Josh Gordon tried to fight his one-season suspension within the framework of the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement. It didn’t work, and now he’s left with two options.
The Cleveland Browns wide receiver can play nice, accept the league’s suspension and the arbitrator’s decision to uphold it and hope the NFL reinstates him next spring.
Or he can take his fight into the courtroom.
A source told FOX Sports that Gordon’s camp is considering a lawsuit against the league that would include seeking an injunction to put the suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy on hold while the legal process plays out. Gordon’s argument would surely be similar to the one presented in his appeal: While the "A" sample was above the limit of what’s considered a positive test, his "B" sample was below it, with his stating any THC in his system was the result of second-hand smoke.
"I am very disappointed that the NFL and its hearing officer didn’t exercise better discretion and judgment in my case," Gordon said in a statement released by the NFL Players Association on his behalf.
Taking legal action following a failed appeal is a tactic employed by the players who tested positive for a banned substance after taking the diuretic StarCaps. The players were able to postpone their suspensions for nearly three years.
However, Gordon’s situation is a bit different. As a repeat offender, his suspension was supposed to be for one calendar year, plus he’s not guaranteed to be reinstated after serving his time. According to the NFL’s drug policy, commissioner Roger Goodell has a right to continue Gordon’s suspension beyond one year.
"A player’s failure to adhere to his Treatment Plan during his banishment will be a significant consideration in the Commissioner’s decision of whether to reinstate a player," reads the policy pertaining to players who are in Stage 3 of the program. "A player seeking reinstatement must meet certain clinical requirements as determined by the Medical Director and other requirements as set forth in Appendix B."
Gordon might also have to meet another, unstated requirement: Don’t sue.
The league issued a statement Wednesday announcing that Gordon’s eligibility for reinstatement will be reviewed following the completion of the 2014 season. That’s an important element because it indicates the NFL is open to the idea of reinstating Gordon in time for spring practices and training camp — activities he will miss if the league sticks to the one-year timeframe and forces Gordon to remain away from the Browns’ facility until Aug. 27, 2015. Given Gordon’s off-field issues in the past, having the structure of being back with his coaches and teammates as soon as possible could be enough of a carrot for him and his camp to play nice on this one.
If Gordon takes his battle to the courtroom, it could certainly allow him to return to the field this season. But he risks angering a league that is trying to offer a compromise in the form of early reinstatement and, if the court doesn’t rule in his favor, it could lead to a more extended absence from the field.
Gordon is 23 years old. This season, he was slated to play the third year of a four-year rookie contract this season. Had everything gone according to plan, he could have parlayed a 2013 season in which he caught 87 passes for 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns in only 14 games plus a successful 2014 season into a huge contract. Instead, he faces the prospect of earning nothing this year while his contract tolls (meaning he will still have two years left on his deal if and when he returns next season) and while trying to salvage his career.
It’s basically up to Gordon and his camp whether they want to take a streamlined path that could allow him to put this situation behind him by the start of the next league year or begin a legal battle that could delay the process for quite some time.
After a long wait for the arbitrator’s decision, the choice is now Gordon’s.