PITTSFORD – Andre Smith insists he’s innocent. He’s extremely careful about what he puts into his body. He doesn’t even eat meat. He has passed dozens of drug tests in his five-year NFL career.
Yet the veteran Buffalo Bills linebacker will be sitting out the first six weeks of the NFL season due to violating the terms of the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy.
Smith failed a test last November. He said he has no idea why. His appeal under the terms of the drug policy with the NFL and the NFL Players Association fell on deaf ears.
“It was absolutely unintentional,” Smith said. “I actually don’t ever take supplements that I personally buy. I only take supplements given to me by the team. So I still to this day don’t know where this positive test came from. No one really, the NFLPA included, has really helped me to figure it out.”
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The positive test came after the Bills’ victory over the Saints in New Orleans last Thanksgiving.
“I had like three special-teams tackles, and I got a special teams ball of the game,” Smith said. “I’m going to the Sabres game, my first hockey game, and I got an email from Dr. Lombardo, our drug test guy, and he’s like, ‘Andre, call me.’ ”
Dr. John Lombardo independently oversees the NFL’s drug-testing program.
“He said my estrogen level was three times higher than is allowed,” Smith said. “I don’t know where that came from. I’m on a plant-based diet. ... I pay attention to everything I put in my body. So it’s very suspicious to me.”
The NFL had 82 suspensions for positive tests on performance-enhancing drugs in the five seasons from 2017 to 2021, according to a study by USA Today.
The most prominent one this offseason was to Arizona All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who also got six games. Hopkins also denies knowingly taking any banned substance.
The NFL makes it clear to players they should be careful about taking any over-the-counter supplements. That’s why Smith says he was so careful. His sample was re-tested, and the same positive result was produced.
“I got an email, was told to call this guy, he said basically I was taking steroids,” Smith said.
“I was tested like 20 times this offseason, and I haven’t changed my routine,” said Smith, who has not had another positive test.
“It feels like – obviously not to this level of extreme – but basically like being falsely imprisoned,” he said. “I didn’t do anything. It’s actually kind of career jeopardizing.”
For veteran players who never have tested positive before, why not follow up with another test the day after a positive result is found?
“I wouldn’t argue with that,” said Smith’s Maryland-based agent, Jonathan Martin Herbst. “Unfortunately, that’s not what the rule is.”
The Bills gave Smith, 25, a two-year contract in March 2021 worth $2.4 million. He would make $1.12 million this year if he were on the roster.
Now that he’s out the first six weeks, who knows if the Bills will have a roster spot for him come October? If there are any linebacker injuries, he might have a spot. If there aren’t, he might have to hope for a practice squad spot – or a spot on another team.
Smith has been a key member of the Bills’ special teams units since joining the team in 2020. He played 68% of the special-teams snaps last season and was third in tackles with 10. He did not see any defensive snaps last year as one of the backups to starters Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano.
The Bills ranked No. 2 in kickoff return average allowed last year and No. 3 in punt return average allowed.
“I take tremendous pride in that,” he said. “It’s like a different level than on some teams. Here the level of importance for special teams and the role they play is different than other teams I’ve played on.”
“It’s the way we play, the way we practice,” Smith said. “Even to the point we’ll leave linebacker individual (drills) sometimes to go do special teams stuff because we know Matt and Tremaine are going to be out there, right?”
Smith says he can’t worry about what happens in October. He says he’s determined during camp and preseason to help keep the commitment to special teams strong among his younger teammates.
“Every day we get in a meeting room and we’re like we have a daily standard to set and maintain,” Smith said. “They watch that. They watch the film. We emphasize the good reps and slow it down so guys can learn.”
“I just have to be me,” Smith said. “Be a smiley guy around here, talk to everyone, dance a little bit, I just try to keep that going, be myself and help any way I can.”