It doesn't change the immediate picture for the Seahawks, who are doing just fine without Browner and fellow suspended cornerback Walter Thurmond thanks to the latest graduates of The Pete Carroll Secondary School.
Most figure this suspension will end Browner's career with the Seahawks -- and possibly with the NFL. But let's not be too hasty.
Carroll and general manager John Schneider are known for their tolerance and penchant for offering second chances (e.g., Leroy Hill, Mike Williams, Braylon Edwards, Marshawn Lynch, Bruce Irvin, Percy Harvin, Christine Michael, Michael Bowie, Spencer Ware, Tharold Simon). And Browner certainly does not seem like Onterrio Smith or Ricky Williams or Terry Taylor, so it seems likely he will get another chance -- if not in Seattle then somewhere else.
For now, though, it is definitely goodbye. Unlike Thurmond, who has been able to work out and join in meetings (but not practice), Browner cannot be with the team during his indefinite suspension. But if Browner is allowed back into the NFL in 2015, the Hawks could re-sign him to a minimum contract. He will be just 31 that season and surely ready to prove himself all over again.
Carroll obviously wanted to wait out Browner's situation, both with the league and with his groin injury. Carroll said he resisted stowing Browner on injured reserve "in respect to the player and what he’s done and what he offers our team." It is easy to see Carroll and Schneider revisiting Browner's situation a year from now and possibly giving him another chance.
Of course, they also could decide that two suspensions is enough (he missed four games for PEDs last season) and that it is not worth gambling even a minimum contract on a guy who is one misstep away from a possible lifetime ban from the league.
The NFL reportedly offered Browner the chance to return after eight games next season, but Browner declined as he sought to have his record completely expunged. The league obviously did not want to give him a better offer and apparently thinks it can win the legal battle Browner is about to initiate.
Via Twitter, Browner's agent referenced John Paul Jones' famous line during the Revolutionary War: "I have not yet begun to fight." And Browner himself indicated he would take his case to court, tweeting: "I believe in my innocence and will continue to fight with all legal resources available to me."
He is expected to sue the league over being placed in Stage 3 of the substance-abuse program while he played in the CFL from 2007 to 2010.
That could go two ways. If he wins, he could force the NFL to remove him from the drug program or at least put him in Stage 1. But if he loses, the league could decide to keep him on ice even longer to prove he deserves another chance.
A Stage 3 suspension is indefinite, with reinstatement coming at commissioner Roger Goodell's discretion. The league policy reads:
"After the completion of the one-year banishment period, the commissioner, in his sole discretion, will determine if and when the player will be allowed to return to the NFL. A player’s failure to adhere to his treatment plan during his banishment will be a significant consideration in the commissioner’s decision of whether to reinstate a player. A player seeking reinstatement must meet certain clinical requirements as determined by the medical director …
"If a player is reinstated, he will remain in Stage 3 for the remainder of his NFL career, subject to continued testing and indefinite banishment. A player allowed to return to the NFL following a banishment must participate in continued treatment under this intervention program as required by the medical director."
The most notable indefinite suspensions for recreational drug use over the past decade have been those of Onterrio Smith and Ricky Williams.
Smith, a former Minnesota Viking, was infamously caught at the Minneapolis airport with a drug-cheating device called the Whizzinator. He was subsequently suspended for the 2005 season and ended up going to the CFL in 2006 after the Vikings released him. He reportedly applied for reinstatement to the NFL in 2007, but the NFL denied him. He effectively was banned for life.
Williams was lucky he wasn't. After sitting out the 2004 season, he returned to Miami in 2005 and was suspended in February 2006 after a fourth violation. Like Smith, he went to the CFL in 2006. He then managed to stay clean amid constant testing in 2007 and finally was reinstated in October 2007, after 20 months.
Browner, who reportedly has had only two positive tests since 2005, certainly does not have the same reputation as Smith or Williams, so it's easy to see him being allowed back sooner than 20 months. (Don't expect Browner to go back to the CFL. The league created the so-called "Ricky Williams Rule" in 2007, banning future NFL-suspended players from playing in the CFL.)
Plus, Browner seems genuinely contrite.
He tweeted: "I want to thank the Seahawks organization for the incredible opportunity they gave me when they took a chance on a player who was out of the NFL and playing in the CFL for four years. I also want to thank all of my teammates, coaches, trainers, staff and the 12s for their support, respect and friendship and for helping me grow into the player, father and person I am today. I have been treated with nothing but first class by everyone associated with the Seattle Seahawks and for that I am forever grateful.
"Although I disagree with the circumstances surrounding my suspension, I accept responsibility for all of my actions and I apologize for any that causes any unflattering reflections of my family and the Seahawks."
Browner is not the first starting cornerback to be suspended for drug use and make the Seahawks decide whether they want to gamble on him again.
Taylor, Seattle's first-round pick in 1984, was suspended for four games in 1988 for violating the drug policy. Perhaps sensing he had a major problem, the Hawks traded Taylor to Detroit in 1989 (for running back James Jones). It was no surprise when Taylor tested positive a third time in 1990, leading to a yearlong suspension.
Like Williams, though, Taylor got another chance. He returned to the Lions in 1991 and played five more seasons, including 1994 back with the Seahawks.
There's no reason Browner can't do the same, so don't count him out of Seattle yet.