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Josh Gordon And The Mythical Season Long Ban

After doing some checking, Josh Gordon may not be looking a full year suspension

Josh Gordon could avoid a season long ban
Josh Gordon could avoid a season long ban
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Today is possibly the last day of Josh Gordon's career as a Cleveland Brown.

Many fans would be okay with a trade of Gordon, because of his supposed issues with the NFL and their drug policy. As you know, Gordon had issues with recreational drugs at Baylor and Utah, which finally led to him entering into the supplemental draft.

When he tested positive for drugs this offseason, he was suspended for two games and fined four game checks. Many reporters then assumed that Gordon was looking at a season-long suspension if he was caught using again. The only evidence of such an assumption? A quote from Gordon on September 16th of 2013, when Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote an article titled "Cleveland Browns' Josh Gordon confirms he faces year's suspension by NFL if there's another failed drug test."

When I saw the headline, I instantly believed that someone had spoken with Gordon and laid out what he faced if he screwed up again. But when I read the actual article, here was the basis of the "confirmation" -- when asked if he faced a season long suspension, Gordon simply replied "I think that's what it is, I believe so".

And that is all the media needed. No one ever questioned it again. From there on forward, it was always the "season-long suspension" theory of why the Browns were interested in dealing Gordon.

Call me crazy, but I didn't think that sounded knowledgeable enough. So I went digging. Twitter first.

I read the old CBA, not knowing what had changed, if anything, in the new deal. I didn't find much, and if I did, who knows if it still holds up. Then, I did what every red blooded American does. "I googled that shit."

Here is what I pieced together:

There are three ways to get placed into the NFL drug treatment program.

1. Testing positive: This is self explanatory.

2. Behavioral: A player having off-the-field issues dealing with alcohol and drugs. This is probably the most likely scenario in which Gordon was entered into the program. With his off the field issues at Baylor and Utah, this seems like a slam dunk. But remember, positive tests in college DO NOT count towards positive tests in the NFL.

3. Self-Referral: A player who requests that he be entered into the program (Never heard of anyone doing this).

A player can then remain in stage 1 for up to six months, but that can be extended for certain situations. There is no way of knowing if Gordon slipped in this stage or if the window was extended by the medical director.

Here is where it gets tricky. The medical director can advise the NFL to advance a player into stage 2, simply on their recommendation (bottom of page 14 here). So a player, such as Josh Gordon, can be entered into the drug program, and elevated to stage 2 with zero positive tests. Granted, smoking a ton of weed in college doesn't help, but it can be done. Players are then in stage 2 for 24 months or two football seasons, whichever is shorter.

Let's assume that this is what happened to Gordon.

He THEN tests positive for codeine and is flagged by the NFL. This means he has a positive test in stage 2. The punishment outlined for the first positive test in stage two is the following:

1. A fine of 4/17ths of the players salary (or we know it as four weeks pay)

2. Suspension of four consecutive regular season and postseason games, including Pro Bowl if elected.

Now Gordon had his four game suspension knocked down to two and was fined four game checks. Getting the suspension knocked down to two games is no small feat, mind you. This is a very important development. Players have been turned down on appeals even though they had prescriptions, like Hollis Thomas. Hell, Kevin Williams and Pat Williams had to go to Federal Court to get their four-game suspensions knocked down to two. So yes, the reduced sentence does show that Gordon may be telling the truth when he says that he was taking medicine and that the NFL believed what he was telling them.

This seems as if it was his FIRST positive test in stage 2.

Here is where people are getting confused. People assume that a positive test in stage 2 automatically means that the player is then dumped into stage 3 which could carry the season long ban we keep hearing about.

But that's not true.

Players are allowed TWO positive tests in stage 2, or one positive test in stage 2 and one instance in which the player failed to comply with the program. (what that means I have no idea, but we haven't heard anything of the sort when it comes to Gordon). A second positive test would then mean:

1. A fine of 4/17ths to 6/17ths of the players salary (or as we know it as four to six weeks pay)

2. A suspension of four to six consecutive regular season and postseason games, including Pro Bowl if elected.

If a player tests positive twice in stage 2 within a 2 year window, that player is then dropped into stage 3, the stage in which everyone assumes Josh Gordon is in.

As you saw earlier, I asked Greg Aiello, head of NFL PR and media question answer mogul, if we could find out a way to see what stage Josh Gordon was in. The NFL keeps this stuff under a tight lock and key (just go back and see how angry the league was when Josh Freeman's inclusion in the program was leaked).

There are tons and tons of pages written on this, and even after reading through it, I am not even sure I understand it. This is my best guess. For all I know, Gordon screwed up his program once before his test, but that is a large assumption to make off of "I think so" from him in September. There is a chance that even Josh Gordon isn't 100% sure.

When you look at the "evidence" of Gordon being in stage 3 vs. stage 2 (the lone suspension, the reduced amount of games, and the four-game fine), I tend to believe that Gordon is on his last strike of stage 2. If he tests positive again or screws up the program, he could be suspended again and then dropped into stage 3, which he would face a season-long ban.

So for those okay with trading Gordon because of the fear of the year-long ban, you may just want to check the fine print one last time.