Monday was a day much like the Vikings preseason offense. One step forward, one stumble backward.
First, the good news: The team hasn’t ruled out defensive tackle Kevin Williams for its Sept. 8 season opener after a magnetic resonance imaging exam showed no ligament damage from a right knee injury that was feared to be much worse. Now, the bad news: Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton, whom Adrian Peterson claims was “worth 600 to 700 yards … and maybe more” of his 2,097-yard MVP season a year ago, was suspended without pay for the first three games for violating the NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse.
Felton, who has missed the past two preseason games because of an appendectomy, will begin his suspension on Saturday and will return to the active roster the day after the Sept. 22 home opener against Cleveland. Felton will not participate in Thursday’s preseason finale because he’s still recovering from the appendectomy.
Felton’s suspension is the resolution of his DUI charge on June 2, 2012 and not the result of further incidents, an NFL source confirmed. The report in that DUI case indicated that Felton had a DWI conviction within the previous 10 years. Although Felton got last year’s DUI dropped by pleading guilty to careless driving, the NFL still viewed him as a repeat substance-abuse offender, the league source said.
An NFL spokesman declined to give specifics on Felton’s case, citing the league’s policy on confidentiality.
After resolving his DUI charge in the spring, Felton appealed the NFL’s decision to suspend him for three games. When that process was exhausted, the Vikings knew the suspension was coming.
“We respect the league’s decision and Jerome understands it,” Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said in a statement released by the team. “Jerome is focused on returning to the playing field in Week 4 vs. Pittsburgh.”
Felton declined to comment, saying he would address the issue when reporters return to Winter Park on Tuesday.
With Felton out the past two preseason games, the Vikings have used second-year player Rhett Ellison and surprising rookie free agent Zach Line. Ellison is a tight end hybrid/H-back hybrid. Line, who has two touchdown catches including a 61-yarder that he caught at the line of scrimmage, could actually make the final roster or be added to the practice squad.
Felton's suspension will cost him $150,000 of his $850,000 base salary. He signed a three-year, $7.5 million contract during the offseason.
Felton has admitted that his DUI charge 10 weeks after signing with the Vikings could have been the end of what had been an unremarkable four-year journeyman career to that point. Coach Leslie Frazier made his disappointment known in a team meeting, but ultimately put his faith in the fullback.
“I saw something in Jerome that convinced me he made a mistake and would learn from it,” Frazier said recently. “If we had let him go after that incident, I would have been surprised if he would have gotten picked up.”
Felton has said he learned from his mistake. But he’s got three more payments to make in the form of $150,000 and three games. For an already-sputtering Vikings offense, the price is three games without a Pro Bowl fullback in front of the All-Pro running back.