Now that the Cleveland Browns have an official verdict and star wide receiver Josh Gordon is suspended for a year, the team can move on.
This is obviously the worst possible outcome for the Browns and for Gordon. Even if the team was braced for this — to an extent — it still let Gordon through much of training camp and the preseason. And though moves were made to address the receiver position, not much in the preseason has happened to settle any spot or provide hope that Gordon’s big-play production can be replaced.
So, now that Gordon’s locker has been cleaned out and general manager Ray Farmer can point to Saturday’s final 53-man roster, here are three issues to be addressed and questions to be answered.
1. Geting Gordon back is no guarantee
He’s gone for a year due to a level three violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy, meaning regardless of what the circumstances of his exposure to marijuana were, he knew he was on his final strike. Then, he was arrested for DUI in July at 3 a.m., well after that final strike. That’s not related to this case but points to a pattern of poor decisions. All those decisions will have to be addressed with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell before Gordon can come back.
The NFL’s statement said Gordon’s eligibility for reinstatement will be determined after the 2014 season. So, in a worst-case scenario for both Gordon and the Browns, he’s barred from team facilities and team activities until then. A guy who’s clearly made a bunch of bad decisions not only isn’t getting paid for 2014 but is being sent off on his own.
The Browns can only hope Gordon surrounds himself with the right people and is focused on getting back.
2. The Browns still chose not to draft a wide receiver
The first leak of a possible suspension came during the 2014 NFL Draft – specifically, it came on the second night of the draft, just before the second round.
The Browns then took a guard. And then a linebacker. And then they traded up in the third round for a running back. On the draft’s final day they ended up making only one more selection, a cornerback.
Now, if finding receivers as gifted as Gordon is was easy, everybody would have them. Everybody would draft them. But the word is the Browns knew of the looming suspension before it leaked to the public, and they still chose to pass on a first-round receiver in three different spots and then keep passing.
They chose to pursue an immediate future with Andrew Hawkins, Miles Austin, Nate Burleson and two guys coming off of torn ACLs.
Maybe they really didn’t like any of the receivers past the top tier of the draft. Maybe that running back they traded up to get, Terrance West, will be really good. Maybe there’s some sort of plan hiding behind the curtain. The Browns knew Gordon was flirting with an extended vacation, and now they have to deal with it.
3. Have the plans changed?
Gordon went through all of the spring work. He started training camp working mostly with the backup groups but also worked with the No. 1 group at times. He still looked the same player when he was engaged, but he wasn’t always engaged. After Browns coach Mike Pettine questioned his effort in a lackluster second preseason game performance, the Browns held Gordon out of the next game. First, Pettine said it was due to a minor injury. Later, that changed to "common sense" saying a suspension was coming.
Now, the offense is searching for anything and the receiving corps scares no one. Common sense says the NFL was unfair to the Browns in waiting this long to render a decision and the Browns look rather reactive — and slow at that — in just now having him out of the mix. This is a bad situation all around, but it’s been clear since the spring that the Browns would struggle to attack defenses vertically with or without Gordon. Maybe Travis Benjamin is healthy and can be a player who can run past defenders once the regular season starts. Maybe a trade is coming.
The verdict is unfortunate for the Browns, who said all along they were waiting to hear like everyone else. It’s unfortunate for Gordon who has to go away and might have cost himself millions of dollars. It’s been obvious since May, though, that the Browns had a Josh Gordon problem looming. Now, 11 days from the season opener, the Browns still have a Gordon problem. They have to try to challenge defenses without him while hoping he can take care of himself well enough to eventually help the team again.