Chiefs lineman Welbourn suspended for steroids

The Kansas City Chiefs, who already are short on offensive linemen, lost sixth-year veteran John Welbourn for the first four games of the regular season because of a violation of the NFL's steroid policy.

Welbourn, 29, recently lost his appeal and will begin serving the suspension immediately. He is eligible to return for the Oct. 16 game against the Washington Redskins.

The suspension will cost Welbourn $282,352 of his scheduled base salary of $1.2 million for the 2005 season.

It costs the Chiefs an experienced backup and a versatile veteran who started for the team at right tackle in 2004 after having played most of his career at guard when he was with the Philadelphia Eagles.

"It hurts him and it hurts us," coach Dick Vermeil said. "It's a shame. I believe him. He appealed it, and he didn't win the appeal. He passed a lie detector test, but didn't win the appeal. He fought it and he lost. It doesn't matter if it was taken accidentally, or there was [a banned substance] in something he took that wasn't marked on the bottle. It doesn't matter. There's no tolerance, and we have to live with that."

Unlike the league's substance abuse policy, a "tiered" program in which a player doesn't face suspension until a second violation, the sanctions in the steroid policy stipulate a four-game suspension even for a first-time offender. Beyond acknowledging that he is "not very happy" about the penalty, Welbourn did not address the suspension. The league confirmed the sanctions but, because of its confidentiality policy in such matters, did not identify the banned substance involved or the timing of the test.

Although the Chiefs still have one of the NFL's premier offensive line units, the team is thin at the backup spots because of injuries. Welbourn, acquired in an April 2004 trade with the Eagles, provided veteran insurance.

The former University of California star, a fourth-round choice of the Eagles in the 1999 draft, has appeared in 66 games in his career, all starts. He started 10 games at right tackle last season before knee and hip flexor injuries landed him on the injured reserve list.

Welbourn is the second Chiefs player suspended for the first four games of the season. Starting cornerback Eric Warfield will also miss the first month because of a repeat violation of the substance abuse policy.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.