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NFL, players agree to new drug testing policy (+video)

The National Football League and its players association have agreed to implement human growth hormone testing. Under the pending new deal, some suspended players may return to the field this Sunday.

The NFL finally will have HGH testing, perhaps as early as the end of this month.

And of more immediate impact — this weekend — the new performance-enhancing drug policy the league and players' union agreed to Wednesday will allow the Broncos' Wes Welker and two other suspended players to return to the field.

Welker, Dallas Cowboys defensive back Orlando Scandrick and St. Louis Rams wide receiver Stedman Bailey had been suspended for four games. All can return Sunday under the new rules in which players who test positive for banned stimulants in the offseason will no longer be suspended. Instead, they will be referred to the substance abuse program.

Players who test positive for banned stimulants during the season will continue to get four-game suspensions.

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said of Scandrick: "He's got a competitive spirit, he's got a way about him that we think is really positive for our team and infectious for our team. He's just a good player. It's good to get him back in the mix."

The league and union are also nearing an agreement on changes to the substance abuse policy. That could reduce Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon's season-long ban.

Testing for HGH was agreed upon in 2011 when a new collective bargaining agreement ended the lockout of the players. But the players had balked at the science in the testing and the appeals process for positive tests. Under the new deal, appeals of positive tests in the PED program will be heard by third-party arbitrators jointly selected and paid for by the NFL and union. Appeals will be processed more expeditiously under altered procedures.

The new rules also change the length of suspensions. Previously, all first-time violations of the performance-enhancing drug policy resulted in at least a four-game suspension.

Now, use of a diuretic or masking agent will result in a two-game suspension. The punishment for steroids, in-season use of stimulants, HGH or other banned substances is four games. Evidence of an attempt to manipulate a test is a six-game suspension.

A second violation will result in a 10-game ban, up from a minimum of eight games. A third violation is at least a two-year suspension. Before, the ban was at least a year.

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