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A refresher course on the NFL's drug policy

In light of Will Hill's recent release and suspension, let's take a look at how hard a player has to try to actually get suspended

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Ravens released Will Hill today only hours before it was announced that he was getting a 10 game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. With AFC North players like Martavis Bryant and Will Hill landing suspensions from the almighty commish, now seems as good a time as any to take a look at the NFL's substance abuse policy and see just how hard a player has to go to actually get caught.

The substance abuse policy dictates that most players need to get tested  once a year. A player also gets tested when signing on with a new team and draft-eligible get tested at the NFL Combine. The standard league test occurs on April 20th, because the league has a nice sense of irony. Knowing what we know about the body taking 30 days to fully process marijuana out of the system, players have until March 20th to get clean. After players get tested on April 20th, they are free to go on and smoke all the weed they want without consequence, so long as they don't do something stupid like say that they smoke weed, or post of photo online of them lighting up, or get busted by the police with weed on their person.

A player fails the test if their sample tests positive for illegal substances (obviously) or if they fail to show up to the test. Failing a drug test moves a player to Stage One of the NFL's Intervention Program. Stage One is simple, the medical director evaluates a player and then comes up with a treatment plan for him at a facility or through a clinician. The player is subject to substance abuse testing, but it is not yet at surprise at this point. Stage One can last up to 90 days. Violations of Stage One only result in a penalty of a fine. If a player successfully completes Stage One, they are free, but they enter Stage Two if they fail.

Stage Two is similar to Stage One in terms of treatment, testing, and violation. However it lasts for 24 months instead of 90 days and players that commit infractions can face suspensions of four to six games. Failures here send a player to Stage Three of the NFL's Intervention Program, where Will Hill and Martavis Bryant reside. Like with the other two stages, players are subject to a treatment plan, but they are now subject to unannounced testing. Failed tests will result in a 10 game suspension if the first violation is for marijuana. Unless the medical director chooses to discharge the player, Stage Three will last for the remainder of the player's career.

Will Hill was in the third stage of the NFL's substance abuse policy when the Ravens acquired him and the team knew that when they picked up the player, there was a very real risk that he was one failed test away from taking a 10-16 game vacation. The Ravens took a small risk and gave Will Hill a chance when no one else would because they knew that he could be a great safety. Unfortunately for Will Hill, he decided that weed was more important than the opportunity of a lifetime and his NFL career is probably over.