Webster penalty at least 8 games


Ravens defensive tackle Larry Webster has failed to overturn an indefinite suspension for violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy, and will sit out at least eight games this season.

Chicago attorney Michael Baird said he received notification yesterday from the league that Webster had lost the appeal of his March suspension.

"I'm disappointed," said Baird, who represented Webster in the May 30 hearing in New York. "I was hoping they'd lift it completely."

Webster's fourth violation in the substance and alcohol abuse program left in doubt his future with the Ravens. While team president David Modell was non-committal about Webster, he left open a door for his possible return.

"If and when Larry is cleared to play for us, then we'll deal with it at that point," Modell said.

Webster, 31, will undergo 10 urine tests a month, continue counseling and will not be allowed to practice. He can apply for reinstatement after eight games.

Baird said he spoke with Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens vice president for player personnel, yesterday but does not know Webster's status with the team.

"The Ravens have given us no indication at this point they're going to cut him," Baird said. "We have every expectation that he will be playing for the Ravens before the year is out."

Neither Newsome nor Webster were available to comment yesterday, and a league spokesman declined to comment as well.

Webster became a full-time starter for the first time in seven NFL seasons last year, registering 44 tackles and two sacks for the league's No. 2-ranked defense. On Feb. 15, he signed a three-year, $5 million contract that included a $1.5 million signing bonus. On Feb. 23, he tested positive for cocaine from a urine sample administered by the league.

Baird insists the drug test results were in error.

"We presented evidence in the hearing that the amount of cocaine found in Larry's system was lower than if he had used the drug recreationally," Baird said. "If somebody takes a snort of cocaine, the levels would have been higher than found in Larry."

According to Baird, Webster had passed a Feb. 21 test, two days before the positive test.

"The level found that Wednesday was lower than if he had walked out of the test on Monday and snorted cocaine," Baird said. "The point behind that is, the level in his body was inconsistent with any recreational use of the drug."

Baird felt he received a concession of sorts in yesterday's mailing from the NFL's hearing office, Jeffrey Pash, who rendered the decision.

"The letter says Larry 'may have unwittingly ingested the drug and triggered a positive test,'" Baird said.

Asked how that might have happened, Baird said theoretically Webster could have handled something that had drug residue on it - used by someone else -such as a spoon. That could account for the low level. Baird also said supplements could have contributed to the test result.

"The important thing to know is that Larry denies he did this," Baird said. "In terms of his reaction, his reaction is a function of what the Ravens do. ... His primary concern is what the Ravens are going to do."

Leon Lett, a defensive tackle for the Dallas Cowboys, received an eight-game suspension a year ago after his fifth violation in the substance abuse program. Recently, Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Josh Evans lost his appeal of a one-year suspension in the policy.

Webster, a native of Elkton and a former Maryland star, tested positive for marijuana or alcohol at least three other times in the NFL. He served a six-game suspension with the Cleveland Browns in 1995, and missed the entire 1996 season with the Ravens after the Browns moved to Baltimore.

The 1996 suspension came after he drank a beer at his bachelor's party. Once a player enters the substance and alcohol abuse program, all alcohol is banned.

After two months of uncertainty, the Ravens at last have a resolution in Webster's case. Shortly after he was suspended, they signed veteran defensive tackle Sam Adams, and took a tackle, Cedric Woodard, in the college draft. With veteran tackle Tony Siragusa seeking a contract extension, the Ravens also talked with free agent tackle Gilbert Brown of the Green Bay Packers.

Three weeks before training camp opens, the Ravens have answered one question in the defensive line dilemma.

"Now," David Modell said, "we can move forward and plan accordingly."

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