Vermillion, who worked with Washington Coach Ron Rivera for nine seasons as the Carolina Panthers’ head athletic trainer before joining him in Washington in January 2020, was placed on administrative leave by the team amid the criminal investigation.
Vermillion’s attorney, Barry Coburn of law firm Coburn & Greenbaum in Washington, declined to comment Thursday. NBC Sports Washington was the first to report the federal investigation is connected to prescription drugs.
Around 3 p.m. Friday, roughly two dozen DEA agents and Loudoun County law enforcement officers executed search warrants at the team’s Ashburn, Va., training facility as well as at Vermillion’s nearby home, according to multiple people familiar with the situation. Some team staff members and players were in the facility as agents arrived in unmarked cars and searched an area of the training facility that pertained to Vermillion and the disbursement of medication.
NFL teams typically employ multiple physicians who often specialize in orthopedic surgery and have their own practices, separate from their work in football. These physicians travel with the teams and work in conjunction with the clubs’ full-time athletic trainers and strength and conditioning coaches. They are supposed to handle the distribution of prescription medication.
The DEA’s investigation isn’t the first involving an NFL team or its medical staff and the unauthorized distribution of prescription drugs.
In 2014, the DEA, working in conjunction with the Transportation Security Administration, conducted surprise inspections of several NFL medical staffs, including those of the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The investigations focused on the possible disbursement of drugs without prescriptions or labels as well as the dispensing of medication by trainers.
Those investigations were sparked by a class-action lawsuit filed by more than 1,300 former NFL players who claimed team medical staffs liberally distributed narcotics and the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory Toradol to help keep players on the field. Players at the time described instances in which they were given dangerous concoctions of medication and recalled trainers handing out pills in hotels, in locker rooms and on team planes, among other violations.
In 2010, the DEA investigated the Chargers, then based in San Diego, after safety Kevin Ellison was caught with 100 Vicodin pills at a traffic stop. In 2013, the New Orleans Saints were fined after security footage showed a coach stealing Vicodin in 2010.
On Wednesday, Washington safety Landon Collins, who is the team’s player representative for the NFL Players Association, was asked by reporters about his experience with Vermillion.
“It’s been awesome; it’s been beautiful,” said Collins, who suffered a season-ending Achilles’ tendon injury last year. “Great guy, humble guy, very respectful. Helped me out a lot through that situation, especially with my injury coming back. Just a great guy overall.”
The NFLPA released a statement Wednesday saying it had requested more information from the NFL about the search of Washington’s facility because the matter “directly impacts player health and safety.” On Thursday, the players’ union issued a letter to all certified player agents saying it had informed the NFL that it had opened an investigation into the DEA’s searches. In the letter, the NFLPA noted that a player had been contacted by the DEA.
The Washington Football Team said in a statement Monday that the investigation was “not related to the team.” Rivera deferred to the team statement when speaking to local reporters during a video conference that afternoon but told NBC Sports Washington that “I know who Ryan is, and last year I trusted Ryan with my health and I would do it again.” Rivera was diagnosed with cancer in 2020 and underwent treatment throughout last season.
In April, health-care provider Inova and Robin West, an orthopedic and sports medicine surgeon who served as head team physician for Washington, announced an end to their medical partnerships with the team. Anthony Casolaro is Washington’s chief medical officer/internal medicine, and Chris Annunziata is the head team physician/orthopedics. Washington has eight other physicians on its medical team.
Rivera said the team will operate “pretty much by committee” in Vermillion’s absence. Bubba Tyer, who retired as Washington’s director of sports medicine in 2009, has attended practices this week to help the assistant athletic trainers.