Ravens tight end Darren Waller has been suspended at least a year without pay after violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy for the second time in as many seasons, the league announced Friday.
Waller, 24, was banned for the first four games of last season last July. He later admitted that he had tested positive for marijuana use.
Waller, who also was suspended twice for marijuana use while at Georgia Tech, told the Ravens' team website after he returned in October that he had been changing his lifestyle. He called his earlier decision to use the drug "definitely careless."
Marijuana "was the one thing I always turned to," said Waller, who finished 2016 with 10 catches for 85 yards and two touchdowns. "It was just about finding more positive outlets for me to do, like talking to people about it and things like that. I'm definitely at a better place with that now."
The 6-foot-6, 255-pound converted wide receiver, a sixth-round draft pick in 2015 who flashed his potential during organized team activities this spring, can participate in training camp and the preseason, but his punishment begins at the start of the regular season.
Waller is the second tight end the Ravens have lost for the season since the beginning of June. Returning starter Dennis Pitta, who led all NFL tight ends in receptions last year, fractured his hip for the third time during OTAs on June 2 and was released.
The case of the disappearing tight end will pose problems for Ravens coach John Harbaugh. At March's league meetings, he had said that the team's bounty of players at the position could even help with the departure of fullback Kyle Juszczyk. "We plan to use tight ends, obviously, because we have tight ends," Harbaugh said. "And they're all versatile players."
Now, not so much. With Pitta and Waller gone, the Ravens have four tight ends on the roster, all of whom are either unproven or aren't 100 percent. Benjamin Watson returned to the practice field just weeks ago after recovering from a torn Achilles tendon. The availability of Maxx Williams for the start of training camp is uncertain; he underwent offseason knee surgery that Harbaugh said never had been performed on a football player. Crockett Gillmore missed part of offseason workouts with a hamstring injury and has been an injury-report regular.
Only Nick Boyle, who edged Williams as Pro Football Focus' top-graded rookie tight end in 2015, is healthy. But he has was suspended the first 10 games of the 2016 regular season for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances for a second time. With six catches in the Ravens' six remaining games last year, he has just 24 for his career.
"You want to have as many good players as you can, and that's why you don't want to lose anyone," Harbaugh said after Pitta's injury. "By the same token, we're deep there. Maxx has to get back. Ben has to get back. The other two guys [Boyle and Gillmore] have to keep getting better. But we have four really good players there. We'll just work from there."