RENTON, Wash. — Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll expects to have his starting cornerbacks available this Sunday in Chicago.
After that is anyone's guess.
Carroll said Monday he plans on Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner playing this week against the Bears, despite the possibility they could be facing four-game suspensions for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
Carroll didn't say much regarding the duo at his regularly scheduled media availability, trying not to violate league rules. But his belief is that Sherman and Browner will be able to play in potentially Seattle's most important game of the season.
"As of right now, I'm planning on those guys playing," Carroll said.
ESPN.com first reported Sunday afternoon, following the Seahawks' 24-21 loss at Miami, that Browner and Sherman are facing suspensions and are in the process of appealing. The team said Sunday night it was aware of the report and according to the league's collective bargaining agreement, players can continue to play until the appeal is heard and settled.
The team is limited in what it can say regarding the possible suspensions and Carroll eventually said he wouldn't comment further until there is some resolution.
"Because it's so important we do this properly I'm not going to comment on anything about it. That's the best way to do this because these are league issues," Carroll said. "At this point I'm going to keep it there and hope you can respect that this is the way we have to do that, and we can talk about it later on."
In a phone interview with Seattle reporters after Carroll's press conference finished, Browner's agent Peter Schaffer said that his client only received notice of the failed test last week.
"Brandon Browner has no knowledge of how any illegal substance could have gotten into his system," Schaffer said. "He is an outstanding person and a very good football player. He takes tremendous care of his body and he is very careful with what he puts into it. We're exploring all avenues to try and figure out how any substance out of the ordinary would be in his system."
Schaffer added that the league typically schedules appeals within 20 days of the notice being received, depending on circumstances. He did not provide specifics on when Browner's appeal would take place.
"It's too early to tell what we're going to need, what witnesses and evidence and experts are going to be required, so there is no way to even guess at this point," he said.
Sherman, an active participant in social media, posted on his Twitter account late Sunday night after arriving back in the Northwest, "This ... issue will be resolved soon and the truth will come out. Not worried."
If Browner and Sherman are found guilty of violating the league's policy, they would be the fourth and fifth Seahawks players in the last calendar year to be violators. Guard John Moffitt was suspended four games late last season. Reserve offensive lineman Allen Barbre was suspended for the first four games of this season before being released by the team once his suspension was up. And just last week, rookie safety Winston Guy was handed a four-game suspension after taking an over-the-counter product that had a banned substance in the ingredients, according to his agent.
None of those suspensions could have the impact of Browner and Sherman, and it could not come at a much worse time with the Seahawks trying to hold on to the final wild-card spot in the NFC. The Seahawks (6-5) are tied with Tampa Bay and Minnesota, but hold the tiebreakers.
Seattle's defense is predicated on the ability of its cornerbacks to play man coverage and lock up receivers. Sherman and Browner allow strong safety Kam Chancellor to play closer to the line of scrimmage in run support and give free safety Earl Thomas the chance to roam the secondary with his speed.
If the duo does miss time, Seattle would turn to veteran Marcus Trufant and a trio of youngsters – Walter Thurmond, Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane – to fill the spots. Trufant was a starter until getting injured during the 2011 season, while Seattle has hoped Thurmond would develop into a key contributor, but he has been slowed by injuries. Thurmond has yet to be active for a game this season after starting the year on the physically unable to perform list.
"They've been special in their effectiveness and a lot of it has to do with the way we ask them to play. It suits them very well. It fits. They've been a big factor for us. We love the way they're playing. ... How it develops in the future with our guys when they get a chance they can play at the level and style that we want," Carroll said. "We still try and tailor our expectation of our play to the athlete and what he can do and what they're capable of doing, and we've always looked at it that way. Some guys play a little different than others and we have a pretty good group of guys to battle and give us versatility, I think."