Last year, it seemed to be almost weekly that questions and concerns would arise about whether or not Pat Williams and Kevin Williams would be able to play or have to start serving their four-game suspensions imposed by the NFL for testing positive for the banned substance bumetanide.
It would appear as though the specter of the court case will hang over the Vikings again this season. The NFL announced Tuesday that both players will not have to start serving any suspension this week, even if the appeals ruling goes against them from a three-judge panel at the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The court acknowledged when it took testimony Aug. 17 that it was mindful of the start of the regular season and would render a decision at or around the start of the regular season. At question remains the legal question as to whether the NFL can impose a suspension that violates pre-existing state laws concerning drug testing in the workplace. But the bigger problem for the Vikings is when a suspension (if it comes at all) would be imposed.
When the 2009 schedule was released, one of the benefits for the Vikings was that the first five games were all against teams that had draft picks in the top 10 selections due to their awful 2008 records. But, if the process is delayed much beyond that, it could create a whole new set of problems for the Vikings trying to move on without the Williams Wall.
If the court upholds the NFL's right to suspend the Williamses, if it were to happen within the next week, the Vikings would be able to handle the loss markedly easier than if it is delayed. Had the suspensions taken effect to start the season, the Vikings would have been without their Pro Bowl defensive tackles for games against Cleveland, Detroit, San Francisco and Green Bay. If, however, they are imposed and delayed just three weeks, the scenario would be much different.
In the second half of October, the Vikings schedule gets considerably more difficult. The three opponents heading into their bye week are the Ravens, Steelers and Packers, with the Pittsburgh and Green Bay games both coming on the road. While the Vikings could likely absorb the loss of the Williamses for teams like the Browns, Lions and 49ers, missing out on games against Super Bowl contenders like the Ravens and Steelers would be much more difficult.
Pat and Kevin remain confident that they will be able to clear their names and not have to serve a suspension, it would appear that, much like last year, the cloud of the StarCaps controversy will continue to hang over their heads into the 2009 season.