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The backstory on Brandon Browner's suspension

The question on every Seahawks fan's mind is: How did cornerback Brandon Browner get suspended for an entire year seemingly out of the blue?

The league's substance-abuse policy includes three stages, and a violation while a player is in the third (i.e., most severe) stage merits a full year's suspension. So, Browner obviously was in the third stage and did something wrong.

However, ESPN's John Clayton said on 710 ESPN that there were extenuating circumstances that likely led to Browner being placed in Stage 3.

To get to the third stage, a player must have already been enrolled in the testing program and failed three tests or in some way failed to cooperate with the evaluation process (e.g., missed a test, meeting, etc.).

A player can enter Stage 1 due to a positive test, risky behavior or self-referral. A positive test or failure to comply at that stage results in a fine equal to three game checks, plus advancement to Stage 2. At that point, the player is subject to unannounced testing up to 10 times a month.

A failed test in Stage 2 merits a fine and/or four-game suspension (which is what Seahawks cornerback Walter Thurmond just received). A second offense in Stage 2 can result in either a four-game suspension (if he was simply fined for the first offense) or a six-game suspension. Stage 2 lasts 24 months, but if a player has two missteps at any point, he immediately moves to Stage 3.

A player in Stage 3 remains there for the rest of his career. If he fails any test (or misses a test or condition of treatment), he is suspended for a calendar year. He must adhere to his treatment plan during that year, and the commissioner will thereafter determine when/if the player can return to the league. Another misstep means getting kicked out of the league indefinitely.

Clayton has the backstory on how Browner got to Stage 3.

Per Clayton's source, when Browner signed with Denver as an undrafted rookie in 2005, he came in with some substance-abuse questions and was placed in the program for testing and/or treatment.

The Broncos put Browner on injured reserve with an arm injury in August 2005 and then released him after training camp in 2006.

He then went to the CFL, playing for the Calgary Stampeders from 2007 to 2010 (he was a CFL all-star his last three seasons and won the Grey Cup in 2008).

According to Clayton's source, when Browner was released by Denver in 2006, he did not realize he had to stay in touch with the NFL for testing purposes.

He basically fell off the NFL grid and, according to Clayton's source, the meetings/tests he missed counted as failed tests and bumped him into Stage 3 by the time he signed with the Seahawks in 2011.

His four-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs last season is a separate issue and apparently had no bearing on this suspension (PEDs and recreational drugs are treated separately).

Browner's appeal is ongoing and his agent likely is arguing that he is not to blame for these extenuating circumstances.

Clayton's report is corroborated by a report from Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com last November.

La Canfora told KJR then that Browner was being "tested regularly -- up to three times a week. So he’s told people, ‘Look, I knew what I was up against. I don’t even drink a beer because I’m so wary of having a positive for anything.’ So he’s been adamant that ‘I’m not on anything. I’ve gone out of my way not to put any sort of substance, supplement or anything other than what you would normally eat and drink.’”

Browner's agent, Peter Schaffer, told reporters last November, “Brandon Browner has no knowledge of how any illegal substance could have gotten into his system. … He takes tremendous care of his body and he is very careful with what he puts into it. We’re exploring all avenues to try and figure out how any substance out of the ordinary would be in his system.”

But the bottom line is that Browner has now been found guilty of violating both drug policies, and based on where he is in the substance-abuse program, the punishment is a one-year suspension.

Clayton suggested that Browner likely would have to sue the NFL to try to win, a process that might take just as long as the yearlong suspension.

In the meantime, the 29-year-old Browner has ruined his only shot at a multimillion-dollar contract next offseason.

He might be eligible to return at the end of 2014, although teams might not consider him until after that season. And any team that does has to know that Browner is one misstep away from a lifetime suspension.

If Clayton's source is correct and Browner got partially railroaded to this point of no return, the cornerback would indeed be wise to pursue legal action against the NFL and see whether he could at least partly clear his name.

If he was able to basically take the axe off his neck, he might be able to rehabilitate his career. And who knows? The Hawks might be willing to give him the Leroy Hill treatment and bring him back on the cheap.

Coach Pete Carroll said Tuesday that the Hawks are a second-chance team. Well, what about thirds? It is Thanksgiving, after all.