Josh Gordon smiled as he walked off the field on an insufferably muggy day. Nothing, it seemed, was bothering him.
He peeled off his jersey, sweat streaking his face. The star receiver soon posted a photo on Instagram of him catching a pass from rookie Johnny Manziel.
"Only place I can find peace," Gordon captioned the picture.
The football field is giving Gordon serenity. His time there be could be running out.
Gordon is still awaiting word from the NFL on whether he’ll be suspended for all or part of the upcoming season. Gordon, who led the league with 1,646 yards receiving last season, recently had his appeal hearing to fight a possible yearlong suspension for again violating the league’s substance-abuse program. He’s been practicing and playing for weeks amid uncertainty about his career.
The 23-year-old player has seemingly been in a fog, dropping passes during practices and preseason games. He hasn’t spoken to reporters for months.
"It’s definitely weighing on him," Browns coach Mike Pettine said. "He, like all of us, wants to know and wants to get on with it and move forward. Just kind of being in limbo for so long, it can be draining. He made the comment the other day that the football field is where he feels most at home."
Gordon shattered the club’s single-season franchise record with 1,646 yards receiving last year despite being suspended for the first two games. In just his second season as a pro, Gordon emerged as one of the game’s top playmakers, capable of turning a 12-yard inside route into a breathtaking 95-yard touchdown.
He was on the verge of superstardom, but may have stumbled.
Gordon allegedly tested positive for marijuana during the offseason, violating the conditions required as a repeat offender under the league’s system. Last month, Gordon hired lawyer Maurice Suh to represent him at his appeal hearing before arbitrator Harold Henderson in New York.
Suh argued Gordon’s positive test was the result of secondhand smoke, a person familiar with the defense told The Associated Press on July 29.
Gordon’s troubles weren’t limited to his battle with the league. He was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated on July 5 in Raleigh, North Carolina. In May, he was ticketed for speeding in Ohio and a passenger in his car was cited for marijuana possession.
Those issues compounded his problems and may influence whatever punishment Commissioner Roger Goodell hands down.
Gordon played poorly in Monday night’s exhibition loss at Washington, and Pettine met with Gordon to discuss his overall lack of effort.
"He’s responded and has had some good practices for us," Pettine said. "I just think, like all of us, it’s only natural that he’s frustrated."
Like Gordon, the Browns have been anxious for a verdict. Losing the 6-foot-3, 225-pounder for any time cripple Cleveland’s offense, depriving it of its top playmaker and quarterback Brian Hoyer’s primary target.
The Browns’ receiving corps has had an underwhelming training camp and preseason, to say the least. There’s no one of Gordon’s caliber. Without him, yards, points and wins could be scarce.
Pettine is counting on Miles Austin, Andrew Hawkins, Travis Benjamin, Nate Burleson and others to step up in Saturday’s home game against St. Louis, Hoyer’s first since he was picked over Manziel to start the opener.
"It’s a big night for them," Pettine said. "We’ll see who can step up and make some plays. The NFL is all about being productive and making plays. The third game is as close to the regular season as you’re going to see."
Gordon hasn’t given up hope on being able to help the Browns this season or next. During a recent practice he told Burleson he intends to get in the best shape of his life.
"He’s doing push-ups in the middle of a drill and I said, `Whatcha doing?’" Burleson said. "He said, `Man, I want to lose some weight. I want to get down to where I was a couple years ago.’ He’s faster than everybody right now. So imagine what’s going to happen when he tightens up even more. I like where he’s at. I like where his head is at, too."
And, as the Browns see it, the longer Gordon’s on the field, the better.