Dion Jordan says he's sober, healthy and eager to help an NFL team in 2019. But first, the free-agent defensive end and former No. 3 overall pick must pay a price for a slipup that Jordan wants to make clear is not a resumption of substance-related issues in his past.
Jordan learned Tuesday an arbitrator has denied his appeal of a 10-game suspension for violating the performance-enhancing drug policy by taking Adderall -- a medication Jordan has been approved to take in the past as treatment for ADHD, but for which his therapeutic use exemption (TUE) had expired.
"I made a mistake," Jordan told me by phone Tuesday. "I feel like the person that I am, I'm ready to move forward, I've been ready to move forward, with this specific issue. I've been working really hard with myself outside of football, and I can see the progress as a young man, as Dion Jordan, I can see it.
"My whole lifestyle -- it's been a 180-degree change. I f--ked up, man. I can't fix this s--t. It is what it is. But I know what I can't do and what not to do compared to the mistakes I've made in the past."
According to Jordan, there were several stressors in his life toward the end of last season with the Seattle Seahawks. His sister, who he thinks of more like his daughter, was dealing with serious personal issues. Then he found out shortly before the Seahawks' playoff game at Dallas that his grandmother had weeks left to live; she died soon after.
In the past, Jordan might have coped with other drugs or alcohol. Repeat violations of the substance-abuse policy, including a dilute sample in December 2014, led to a minimum one-year banishment, before Jordan began the comeback on and off the field I chronicled for USA TODAY in 2016. He vowed on March 2, 2017, to put down drugs and alcohol for good, making him by his count officially 803 days sober. Jordan signed with Seattle the following month after the Miami Dolphins released him and appeared in 17 games over the past two seasons, recording 5½ sacks. Last July, he was informed he had been discharged from Stage 3 of the substance-abuse program -- a rare decision made by program administrators as a result of clean testing record, clinical progress and compliance with his treatment program.
Jordan hadn't taken Adderall in months and admits he knew his TUE hadn't been renewed when he took it this past December and January, leading to three positive tests in a span of four weeks that were consolidated into a single violation. But amidst everything he was going through, Jordan says: "I thought it was going to help me dial in -- for the moment, for the day, whatever. That was my intentions behind what I was doing. It was a bit much at the time. I'm not saying that it was the right thing. But for myself, it was just what I went to."
Jordan was previously suspended four games in 2013 for violating the PED policy by testing positive for a banned stimulant, leading to the increased 10-game suspension this time around. (Adderall is considered a substance of abuse in the offseason, but a PED during the season.) He and his agent, Doug Hendrickson, did not dispute the testing results in his appeal, only the harshness of the punishment for a player all sides in the appeal praised for his sustained rehabilitation efforts.
Hendrickson told me that eight to 10 teams have reached out with interest in signing Jordan and all were aware of the potential discipline. Jordan is eligible to sign immediately and participate in all offseason activities, and now that the case is resolved, Hendrickson said, that's likely to happen within the next couple weeks.
"To this day, he's been living an exemplary life," Hendrickson said. "He had a small setback and here we are. But I've never been so proud of a player and, more importantly, a person in terms of overcoming so much adversity in his life to be where he's at today. And he's got many, many years ahead playing football, and he'll be better for it."
Jordan says the knee problems that have slowed him since his return -- including a cleanup procedure last offseason -- have abated, too. He's living in San Francisco and continuing to work out with Empower founder Tareq Azim, who told me: "The maturation of where his head is and emotions are really complements what you'll see of him physically. Right now, he's 265, 8 percent body fat, 100 percent injury-free. And his maturation matches that. He's a beast internally and externally."
Jordan ended our phone call by apologizing to his family for the mistake.
"It hasn't held me back from anything that I need to do to continue to move forward to be a better football player, a better person," Jordan said. "And I know I have the physical ability to go play football and help somebody win football games."