Three-time All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates of San Diego will be suspended the first four games of the 2015 season along with New York Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson and Dallas linebacker Rolando McClain for violating NFL drug policies.
Gates’ suspension is over the league’s ban on performance-enhancing drugs, while Richardson and McClain will be sidelined under the substance abuse policy.
Green Bay defensive end Datone Jones will have to sit out the season opener for a substance abuse violation. All the suspensions, announced by the league Thursday, are without pay.
All four players can participate in training camp and preseason games. Gates, Richardson and McClain can return to the active roster Oct. 5, the day after the Week 4 games.
McClain and Gates will be eligible to play in Week 5, with the Cowboys hosting Super Bowl champion New England on Oct. 11 and the Chargers at home against Pittsburgh in the Monday night game. The Jets have their bye in Week 5, so Richardson will have to wait until Oct. 18, a home game against Washington.
Jones will be back for the home opener in Week 2 against Seattle.
Gates, Richardson and McClain apologized in statements.
“In my 12 years in the NFL, I have taken tremendous pride in upholding the integrity of the NFL shield and all that it entails,” Gates said.
“In an effort to recover from a long season and although I was unaware at the time, I regret to confirm that I tested positive for a substance that is currently on the NFL banned substance list.”
The 35-year-old Gates, who is fourth all time in receptions (788) and yards (10,014) for tight ends, said he should have made sure he was taking something that met NFL guidelines.
“I have always believed that ignorance is no excuse when it comes to these issues, and I take full responsibility for my actions,” Gates said.
Richardson was the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2013 and expected to be a major part of new coach Todd Bowles’ defense. He has 11½ sacks in two seasons.
“This is something that can only be addressed by how I handle myself from this point on,” the 24-year-old Richardson said. “I don’t want this to take away from what the team is trying to accomplish.”
McClain’s suspension means the Cowboys will start the season without two key defenders. Defensive end Greg Hardy faces a 10-game suspension for his role in a domestic violence case. Hardy is waiting to see if hissuspension will be reduced on appeal.
It’s been a rocky offseason for McClain, a former top 10 pick who revived a disappointing career with a solid 2014 season in Dallas following a trade before training camp last summer.
McClain, who turns 26 this month, had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee and stayed in his home state of Alabama for the initial rehabilitation work. He missed most offseason workouts before rejoining the Cowboys for mandatory minicamp last month.
The suspension is likely to cost McClain more than his base salary because of bonuses tied to playing time in the one-year, $3 million contract he signed this offseason.
“I will not break the rules of my profession in the future, and I regret my error,” McClain said.
Jones, who turns 25 this month, was a first-round pick (26th overall) out of UCLA in 2013. He had his first three starts last season and has five sacks in 29 games.