After he suffered a concussion on Aug. 23 in the Denver Broncos’ third preseason game, Wes Welker’s status for Sunday night’s season opener against the Indianapolis Colts was still in doubt despite his return to practice on Monday. But bad news came on Tuesday, with Welker being suspended four games for a violation of the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Welker tested positive for amphetamines, and Pro Football Talk.com further reported that Welker took MDMA (also known as “Molly) that had been laced with amphetamines while at the Kentucky Derby in May.
Regardless of the exact circumstances surrounding his positive drug test, Welker will not be eligible to play until Week 6 since the Broncos have a bye in Week 4. After the season opener against the Colts, Welker will miss two more home games against the Kansas City Chiefs (Week 2) and Arizona Cardinals (Week 5) as well as a road Super Bowl rematch with the Seattle Seahawks (Week 3).
Welker’s suspension will allow him to fully recover from his third concussion in less than a year, so it actually may serve as a blessing in disguise. He missed the final three games of the regular season last year after suffering his second concussion in less than a month, but he was cleared to return for Denver’s playoff run and wore a specialized helmet to help prevent another head injury.
Welker has a history of head injuries dating back to his time with the New England Patriots, and he makes his living between the hashmarks where hard-hitting linebackers and safeties are there to deliver punishment. Welker does not have the build (5’9″, 185 lbs) to hold up to that kind of pounding and at age 33, without the quickness he had in his prime, he can’t simply evade big hits like he used to. That’s why Welker should retire as soon as possible.
Zero Super Bowl wins stands out as the one black mark on Welker’s career right now, but he has nothing left to prove in terms of individual production. He has led the league in receptions three times in his career, twice by himself (2009 and 2011) and once tied (2007, with T.J. Houshmandzadeh), and he is in the Top 10 among active players in receptions (841) and receiving yards (9,358) right now.
With what has come to light about concussions over the last few years, Welker is surely risking his long-term health by offering himself up to further injury. Continuing to play despite the risk is clearly a personal decision, for Welker or any other player with a history of concussions, and that should not be completely taken away. But at some point the league and player’s association may have to step in and set some sort of guidelines, beyond the mandated protocol to return to practice and game action.
Proposing a minimum number of games a player must sit out upon suffering a certain number of concussions in a given time frame would be a good start to the conversation, if only to increase the overall effort to protect players. I have no idea what would work best in terms of mandatory missed games, number of concussions and the time frame, but surely those in positions of power within the league office and player’s association can agree on something that is logical and reasonable.
There’s no guarantee Welker will be fully recovered when he is eligible to play this season, and he’s now in the league’s performance-enhancing drug program. A second positive test would bring an eight-game suspension, and it’s worth noting that this is the final year of Welker’s contract with the Broncos. It’s fair to assume he won’t have a lot of suitors on the free agent market next offseason, even leaving aside his injury history, and Welker would probably only want to play for a legit Super Bowl contender.
Retirement looks possible for Welker after this season, particularly if the Broncos make a return trip to the Super Bowl and win it. His most recent concussion, coupled with now being in the league’s drug program, should prompt Welker to re-evaluate his priorities and call it a career before that point.
That all being said, I don’t expect Welker to hang it up and I’m sure we’ll see him in a Broncos’ uniform when they play the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium in Week 6.