TAMPA, Fla. — The NFL has suspended Buccaneers receiver Antonio Brown, safety Mike Edwards and former Bucs receiver John Franklin III three games without pay for using fake COVID-19 vaccination cards.

All three players accepted their discipline and waived their right to an appeal, the league said in a statement released Thursday.

The league began its investigation after the Tampa Bay Times reported that Brown obtained and utilized a fake COVID-19 vaccination card, according to his former live-in chef, Steven Ruiz.

The NFL Players Association, which developed the protocols along with the league, represented the three players during a review of the recent allegations that players misrepresented their vaccination status. Brown, Edwards, and Franklin, who last played for the Bucs in 2019, were found in violation of the protocols.

“The health and safety of players and personnel is our top priority,” the NFL and NFLPA said in a joint statement. “The protocols were jointly developed working with our respective experts to ensure that we are practicing and playing football as safely as possible during the ongoing pandemic. The NFL-NFLPA jointly reinforce their commitment and further emphasize the importance of strict adherence to the protocols to protect the well-being of everyone associated with the NFL.”

The Buccaneers issued a brief statement in response to the league action.

“We appreciate the league’s timely handling of this matter and recognize the importance of the health and safety protocols that have been established,” the statement read. “We will continue to implement all league COVID-19 protocols.”

Brown joined Tampa Bay midway through last season after serving an eight-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. He helped the Bucs win the Super Bowl for the second time in franchise history.

The 33-year-old receiver, who has 29 catches for 418 yards and four touchdowns this season, has missed the past five games with an ankle injury. He also sat out the team’s Week 3 loss to the Los Angeles Rams after testing positive for COVID-19.

The Bucs (8-3) are 5-0 when he plays this season, 3-3 without him.

PATRIOTS: Center David Andrews, who’s dealing with a shoulder issue, was a new addition to the injury report on Thursday, as was wide receiver Gunner Olszewski, who has an ankle injury.

Five players went from limited participants to being removed from the report altogether – running backs Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson, tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith and punter Jake Bailey.

VIKINGS: Minnesota activated defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson from the COVID-19 reserve list on Thursday, a welcomed boost for its depleted defense. Tomlinson was back at practice after sitting out the previous 10 days. He missed the game at San Francisco last week, the first absence of his five-year NFL career.

The Vikings also got defensive tackle Michael Pierce back at practice this week, designating him for return from injured reserve. He has missed the past seven games with an elbow injury.

Cornerback Patrick Peterson landed on the COVID-19 reserve list on Monday, putting his status for the game at Detroit on Sunday in doubt. Defensive end Danielle Hunter (pectoral) is out for the season. Defensive end Everson Griffen remains out indefinitely following a mental health crisis that arose at his home last week.

BROWNS: Callie Brownson, Cleveland’s chief of staff and one of a handful of current female assistant coaches in the NFL, will coach the U.S. Women’s Tackle National Team this summer at the world championships in Finland.

It’s a dream job for the 32-year-old Brownson, who won two gold medals while playing on the U.S. team.

“It means a lot to me,” she said Thursday on a Zoom call. “The moments that I had being a player for this national team are so special to me. You can’t say enough about playing the sport that you love while playing internationally and representing your country.”

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