Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery has been suspended for four games without pay for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances.
Jeffery's suspension begins immediately. He will be eligible to return to the Bears' active roster on Monday, Dec. 12 after missing games against the Giants, Titans, 49ers and Lions. Jeffery has caught 40 passes for a team-leading 630 yards and one touchdown this season.
"We're very disappointed," said coach John Fox. "I think he's fairly embarrassed about it, but we'll support him and welcome him when he gets back after serving his suspension."
Jeffery is earning $14.6 million under the franchise tag this season, so the four-game suspension will cost the 2012 second-round draft pick $3.44 million.
The Bears receiver issued the following statement via social media late Monday afternoon:
"As a professional athlete, I have been careful about what I put in my body. I took a recommended supplement to combat inflammation. Unfortunately this supplement contained an ingredient that was on the NFL's banned substance list. I take full responsibility and I'm deeply upset with myself for not doing the proper research on this supplement. I want to apologize to my family, the Bears organization, my teammates, and Bears fans. I will work hard to earn back the respect and trust of the Bears nation and look forward to being back on the field."
Jeffery's suspension leaves the Bears with four receivers on their active roster: Eddie Royal, Cameron Meredith, Joshua Bellamy and Deonte Thompson. Marquess Wilson returned to practice last week for the first time since breaking his foot in June and could soon be activated.
"We'll treat it like an injury moving forward," Fox said. "If there's a silver lining it's that Marquess is going to be eligible to come up here shortly and now we have a roster spot.
"We're going to have to have somebody step up and that's the way we'll treat it. Nobody comes and rescues you as I've mentioned before. So everybody else is going to have to play that much better."
Asked what he expects from Jeffery during the course of his suspension, Fox said: "I hope he stays in shape. He's done a pretty good job of that in the past. I think he understands how he's got to go about it. I'm fairly confident he will."
Bears players were told about Jeffery's suspension during meetings Monday.
"It's not good at all," said tight end Zach Miller. "It sucks not having your top weapon on offense. We have to figure out ways to be better, to do better collectively. But I don't think you really replace Alshon Jeffery that easily. We'll have to do it as a group."
"It's unfortunate and I'm going to miss him," added defensive end Akiem Hicks. "You feel for your guy. That's your teammate. That's somebody that you respect and love having on your sideline and you love seeing in the game. It's a tough situation, but it's one that we're going to have to accept and move forward through."
Jeffery has shown more leadership this year in terms of mentoring his young teammates was voted one of two co-captains on offense along with quarterback Jay Cutler. But Miller doesn't feel that the star receiver let his teammates down because of the suspension.
"He's not that type of guy," Miller said. "I don't feel like he was doing anything malicious. I know Al on a daily basis and I've never seen that from him. So however it happened or however the situation went, we've got to deal with it."