TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown and safety Mike Edwards, who were each suspended three games after an NFL investigation found that they produced fake vaccination cards, will return to the team this week.
Neither player will face further discipline from the team. The only potential repercussion for either player would be federal prosecution, as it is a third-degree felony to manufacture, possess or display a fake vaccination card.
Both players are fully vaccinated now, according to the league office.
"It's what's in the best interest of our football team," coach Bruce Arians said. "Both those guys have served their time and we welcome them back."
Per the rules of the current collective bargaining agreement, both Brown and Edwards were permitted to work out away from the team at the Bucs' facility over the past three weeks, ensuring their readiness for next Sunday's game at the Carolina Panthers.
Edwards led the Bucs with three interceptions prior to his suspension, including two pick-sixes. Tampa Bay has been hurting at safety, with Jordan Whitehead limited by a calf injury and Antoine Winfield Jr. dealing with a foot injury. Cornerback Richard Sherman, who has cross-trained at safety due to the high number of injuries at the position, is combatting an Achilles tendon injury.
"For the safety room, can't wait to get Mike back," Whitehead said. "Ballhawk. He's gonna make a lot of plays for us. Every time he's out there, he makes plays. That's gonna be big, especially with some injuries right now.
"And Antonio Brown's gonna be key, too. What he brings -- best receiver in the league for a long time -- we're definitely gonna need him. So we're welcoming those guys back."
Brown's replacement as the Bucs' No. 3 receiver, Breshad Perriman, was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Friday after testing positive. And the Bucs' two top wide receivers -- Mike Evans and Chris Godwin -- departed Sunday's game with injuries.
Entering Sunday, the Tampa Bay offense has managed to put up an average of 25.46 points in the plays Brown wasn't on the field this season as compared to an average of 13.2 points in the plays he was on the field.
Arians had told Brown when he first signed with the Bucs in October 2020, "There will be no second chances"; and that was after Brown had already been suspended by the NFL for eight games for violating the league's personal conduct policy after he allegedly assaulted a delivery truck driver. Brown also was the subject of a civil lawsuit by his former trainer, alleging sexual assault; it was settled out of court in April.
The Bucs' motto last season was "Beat the virus," and many players and coaches attributed their Super Bowl LV win -- at least in part -- to the team's adherence to COVID-19 safety protocols, which was praised by President Joe Biden in the Bucs' visit to the White House in July.
Arians also implemented his own stricter protocols for his team this season, including a mandate that all players and coaches must remain at the team hotel while traveling, regardless of vaccination status.