First came the punishment.
Now comes the treatment.
A week after learning that he would be suspended for the first four games of the regular season for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus announced less than an hour before the team’s 21-0 preseason victory against the New York Giants Saturday at New Era Field that he’s entering a rehabilitation facility.
By most accounts, the decision wasn’t strictly his. One source close to the team said the the Bills’ organization, starting with owners Terry and Kim Pegula, urged, if not ordered, Dareus to get help after repeated failures of NFL-supervised drug tests.
Last Wednesday, the day after the league announced the suspension, Dareus said a missed drug test prompted the four-game penalty that he said he learned about right after the Aug. 13 preseason-opening loss against Indianapolis.
“After careful consideration of recent events within my life, I have made the decision to enter a rehabilitation facility,” Dareus said in a statement released by the Bills. “I feel this is the best decision for me, my family and my teammates as I move forward in my career. I appreciate the support of my teammates and the Bills organization through this process.”
The Bills released the following statement: “We are fully supportive of Marcell and this decision to take the time he needs to seek treatment.”
General Manager Doug Whaley said there was “no timetable” for when Dareus would return from treatment. “Everybody knows, in these processes, you don’t want to put a timetable on it,” Whaley said during a hastily arranged press-box gathering with reporters before the game.
The announcement came shortly after Dareus was spotted leaving New Era Field in street clothes. He had been expected to play against the Giants. Whaley said Dareus was at the game, but would not play. However, the defensive tackle was photographed exiting the facility before Whaley addressed the media.
The development brought sympathetic reactions from Dareus’ teammates, who showed more concern for his well being than the impact his absence might have on the Bills’ season.
“Well, as somebody who spends a lot of time with him, who’s been around him a lot, I care more about him than I do his football career,” veteran defensive tackle Kyle Williams said. “So I want to see him be better. So if this is the step that him, and (Bills owners) Terry and Kim (Pegula) thought that he needed to take, and this is going to work out in the long run better for him, then so be it.”
“It’s very unfortunate, but we see that he’s taken the steps to make sure that he’s OK and he’s taking care of himself, so I’m glad to see that he’s able to kind of do that for himself,” outside linebacker Jerry Hughes said. “You want to make sure that he’s fine, health-wise, and he’s doing those steps, so I’m very happy for him.”
Whaley and coach Rex Ryan expressed similar sentiments. They used the same buzzword that they used last Wednesday, the day after Dareus’ suspension was announced: Family.
“He’s family, and we’re being supportive of him in this step in his life,” Whaley said. “I told you guys we wouldn’t give up on him. Again, we wholeheartedly support this effort.”
“First off, as a football team, we came together as a family and I can say this: We support Marcell a hundred percent and our thoughts are with him, there’s no question about it,” Ryan said. “And that’s more important than four games or whatever. We support him 100 percent as a football team and as an organization.”
Asked if he were confident or worried about the outcome of Dareus’ situation, Ryan said, “I’m excited about the young man trying to change his life. I’m excited about that.”