It may be some time until we see wide receiver Josh Gordon take the field for the Cleveland Browns, or any other NFL team, for that matter. The oft-suspended receiver will have to wait to apply again for reinstatement to the league following a February 2015 indefinite ban related to his repeated violations of the league's substance abuse policy. And who knows what will happen in the interim.
Gordon applied for reinstatement earlier this year, but NFL commissioner Roger Goodell continued to put off his ruling, saying in February that "the process is that we'll go back and we'll look at how [Gordon has] conducted himself over the last several months, what he's done to make sure it's consistent with the terms of his suspension. And at some stage, we'll have a report on that, and I will engage with our people to understand where he is, where he's been, but most importantly, it's where he's going." And now we know why Goodell was so hesitant to make a ruling in the receiver's favor: Gordon failed another drug test in March and will have to wait until Aug. 1 to make his next bid to be reinstated.
Though it's not likely that the Browns were banking on Goodell allowing Gordon to play this season, the wideout's latest step backward is still unsettling, and puts the Browns in a situation they'd rather not be in. Their receiving corps needs someone like Gordon, who is 6-foot-4, fast, able to catch deep touchdown bombs and can earn massive chunks of yards after the catch. When he's good, he's really good, as evidenced by his 2013 campaign when he led the league in receiving yards, with 1,646 on 87 catches, and had nine touchdowns -- all after missing the first two games of the season for substance abuse policy violations.
But when Gordon is bad -- or distracted or disinterested or focused on things outside of football -- he's under the thumb of league discipline and is no help on the field. In 2014, Gordon spent the first 10 games of the season suspended for yet another substance abuse policy violation and had only 24 receptions for 303 yards and no scores. He was also suspended by the Browns for their final game, for violating internal rules. Gordon has thus played in 35 games since 2012 and appears headed to miss more time -- perhaps the entire season -- this year.
Not helping matters is Gordon's recent blossoming friendship with exiled former Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel. Gordon spent much of the 2015 season praising Manziel and calling for him to be the team's starter, mostly via Twitter (in tweets that have since been deleted). He was also spotted with Manziel in Las Vegas at UFC 196 and, more recently, the pair was rumored to be living together in Los Angeles, though another report said that is not the case. Gordon picked Manziel up after a hit-and-run accident in which Manziel was the passenger last weekend. Either way, Gordon's friendship with Manziel, who is under investigation for domestic violence in Texas and has his own problems to overcome, could not have swayed Goodell favorably in the receiver's direction, failed test or no failed test.
While the NFL's position on marijuana use -- the drug Gordon has allegedly tested positive for repeatedly, including last month -- is draconian compared to the ever-increasingly growing public support for its legalization or at least use to treat medical conditions, the rules are the rules. Given that Gordon has been in the league's multiple-stage intervention program for years, he is clearly aware of what he can and cannot do (or get away with). The merits of debating the harshness of the policy exist, but also don't apply in this case, because Gordon's violations occurred under the purview of the rules as they are now. Not only should Gordon have known better, he did know better. And he chose to further jeopardize his football career anyway.
It's possible that Gordon's actions are a way for him to fall out of the Browns' good graces and earn himself a trade to another team or his outright release. After all, that one-game suspension to close 2014 left him without an accrued year in terms of his contract. This pushes back his ability to be an unrestricted free agent -- and the chance of a large payday -- by a season, something that surely does not please the wideout. But Gordon gambling in such a manner hurts more than it helps; he's not damaged goods just in the Browns' eyes, but in the eyes of the league. His talent does not trump the risks inherent in having him on a roster. Even if it did, that talent won't be leading to the kind of money he'd otherwise earn had he stayed out of trouble to begin with.
The Browns, at least publicly, aren't worried about not having Gordon this year. Head coach Hue Jackson said at last month's owners meetings that "I always learned something a long time ago: You never worry about something you never had." Executive vice president Sashi Brown said Wednesday, "Once Josh was suspended, we [as an] organizationally set our mind frame to not counting on him coming back, and I think that's the only healthy way to operate and the way we continue to look at it. And if Josh is fortunate enough to be reinstated, obviously we'll have some discussions with him at that time."
Gordon's latest setback, however, does turn wide receiver from a penciled-in draft need to one written in indelible ink. And with the Browns needing upgrades at numerous positions, having one more positional mouth to feed later this month could mean making difficult draft sacrifices.
Even if Gordon is reinstated later this year, it may not come until 60 days or more after the Aug. 1 date on which he can file his next application. That gives him no time to put in on-field work with his teammates to learn the Browns' new playbook, which means it may be some time before he actually plays in a game once allowed back into the league.
There's no guarantee, either, that should Goodell rule in Gordon's favor, the Browns -- or any other team -- will still have interest. And given that the ban is of the "indefinite" variety, there is nothing compelling Goodell to reinstate Gordon until the player has satisfied all of the conditions the league has created for him. Gordon seemed to be on the right path for much of the past 12 months, but his 11th-hour decision to tank all that good work, either out of intent or sheer stupidity, erased all of it, putting him back at square one.
The league's policies about marijuana use may be outdated ones, but they are still on the books. It was Gordon's actions and choices that led him to this situation, not the NFL and not Goodell. Someday, these rules may change, but for now Gordon knows what they are and what he needs to do to abide by them. He did not. Gordon's choices have again led to his career remaining in limbo, and for that, everyone loses.