Seahawks cornerback Walter Thurmond was suspended four games for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, adding to Seattle’s challenge against New Orleans, the second-ranked passing offense in the NFL, next Monday.
The Seahawks are playing without starting cornerback Brandon Browner, out four to six weeks with a groin injury suffered in a win at Atlanta Nov. 10.
Thurmond started in place of Browner for Seattle’s 41-20 win over Minnesota on Nov. 17, punctuating the victory with his first interception, which he returned 29 yards for a touchdown.
Then came reports Sunday — during Seattle’s bye week — that Thurmond had been suspended. According to NFL.com, Thurmond planned to appeal the suspension but will drop it early in the week so he would be available for playoff games. Seattle has five regular-season games remaining, beginning with a game against the Saints at 5:40 p.m. next Monday at CenturyLink Field.
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The game could go a long way toward deciding home-field advantage in the NFC . The Seahawks are 10-1, the best record in the NFL, and New Orleans is 9-2, led by quarterback Drew Brees and a passing offense averaging 317.3 yards per game.
The Seahawks had no comment on the news, but Thurmond tweeted, “I’m disappointed in myself for letting my teammates and family down.’’
Thurmond will be the seventh Seattle player since 2010 to serve a suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.
Vai Taua, John Moffitt, Allen Barbre, Winston Guy, Browner and Bruce Irvin all were suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs. Thurmond was reportedly cited for non-performance-enhancing drugs. Cornerback Richard Sherman also had an initial test for a banned drug last season but had his suspension overturned.
Without Thurmond and Browner, Seattle has three healthy cornerbacks on its active roster — Sherman, Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane.
Maxwell would likely move into the starting lineup with Lane taking over nickel cornerback duties.
Seattle has one cornerback on its practice squad, DeShawn Shead, and could activate him to take Thurmond’s spot on the roster. It was reported earlier that Shead had agreed to a deal paying him $8,500 a week rather than the minimum $6,000 for a practice-squad player as an inducement to keep him with Seattle.
The Seahawks have not put Browner on injured reserve, which would make him ineligible to play for the rest of the year.
Rookie fifth-round pick Tharold Simon, a cornerback, is expected to begin practice this week. He has been out since spring while rehabbing a foot injury. He could be an option, as well, though he had not been expected to play this season.
There were multiple reports Sunday night that the Seahawks might look into re-signing Antoine Winfield, who Seattle cut in August after having signed him as a free agent in April. When Winfield was cut, he announced his retirmenet — he turned 36 in June. But he might be a logical fit as he was competing with Thurmond for the starting nickelback spot through camp.
It is the second straight season Seattle has been hit with a suspension of a cornerback. The Seahawks played the last four games of 2012 without Browner after he was suspended for PED use, something Sherman recalled in comments he made Sunday on FOX Football Daily.
“I think we move forward strong,’’ Sherman said of how the team will adjust to playing without Thurmond. “We played like this before. We played like this the end of last year. We played four games with myself, Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane and we won those games by a considerable amount. So I think we will be fine. It will be great to get him back before the playoffs and make sure he gets his feet back under him. But I think we will get past it.’’
If Thurmond sits out the next four games, he could return for the final home game against the Rams on Dec. 29.
Thurmond was penalized via what is a structured NFL drug-testing program in which players are routinely subject to random tests.
Several Seattle players voiced support for Thurmond on Twitter.
That included this tweet from Irvin that referenced his suspension earlier this year: “Still behind you @WaltThurm3 Believe we will hold it down just like y’all did when I was gone! #nextmanup’’
Thurmond is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, as is Browner.