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The NFL's Substance Abuse policy, league precedent, and the likely fate of LeGarrette Blount and Le'Veon Bell

In the wake of charges against Steelers running backs LeVeon Bell and Le'Garrette Blount, we take a look at the National Football League Substance Abuse policy and the precedent the league has set to determine what the likely discipline the NFL will hand down.

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

On Wednesday afternoon the new broke that the Steelers top two running backs, Le'Veon Bell and Le'Garrette Blount,  would be charged with possession of marijuana.  Bell may also be charged with DUI pending the results of a blood test.  To determine the potential discipline that the NFL may pass do on the two Steelers let's take a look at the NFL's Substance Abuse Policy itself.

Under Section II, titled "Discipline for Violation of Law Related to Substances of Abuse Other Than Alcohol." the following can be found;

A. Additional Commissioner Discipline.

Apart from and in addition to any other provisions of this Policy, players convicted of or admitting to a violation of law (including, within the context of a diversionary program, deferred adjudication, disposition of supervision, or similar arrangement including but not limited to nolo contendere) relating to use, possession, acquisition, sale, or distribution of substances of abuse other than alcohol, or conspiring to do so, are subject to appropriate discipline as determined by the Commissioner. Where appropriate, such discipline may include substantially longer suspensions than those set forth below.

B. Discipline for Violations of the Law.

A player will normally be subject to discipline up to and including suspension without pay for four regular and/or post-season games for a first violation of the law related to substances of abuse other than alcohol and for six regular and/or post-season games for a second violation of the law related to substances of abuse other than alcohol. A player’s treatment history may be considered by the Commissioner in determining the appropriate degree of discipline. The suspension period may be extended if medically necessary, and, if extended, may involve mandatory treatment if required by the Medical Director.

Two important statements can be drawn from these two subsections. The first important statement in Subsection A states is that the commissioner determines the appropriate discipline and that this discipline can differ from stated disciplines in subsection B if appropriate. The second important statement falls in Subsection B which states that  a player can be subjected  to up to a four game suspension  for their first violation of the law relating to substance abuse.

Putting that more simply, Bell and Blount could be looking at up to a four game suspension if the Commissioner deems it appropriated.

The two Steelers running backs will now also find themselves in the Intervention Stage of the Substance Abuse Policy which due to these charges. This is confirmed in  Section I, Subsection D, Article 1 involving the entrance in the Intervention program which states;

1. Entrance.

All NFL players shall be eligible for entrance into the Intervention Stages. Such eligibility will not be affected by termination or expiration of a player’s contract subsequent to entry into the Intervention Stages. Players enter Stage One of the Intervention Program by a Positive Test, Behavior or Self-Referral more fully described as follows:

a. Positive Test: Urine or blood toxicology Tests that meet the concentration levels set forth in Article I, Section C.3.c.

b. Behavior: Behavior, including but not limited to an arrest related to an alleged misuse of substances of abuse, which, in the judgment of the Medical Director, exhibits physical, behavioral, or psychological signs or symptoms of misuse of substances of abuse.

c. Self-Referral: ...

For those of you wanting a more exact approximation, the precedent from the league's past disciplinarian actions may provide this.

The two more closely related  and recent cases of league discipline involve Bills' outside linebacker Nigel Bradham in 2013, and  49ers' defensive end Demarcus Dobbs in 2012.

In the case of Nigel Bradham was pulled over in a traffic stop on August 18, 2013. During the stop the officer found less than the amount of marijuana required for an arrest so Bradham was issued a ticket.  In July 2014 Bradham was issued a one-game suspension for the 2014 NFL season.

The case of Demarcus Dobbs he was arrest for possession of marijuana and suspicion of DUI on November 30 in 2012 after causing a single car accident.  The league issued a one-game suspension for the 2013 regular season for Dobbs in August of 2013.

This precedent is a bitter sweet outcome for the Steelers and their running backs. Based off these two similar cases, the organization can expect a one-game suspension for Bell and likely Blount as well. After the legal process has played out, the suspensions likely won't be issued until the next off-season for the 2015 season. Likely more troublesome for the two running backs, will be the leagues Intervention Stage of the Substance Abuse Policy. Since they will enter this stage from the arrest they can now be subjected to random drug test for the remainder of their NFL career. This differs from the once a year testing players not in the Intervention Stage receive. Any positive test while in this intervention stage while result in a fine and an automatic four game suspension.

What all of this really means is that the Steelers will likely have Le'Backfield in every game of the 2013 season as they look to return to the playoffs. They will also likely have an entire off-season to figure the running back situation in their  Bell and Blount's likely absence for the opener of the 2015 season. (Hopefully as the defending Super Bowl champions.)