NEW ORLEANS - The NFL suspended Saints linebacker Sedrick Hodge for four games for violating its substance abuse policy.
Hodge, expected to start at strongside linebacker, is eligible to participate in all preseason practices and games but must leave the team Sept. 5. The suspension will cost him four game checks of $36,941 each for a total loss of $147,764. The earliest he can be reinstated is Oct. 4, six days before a home game against Tampa Bay.
Third-year man James Allen, who was battling Hodge for a starting spot, will assume the starting role. Allen has worked with the first-team defense throughout training camp. Allen subbed for Derrick Rodgers at weakside linebacker in the 2003 season opener against Seattle. He has started two games in two seasons.
Hodge was unavailable for comment. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello would only confirm the suspension.
In other news, the Saints released Derek Ross one day after placing a waiver claim on the troubled cornerback. Shortly after the Saints officially claimed Ross off waivers from Atlanta on Wednesday, Saints coach Jim Haslett talked to him by phone and issued a no-tolerance mandate to the cornerback, who was about to join his third team in less than eight months. When Ross missed his flight, the team wasted no time in revoking its waiver claim. Because of NFL rules, Ross could not be officially released until Friday.
CARDINALS: Arizona won its claim on linebacker Marcus Wilkins and opened a roster spot by waiving offensive tackle Quinn Christensen. Green Bay waived Wilkins Tuesday. The 6-foot-2, 235-pound Wilkins joined the Packers as a nondrafted free agent out of Texas in April 2002. He played in five games that season and seven last season and has a career total of 13 tackles on special teams and five on plays from scrimmage.
VIKINGS: The NFL has suspended running back Onterrio Smith four games for violating its substance abuse program, according to a report in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune. Unless he can overturn the decision via appeal, he will be ineligible to play until the Oct. 17 game at New Orleans. He also will forfeit four game checks, worth $71,764. If his appeal is not heard by the time the season begins, the suspension could be implemented later this season.