Sauerbrun to appeal alleged ephedra violation
Denver Broncos punter Todd Sauerbrun has apprised team management that he will appeal his pending four-game suspension for an alleged violation of the NFL's banned substances policy and is in the process of filing the pertinent paperwork with league officials.
Sauerbrun reportedly tested positive recently for ephedra, the stimulant added to the banned substance list following the training camp death of Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Korey Stringer in 2001. Under terms of the collective bargaining agreement and the NFL policy on steroids and related substances, the 11-year veteran cannot be suspended until the appeals process is completed.
The policy stipulates that a player must inform the commissioner in writing of his intention to appeal within five days after receiving written notification from the league of his pending suspension. He must stipulate, as well, if he is requesting a hearing, over which the commissioner or his designee would preside.
If a hearing is sought, the NFL schedules it, either in person or via conference call, within 20 calendar days of the request. The NFL then provides the player and his counsel with a laboratory documentation package, verifying the test results and the chain-of-custody procedures. The player has two days after receipt of the documentation package to inform league officials, in writing, of the grounds for his appeal.
When the appeal is completed, the NFL then has five working days to apprise the player of its decision. According to the league policy on steroids and related substances, the NFL "will endeavor to conduct and conclude these procedures expeditiously."
Given the timeframes established by the steroid policy, it appears there is more than sufficient time for the Sauerbrun appeal to be resolved well in advance of the start of the regular season. The Broncos open the season at St. Louis on Sept. 10.
Because the NFL does not officially announce suspensions until after an appeal has been decided -- league officials have, citing confidentiality guidelines, steadfastly declined to comment on the Sauerbrun case -- there is no way of knowing how many appeals have been successful. The consensus around the league, however, is that successful appeals are rare in such cases.
If he is suspended, Sauerbrun will be permitted to practice in training camp and participate in preseason games, but could not practice with the Broncos once the sanctions were in place for the regular season. He would forfeit $328,235, or four-seventeenths of his scheduled base salary of $1.395 million for 2006.
Denver officials have declined comment on the pending suspension, which, given the timing, likely would be for the first four games of the season.
"We'll deal with that after the appeal goes through, and at that time, I'll address it," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said on Friday.
The loss of Sauerbrun, a three-time Pro Bowl performer and widely regarded as one of the NFL's premier punters, would be a difficult one for the Broncos to absorb, even for four games.
"Todd's a Pro Bowl punter," said special teams coach Ronnie Bradford. "So I don't know if you can sustain. If we get something near that level, I think we'll be OK. But Todd played well for us last year."
In his first season in Denver, after being acquired from Carolina in a trade last spring, Sauerbrun averaged 43.8 yards gross and 38.0 yards net on 72 punts.
There are four candidates on the current roster and Denver officials could also seek a veteran punter still available in the free agent market. Broncos kicker Jason Elam was a punter in college. Paul Ernster, a seventh-round choice in the 2005 draft who split his rookie campaign between the Denver practice squad and injured reserve, led the nation in punting at Northern Arizona in 2004 with a 47.8-yard average, but is rehabilitating from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. The roster also includes undrafted free agents Tyler Fredrickson of the University of California and Jeff Williams of Adams State.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.