A federal judge's ruling in the case involving Travis Henry's attempt to avoid a one-year suspension for a repeat violation of the NFL substance abuse policy has likely provided the Denver Broncos' tailback with another month or so of playing time.
According to court records first cited by The Denver Post and confirmed by a clerk, U.S. District Court Judge Leonard Wexler has ordered lawyers for Henry and the NFL to file motions in the case in two weeks. There is an additional week after that in which the two parties can file responses to the motions.
Henry also has appeal rights in the league which might further delay a suspension and keep him on the field deeper into the season.
The issue being challenged by Henry is that the NFL would not allow his expert to observe testing of the so-called the "B-sample" of his specimen. Although the collective bargaining agreement permits a player to have an expert present for the testing, league vice president Greg Aiello said that expert cannot be affiliated with any laboratory.
The expert presented by Henry, Dr. William Closson of Long Island, N.Y., did have such an affiliation. The NFL provided Henry with the names of 10 independent experts as reference for his potential use.
In an affidavit filed by Henry on Sept. 18 as part of his court action, the Denver tailback stated: "There is no valid reason why any unlawful substance would be in my urine. This must be a mistake." He also noted in the affidavit: "If I fail this test, I will be suspended for one year from my employment, and will be obliged to repay all signing bonuses paid to date. ... I will be prejudiced if my expert cannot observe these tests."
Henry's original suit was filed in a state court in New York, which granted him a temporary restraining order. The league successfully quashed the order, however, by having the case moved to a federal court, because, it argued, interpretation of the NFL collective bargaining agreement falls under the jurisdiction of federal law. The NFL is attempting to have Henry's case dismissed.
In 2005, while with the Tennessee Titans, Henry was suspended four games for violating the substance abuse program. He would have rotated out of the program on Oct. 1 had he not had any subsequent positive tests before that. Citing confidentiality guides, league officials have not commented on Henry's status in the substance abuse program. But since he filed his lawsuit in September, logic suggests his positive test occurred before Oct. 1.
It is believed that, if the case goes to trial, Henry's attorneys will argue that the low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in his urine sample do not meet league thresholds, and could have registered as a result of second-hand marijuana inhalation. Henry has said that he will submit to a lie detector test and provide hair samples to support his innocence. Henry was said to have been in New York this week meeting with his attorneys.
The Broncos have a bye this week.
Henry, 28, signed a five-year, $22.5 million contract with the Broncos in March, only days after his release by the Titans to avoid paying him an $8 million roster bonus. The deal included a $6 million signing bonus to be paid in three installments. There is also a $6 million option bonus. If Henry is suspended, the Broncos would likely attempt to recover part of the bonus money already paid, and withhold future payments due him.
A seventh-year veteran, Henry is currently the second-leading rusher in the league. He has carried 102 times for rushed for 498 yards and one touchdown in five games.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.