Julian Edelman and the PED-Era of Football

Julian Edelman and the PED-Era of Football

Julian Edelman at the Top of His Game

It’s nearly a month after the New England Patriots Super Bowl victory over the Los Angeles Rams and the NFL Combine began today. But Julian Edelman still remains in sports discussions. Whether they are discussing his omission from the NFL Combine or his beard trimmings being auctioned off for $8500, Julian Edelman’s name is circling the NFL. Edelman, after winning his third Super Bowl with the Patriots and his first MVP, is at the height of his career and popularity. Many are even calling him a future Hall of Famer (Not us). This praise shows that fans have forgotten, or just don’t care about, Edelman’s performance enhancing drug (PED) suspension at the start of the 2018 season, which is a big problem for the NFL.

Other Sports and PEDs

Baseball already went through this. Everyone knows about the Steroid-Era. Because of this, the sport is now under much greater scrutiny. Players can’t get away with performance enhancers like before because the league and fans won’t allow it. It’s no longer acceptable and the only current debate is whether or not the past players should get in. But people can almost unanimously agree that PEDs don’t belong in baseball.

The NFL, on the other hand, is a much different story. First and foremost, PED use is defended by those who watch the game. There are countless arguments by fans and analysts that justify the use of PEDs in football, claiming that the sport is “violent”, “a blood-sport” and that players are “gladiators”. It’s “bigger, faster, and stronger” than baseball, so it elicits PED use.

However, those points become problematic when compared to an actual blood-sport, mixed-martial arts. The UFC, unlike all other professional sports leagues in America, turned its testing over to the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), an agency most known for its responsibility of the US Olympic team’s testing. This move synchronizes their sport with the World Anti-Doping Agency’s PED list. “To be labeled a PED, it must meet two of three criteria: It has the potential to enhance sport performance, it represents an actual or potential health risk, or it violates the “spirit of the sport.” Unlike the PED sympathizers for football, the UFC understands that athlete safety and entertainment are protected when athletes have an equal playing field.

Players Don’t Respect the PED Rules

While the UFC appears to have a firm grasp on their athletes, the NFL is quite the opposite. In attempts to identify PED violators, the NFL added policy that could reduce PED suspensions up to 50-percent to players that cooperated in finding other players, coaches or trainers who violated the policy. Despite their PED policies, the locker room tribalism remains strong, as can be seen by Lane Johnson’s Tweet on the subject: “No snitchin’ ”

Brady Quinn also said in 2015 that he believed “40-50 percent” of players were taking PEDs. He continued by explaining that the rationale behind taking PEDs is two-fold: the money is bigger and the punishments aren’t bad.

“If you’re a top-of-the-line guy and you’re getting $16 million a year — you’re getting a million bucks a game — if you get popped for taking something that helps you get that big-time contract or hit that incentive in your contract where you get paid all of the sudden in your contract year, guess what? First [failed test], four-game [suspension],” Quinn said “Let’s talk about financially, ‘Am I going to sacrifice $4 million in order for me to get that big contract on the back-end? Yeah, I am.'”

Quinn’s opinion becomes more clear when recent PED violators contracts are reviewed. There were 19 players suspended for PEDs in 2016, 19 in 2017, and 19 in 2018. Here are some players of note and their contracts from overthecap.com:

Doug Martin

  • Suspended 4 games in 2016 season
  • Selected to Pro Bowl in 2015 season
  • 1673 yards from scrimmage and 7 touchdowns in 2015. Earned Pro Bowl and a 5-year contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Even though he was cut after the 2017 season, he still earned $13.5m in two seasons before signing for the Oakland Raiders in 2018 for $1.475m

Alshon Jeffery

  • Suspended 4 games in 2016 season
  • Wins Super Bowl in 2017 season
  • Franchise-tagged in 2016 for $14.599m by Chicago Bears. Sign to 1-year contract worth $9.5 by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017, followed by a 4-year contract worth $52m in 2018 for the Eagles

Lane Johnson

  • Suspended in 2014 for 4 games and in 2016 for 10 games
  • Selected to Pro Bowl in 2017 and 2018
  • Wins Super Bowl in 2017 season
  • Signs a 5-year contract worth $56.5m in 2016

Marcus Gilbert

  • Suspended 4 games in 2017 season
  • Made $7m from 2017-2018 and set to make $4.915m in 2019

Jerrell Freeman

  • Suspended in 2016 for 4 games, in 2017 for 10 games, and in 2018 for 2 years
  • Signed a 3-year contract worth $12m in 2016. Even with suspended games, made almost $6m from 2016-2017

Brian Cushing

  • Suspended in 2010 for 4 game and 2017 for 10 games
  • Earned $45.8m in his 9-year career. Hired by Houston Texans in 2019 to work with defensive strength and conditioning coaches.

Vontaze Burfict

  • Suspended for 4 games in 2018
  • Signed a 4-year contract extension worth $33m in 2017

Thomas Davis

  • Suspended 4 games in 2018
  • Selected to Pro Bowl in 2015, 2016, and 2017
  • Signed contract extension in 2017 and earned $9.8m from 2017-2018

Mark Ingram

  • Suspended 4 games in 2018
  • Selected to Pro Bowl in 2017
  • Earned $7.25m from 2017-2018

Large Incentives and Lack of Punishments

It’s quite easy to see that there is a heavy incentive for players to take PEDs. Now enter Julian Edelman into the equation. Edelman tore his ACL in the 2017 preseason, causing him to miss the entire 2017 regular season. He was going to be 32-years old, coming off of a missed season due to injury. That doesn’t scream success. However, he came back strong in 2018. Well, in week 5 of 2018.

Edelman tested positive for PEDs in 2018 and was thus suspended for the first 4 games of the season. But because the NFL allows PED violators to play in the postseason, Edelman racked up 26 receptions for 388 yards, one Super Bowl win, and one Super Bowl MVP. Immediately after the game there was also discussion of his Hall of Fame status. He went from old, injured and a risk to drop off to Super Bowl hero and “future Hall of Famer”.

This is the NFL’s problem. It is too easy for players to have success after being caught, even during the same season they were suspended. Take the Patriots for example. Strictly looking at New England Patriots players, three have played in a Super Bowl in the same season they were suspended for PEDs: Rodney Harrison in 2007, Rob Ninkovich in 2016, and Julian Edelman in 2018. Three players from a single team were allowed to play in three different Super Bowls following their PED suspension. Three Super Bowls. This is not an indictment of the Patriots, but of the league itself. There are far too many incentives for PEDs without the punishments and aggression to prevent abuse.

The Path for a “Clean” and Safe NFL

The first step of the NFL would be to take a more consistent and extensive with their drug-testing. HGH tests have been shown to be easily passed and unreliable when given enough time. According the the USADA, the NFL needs to be unpredictable by knowing the players whereabouts during the season and off-season, in addition to monitoring player’s body chemistry over years. Whether or not the NFL will take an Olympic/UFC approach to their drug-testing policies, they can at least improve their punishments. They need to learn from baseball before this becomes the PED-Era of football. The best, most immediate, act the NFL could do is to put restrictions on postseason play. An NFL athlete should absolutely not be allowed to play in the postseason if he tests positive for PEDs. If the NFL fails to change, the problem will grow into infamy.

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