On Thursday, the NFL announced that Bucs wide receiver Antonio Brown and safety Mike Edwards were each being suspended three games. The punishment was levied following an investigation that found both players guilty of misrepresenting their vaccination status to the NFL. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Brown arrived at camp with a fake vaccination card, but pivoted to receive the actual vaccine shortly after.
Interesting part of Schefter story here. Clarifies timeline a little bit. Sounds like AB got for real vaxxed pretty early on in training camp. So was actually vaxxed when he was on COVID list in Week 3 https://t.co/3ZK0dcyoMipic.twitter.com/kHbmGm9TyV
Speaking to the media on Friday, Bucs head coach Bruce Arians addressed the suspensions for the first time.
“Obviously we have two guys suspended,” Arians said. “The league did their due diligence and we move on. I will not address those guys for the next three weeks. They’ll just be working out. And then we’ll address their future at that time. Other than that, there’s really nothing to say.”
But Arians actually had plenty more to say. When asked if Arians and the organization had made a decision about Brown and Edwards’ future with the team, the head coach left the door open for further consequences.
“Nothing has been decided, no,” Arians said.
In past interviews, Arians has made it clear that Brown is on a zero-tolerance policy with the team. Those comments mostly occurred last year though, so it remains unclear how short Brown’s leash is in 2021.
When the suspensions were first announced, it seemed the impact on the Bucs would be minimal. Brown was likely to miss the next 2-3 games with an ankle sprain anyway, while Edwards was nursing a bruised knee. With Carlton Davis set to return to the lineup, Sean Murphy-Bunting would have pushed Edwards to the bench as the cornerback moved back to the nickel spot.
Bucs S Jordan Whitehead – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
But on Friday, Arians announced that starting safety Jordan Whitehead is out with a “very” significant calf injury. Whitehead’s injury occurred in practice. Edwards would have replaced him in the starting lineup, but now he’s suspended. Andrew Adams and Ross Cockrell will likely combine to fill Whitehead’s spot.
“Totally [focused on] the Falcons,” Arians said. “Two guys, basically as we look at it, they’re hurt. I will say this. In the last two years, I don’t know if there has been a team better against COVID than we have been. This is a setback because of what happened. But we have done an amazing job. And even when a guy has had it, we’ve never had an outbreak in a position room. So I’m very happy with that part.”
The Bucs head coach isn’t lying. Tampa Bay has had only two COVID cases since the season began – Brown and linebacker Kevin Minter. That makes the latest situation with Brown and Edwards sting worse, because the Bucs have taken so much pride in handling COVID the right way.
“Yeah, it pisses me off,” Arians said. “But it is what it is.”
One reassuring fact is that the NFL did not fine the Bucs, believing the team to be innocent of any wrongdoing. The league also made it clear that the Bucs assisted in their investigation.
“We’ve done everything,” Arians said. “I mean, everything. There’s a lot more to that story. I just hope that [the league] doesn’t stop looking [for similar infractions].”
When asked if he thinks there are other fake vaccination issues throughout the league, Arians replied, “maybe”.
Arians raises a question many who cover the NFL will be pondering over the coming days/weeks. Are Brown and Edwards really the only players to misrepresent their vaccination status to the league? Or are they just the only guys who got caught because Brown’s ex-chef was mad the receiver hadn’t paid him back? The suspensions are obviously warranted, but it begs the question of how many other players around the league have made the same missteps, yet haven’t been exposed.
Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft
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