Wes Welker eligible to return

ByJeff Legwold via ESPN logo
Friday, September 12, 2014

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- With the terms of a new drug policy now in place, wide receiver Wes Welker returned to the Denver Broncos Friday night and is eligible to play Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs if the team chooses to put him in the lineup, a source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

As negotiations went through the week between NFL and NFL Players Association officials, the Broncos had planned for a potential change in the drug policy that would allow for Welker's re-instatement. The Broncos carried just 52 players on the roster through the week after they released wide receiver Nathan Palmer on Tuesday.

Following Broncos practice Friday, coach John Fox said the team was ready to welcome Welker back whenever an agreement was in place.

"They'll work that out at which time if there's any kind of decision we'll accept Wes back whenever that is," Fox said following Friday's practice. " ... We'll see."

Welker was suspended for four games for violating the league's policy on performance enhancing drugs and served the first game of the suspension Sunday. However, Broncos officials and players have believed since last week a new policy would change the criteria of Welker's suspension and allow for his, and several others players' league-wide, re-instatement.

Welker had been limited in practice at the time of his league-mandated punishment because of a concussion he suffered in the Aug. 23 preseason game against the Houston Texans. The concussion was Welker's third in a 10-month span, but Welker has been cleared medically by an independent physician per the league's concussion protocol, so would be eligible to play immediately.

And that is still a decision the Broncos will have to make, given Welker has not practiced since Labor Day and he had been limited in that workout. That practice was also Welker's first appearance on the practice field since suffering the injury against the Texans.

As a result, the Broncos could simply make Welker a gameday inactive this week against the Chiefs and get him ready to face the Seattle Seahawks the following Sunday. Or they could put Welker in uniform for Sunday's game and decide to use him as a spot player in the offense. Because his suspension was under the guidelines of the league's performance-enhancing drugs policy Welker could not work out or attend meetings at the Broncos' facility or have contact with coaches, during the suspension.

Earlier this week Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said he had been in contact with Welker and said; "I know he's chomping at the bit to get back. I know he's here in town, obviously it would be great to get him back, we'll just see how the process, see how it all shakes out.''

Welker's chance at re-instatement came because under the new policy Welker's positive test for amphetamines, would now fall under league's policy for substance abuse. Under those guidelines a player enters the treatment program with the first positive test, a program that includes meeting with counselors and the player is also subject to increased testing each month.

It takes multiple positive tests under the substance-abuse policy before the suspension phase is reached. For Welker's suspension, his positive test had fallen under the PED policy, which put players into the suspension phase with the first positive test.

Under his original suspension, Welker would have been eligible for reinstatement to return to the team Monday, Oct. 6, and would then would have played for the first time in the Oct. 12 game against the New York Jets.