Tuesday was a career-saving day for Browner. He was fighting for his livelihood and was ready to take a stand against the league. And this time, the NFL blinked.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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