PHOENIX (AP) — The NFL has suspended Arizona Cardinals standout inside linebacker Daryl Washington for one year for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
The punishment, announced Friday, was for substance abuse and did not mention his recent guilty plea to assaulting his ex-girlfriend. He still could face a later suspension for the criminal conviction.
Washington, in a statement released by his agent, said the penalty was for marijuana, and that he takes responsibility for the violation. He said he "is committed to making changes" in his life that will allow him to return to the NFL.
Considered among the best in the NFL at his position, Washington was suspended the first four games of last season for violating the substance abuse policy. "It is completely unacceptable that Daryl has once again put us in this position," Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said in a statement released by the team. "We all know what the consequences are and will deal with them."
Washington, the team leader in tackles in 2011 and 2012, will lose $2.9 million in salary, plus any prorated signing bonus money, due to the suspension. In March, Arizona exercised a $10 million option to keep him on the roster. Washington received $5 million then and the deals calls for him to get the other $5 million next March.
However, the league's collective bargaining agreement with players has a mechanism that allows the Cardinals to recoup a portion of that option money because of the substance abuse violation. Washington said the NFL "policy is very strict, and I have chosen to take responsibility."
"I will work extremely hard to stay in top football shape," he said, "and will work equally hard to ensure that my life off the field meets the high level of maturity and responsibility to which I am committed."
With the loss of inside linebacker Karlos Dansby to free agency, the Cardinals find themselves without the dynamic combination that was a big part of their strong defense last season. Second-year player Kevin Minter is slotted to take Dansby's place. Just what the team will do to try to replace Washington is unclear.
"Our approach is the same as it's always been: next man up," Keim said. "We talk a lot about how critical depth is to a team because situations always arise whether by injury or other circumstances such as this one."
After leading the team with 111 tackles in his second NFL season, Washington signed a six-year contract, adding four years and $32 million to his existing deal. In 2012, he led the team with career highs of 140 tackles and nine sacks and made the Pro Bowl. But in April of last year, the NFL suspended him four games for violating the substance abuse policy. A month later, he was arrested on accusations of assaulting his ex-girlfriend, the mother of the couple's child.
He pleaded guilty to two counts of assault earlier this year. A suspension for the criminal conviction had been expected. The penalty for substance abuse came as a surprise to some, but apparently not to Washington's teammates.
"Old news to us, new news to y'all," defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said in a tweet. Keim said "our hope is that this suspension will give Daryl the opportunity to accept the necessary help and guidance to get his life back on track," Keim said, "and we will certainly support him however we can."
When OTAs resumed this week, coach Bruce Arians said he hoped the team could pick up another outside linebacker. The Cardinals signed veteran Larry Foote in the offseason, and outside linebacker Lorenzo Washington also can play inside.
Minter, a second-round draft pick, played almost entirely on special teams as a rookie. Another player Arizona has at inside linebacker is Kenny Demens, an undrafted rookie free agent a year ago who spent last season on the Cardinals' practice squad.
"I sincerely apologize for the effect of my actions on my teammates, coaches and other colleagues at the Cardinals," Washington said. "I also apologize to Cardinals fans for the time I will miss. I will work diligently during this suspension to return as a better man and football player."
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