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NEW YORK – The National Football League announced Thursday that three players, including Tampa Bay wide receiver Antonio Brown and defensive back Mike Edwards, have been suspended for three games without pay for violating the league’s COVID-19 protocols.

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Free agent John Franklin III, if signed by a team, also must sit out his next three games, the NFL said in a news release. Franklin was released by the Buccaneers in August, ESPN reported.

All three players have waived their right of appeal, the NFL said. The suspensions are effective immediately.

“The health and safety of players and personnel is our top priority,” the NFL and the NFL Players Association 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.”

In a statement, the Buccaneers said that the team appreciates “the league’s timely handling of this matter and recognize the importance of the health and safety protocols that have been established.”

“We will continue to implement all league COVID-19 protocols,” the team added.

Brown has been inactive since suffering an ankle injury during the Buccaneers’ 28-22 victory at Philadelphia, but coach Bruce Arians said on Wednesday that the receiver was dealing with a different injury, ESPN reported.

>> Report: Tampa Bay WR Antonio Brown obtained fake COVID-19 vaccination card

Late last month, Brown denied a published report that the receiver obtained a fake COVID-19 vaccination card.

Brown and Edwards will be eligible to return to action on Dec. 26, when Tampa Bay faces the Carolina Panthers, according to ESPN.

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