Denver Broncos tailback Travis Henry, the NFL's leading rusher through the first four weeks of the season, is facing a one-year suspension for a repeat violation of the substance abuse policy, multiple sources told ESPN.com.
But in a battle that has reached the federal court system, Henry is attempting to block the league from testing the so-called "B-sample" necessary to confirm the positive test, claiming that NFL officials would not allow his expert to be present for the testing of his specimen.
League vice president of public relations Greg Aiello on Thursday night confirmed that the NFL is involved in the court action with Henry and that the league hopes to have his motion dismissed. Citing confidentiality policies that are a part of the substance abuse program, Aiello declined to address the results of any tests involving Henry.
Henry's attorney, Robert Dapelo, could not be reached.
Denver television station KDRV reported that Henry had tested positive for marijuana use.
Henry, 28, was suspended by the league for four games in 2005 because of a repeat violation of the substance abuse policy. The substance for which he tested positive on that occasion is not known. Under league guidelines, another test within a two-year period would trigger a one-year suspension. Henry would then have to apply for reinstatement and his compliance with the treatment program prescribed for him would be reviewed.
Under the two-year policy, which essentially wipes a player's slate clean, Henry was scheduled to rotate out of the substance abuse program on Oct. 1. But his lawsuit to block further testing of his urine sample was filed Sept. 20, indicating that the positive test occurred before Oct. 1.
The motion filed by Henry was in Suffolk (N.Y.) County and that court granted a temporary restraining order, precluding the league from testing the second sample. The NFL, however, had an appellate court quash the order.
Aiello said the NFL is attempting to have the case moved to a federal court in Brooklyn, because the collective bargaining agreement and the interpretation of the accord between the league and the NFL Players Association is a matter for federal purview. The league filed those papers on Monday, he said.
The issue being challenged by Henry is that the NFL would not allow his expert to observe the testing of the "B-sample." Although the collective bargaining agreement permits a player to have an expert present for the testing, Aiello said that expert cannot be affiliated with any laboratory. The expert presented by Henry did have such an affiliation.
The league provided Henry with the names of 10 independent experts as reference for his potential use.
If Henry does not prevail, and is suspended, the loss would represent a significant setback for the Broncos, who have lost their last two games. Henry is in his first season in Denver, having signed a five-year, $22.5 million contract in March, just days after he was released by the Tennessee Titans, who wanted to avoid paying him an $8 million roster bonus.
A seventh-year veteran, Henry has rushed for 433 yards and one touchdown on 86 carries in the first four games of the season. For his career, the former University of Tennessee star has carried 1,407 times for 5,828 yards and 35 rushing touchdowns in stints with Buffalo (2001-2003), the Titans (2004-2006) and the Broncos. He was the Bills' second-round choice in the 2001 draft and was traded to the Titans in 2005.
Henry is currently recovering from knee and ankle injuries sustained in last week's loss to the Indianapolis Colts. He was limited in practice Friday and is listed as questionable for Sunday's home game against San Diego.
The top backup to Henry, as listed on the Denver depth chart, is rookie Selvin Young of the University of Texas, an undrafted free agent who has logged 15 carries for 138 yards. Also on the roster is second-year veteran Mike Bell, who rushed for 677 yards and eight scores in 2006, but who is currently listed as a fullback and who has only five carries in 2007.
If Henry is suspended, it might also prompt the Broncos to attempt to recover a portion of any bonus money paid him. As part of his contract, Henry reportedly was guaranteed about
Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.