BEREA — As Ryan Tucker worked out in the offseason, trying to come back from a mental disorder that caused him to leave the team twice last year for a total of seven games, he turned to steroids to help make it back.
The choice caught up with him Friday, when the NFL announced a four-game suspension for violating the steroid policy. The suspension covers the first four regular-season games, and he will be eligible to return to the active roster Oct. 1. He is permitted to continue practicing in training camp and play in the preseason, but will be barred from the team’s facilities Sept. 1.
“Ryan’s a little bit of a special case because he’s been here for a while,” general manager Phil Savage said. “He’s one of the senior members of the team. He works hard. He’s one of the guys that the other players like and respect.
“I think you have to acknowledge those things. But at the same time this was a choice that he made and obviously he’s suffering the consequence of it, which impacts us.”
Tucker, the starting right tackle in his sixth year with the Browns, said he failed the test in the offseason, knew about the suspension in the offseason and didn’t appeal. Savage wouldn’t specify when the team knew, but said it was sometime after the draft.
“I didn’t intend to compromise the integrity of the NFL, my team,” Tucker said Friday morning after practice. “I want to apologize to the fans, my family.”
According to the league policy, a first failed test brings an automatic four-game suspension. A second brings a minimum eight-game suspension, and a third a year suspension. Any failed test prohibits a trip to the Pro Bowl that season.
Tucker will not be paid during the suspension, forfeiting $600,000, 4/17 of his $2.55 million salary. Players receive their salaries in 17 game checks during the season.
Tucker, 32, has started 93 games in 10 seasons. He’d always been considered reliable until missing two games at midseason last year with an undisclosed illness. He returned to start three games, but left at halftime of the loss to Cincinnati on Nov. 26. The team physician then labeled the illness a mental disorder not related to football.
“It’s been a long road. I was pretty down and out last year and in my attempt to come back I took a banned substance,” Tucker said. “I’m going to fulfill this punishment and get it behind me.
“There was a point in time I didn’t know if playing again was a possibility. The bottom line is I’m healthy now, my family’s healthy and happy, people are behind me here and my family’s behind me.”
Tucker, who signed autographs for fans after a brief session with the media, was upbeat through the first week of camp despite the impending suspension. He vowed Friday to come back in Week 5.
The decision will ultimately be the Browns’. Tucker won’t count against the 53-man roster during the suspension, and the team will have a week to decide whether to activate or cut him.
“Ever since I’ve been here, Ryan has not been a problem, has worked hard and done everything I’ve asked him to do,” coach Romeo Crennel said. “This is the first kinda conduct thing that he’s had.
“I’m supporting Ryan the best that I can. We’re going to do what’s best for the Browns.”
Tucker’s absence creates a hole at right tackle. Kevin Shaffer, who started 16 games at left tackle in 2006, and Kelly Butler, who started five games in place of Tucker last year, will compete for the job.
“It’s disappointing, because we’re counting on him,” Crennel said of Tucker. “He’s an integral part of that offensive line. When you lose a guy like that, it definitely hurts.
“We’re fortunate that we have more competition and ability this year than we’ve had in the past.”
Shaffer, who signed a six-year, $36 million deal in March 2006, is the favorite to start the season at right tackle. The Browns considered trading Shaffer during the draft but held onto him. That looks like a good move now.
Crennel said Tucker would play in the preseason games, but likely with the second or third unit.
“Everybody faces countless obstacles,” Tucker said. “Believe me, my family’s suffering more than anybody about this stuff, because it is going to be public and people are going to make their own assumptions about this whole thing.”
In the meantime, Tucker said he’ll continue to work.
“All I can do right now is come out and do what I’ve been doing,” he said. “Leave it all on the field, stay in shape in that four weeks and come back and go from there.
“Every time I come out here I just want to give it my all. When things like this happen in your life, it makes you appreciate this stuff a whole helluva lot more.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org.