By George Bremer The Herald Bulletin
---- — INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts will open the 2014 season without the NFL’s returning sack champion.
Outside linebacker Robert Mathis was suspended Friday for a violation of the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy and will miss the first four games of the regular season.
Mathis, 33, had 19.5 sacks last season and was the winner of the inaugural Deacon Jones Award as the league’s sacks leader. In a statement posted on Twitter, Mathis apologized to Colts fans and his teammates.
He said the positive test was the result of a fertility drug he used briefly at the end of last year.
“Like many families, my wife and I faced fertility challenges, and I sought medical assistance,” Mathis wrote. “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.”
Mathis’ agent, Hadley Englehard, told ESPN that NFL commission Roger Goodell had access to his client’s medical data as well as a sworn statement from the doctor but refused to make an exception to the league’s ingnorance-is-no-excuse-in-the-eyes-of-the-law policy.
“We have given (Goodell) all the medical data,” Englehard said. “We are just amazed that the commissioner and the NFL have put this kind of punishment on Robert.”
The NFL made no statement beyond an email announcing the suspension.
Mathis will be eligible to participate in all offseason activites and preseason contests.Indianapolis opens the regular season Sept. 7 at Denver. Mathis also will miss the home opener Sept. 15 against Philadelphia and games the next two weeks against AFC South division rivals Jacksonville and Tennessee.
The Colts released a brief statement regarding the suspension.
“We recognize the extreme seriousness of this matter and will honor the confidentiality requirements of the league’s program,” the statement read. “We nevertheless wish to assure Robert and our fans that he remains an honored and cherished member of the Colts family and that we support him as he deals with this difficult challenge.”
Last year’s first-round pick, Bjoern Werner, likely will get the first crack at replacing Mathis. Justin Hickman, Cam Johnson and Daniel Adongo also are in the mix at outside linebacker. And the team selected Ball State pass rusher Jonathan Newsome in the fifth round of last week’s draft.
Speaking before Mathis’ suspension was announced Friday afternoon, Newsome discussed his adjustment to life in the NFL.
“Taking it one day at a time, not putting too much pressure on myself,” he said. “But also not taking anything for granted, making sure I’m in my playbook every night, making sure I’m taking care of my body in the hot tub, cold tub, so I can recover. Also taking notice of how the veterans go about it because they’ve been in the league for however many years and I want to get to that point eventually.”