The NFL suspended Callaway four games without pay Friday for an unspecified violation of the league’s policy and program on substance abuse. Callaway will sit out the first four regular-season games.
The 22-year-old out of the University of Florida can practice and play in preseason games before his suspension begins. He will be eligible to return to the Browns’ active roster on Sept. 30, the day after the team plays in Baltimore.
Callaway started Thursday night’s exhibition opener against Washington because Browns coach Freddie Kitchens rested star receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. He finished with three receptions for 42 yards.
“I take full responsibility for my actions,” Callaway said in a news release sent by the Browns. “I made a mistake and I own that. I have taken steps to make myself better and I appreciate the Browns standing by me and supporting me during this time. I know there’s nothing I can say to regain trust; it will all be about my actions.”
Callaway didn’t practice Friday after suffering a high ankle sprain against the Redskins. Kitchens credited Callaway with playing through the injury.
Kitchens said Callaway will have his unwavering support so long as he does his part.
“We’re not willing to put up with it. OK?” Kitchens said. “When you start talking in terms of that, the person that it’s affected has to be willing to commit to doing what’s right. So if he’s willing to commit to doing what’s right, then we’re willing to support him in every that we can, and that’s what we’re going to do until he proves us wrong.
“He knows what he has to do, so we will evaluate the situation as it goes forward. But, yeah, if you talk about my relationship with Antonio, I’d say, ‘Yes, I like the kid.’ I think he’s a good person. Sometimes people lump these sort of things into being a bad person.
“This is a great kid now. So we’re going to support him until he proves us otherwise. He knows what he has to do, though.”
Browns general manager John Dorsey said the team was disappointed by Callaway’s actions.
“Freddie and I have had a direct conversation with him about where we stand,” Dorsey said. “He understands our expectations of him. We will continue to support him as long as he remains committed to taking advantage of the resources made available to him by our club and the league to help him become the best version of himself as a person first and foremost.”
The Browns drafted Callaway in the fourth round in 2018 despite his troubled stay at Florida, where he had a series of off-field issues ranging from a suspension for using stolen credit cards to a sexual assault allegation for which he was cleared.
Before being drafted, he had a diluted urine sample at the NFL combine, and then Callaway got off to a rough start with the Browns last year when he was cited for marijuana possession following a traffic stop in August.
He was recently demoted on the depth chart, and offensive coordinator Todd Monken said Callaway reported to camp out of shape.
Now, it appears the Browns may have had an inkling of the suspension and dropped Callaway intentionally to give others more playing time.
Kitchens would not comment on the timeline, but said Callaway has been improving on and off the field.
“He’s been working his tail off,” Kitchens said. “He’s getting in shape. He’s been doing very well from a mental-error standpoint and he continues to work every day.”
The speedy Callaway played in all 16 games as a rookie, starting 11. He finished with 43 catches for 586 yards and five touchdowns. He also returned five punts.