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Looking at the Impact of Josh Gordon's Suspension on the Cleveland Browns

Jason Miller

On Friday, it was announced that Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon will have to serve a two-game suspension and be docked four game checks for the start of the 2013 NFL season. Here are some of my thoughts on the suspension:

  • First, the question is, "what level of tolerance are we willing to give Gordon?" Joe Haden dealt with a four-game suspension near the beginning of the 2012 season, and my overall impression is that fans were sympathetic and forgiving of him. Haden is still seen as one of the leaders of the defense and a fan favorite.
  • When Gordon's suspension was first announced, there were a lot of groans. "Of COURSE that 'pothead' wasn't going to learn his lesson," seemed to be the type of reaction I was seeing. In a statement released later on Friday, Gordon said that he was suspended for taking prescribed medicine for strep throat back in February that contained codeine, which is a banned substance in the NFL.
  • Since his statement, I think a lot of the heat has already been taken off Gordon. Some have wondered whether the second-year receiver's story should be believed. Is he telling the truth? I'd say, "yes." The NFL already gave him a two-game suspension vs. the more traditional four-game suspension, presumably because Gordon's story was plausible.
  • Why is Gordon not appealing? First, my understanding is that he has already "won" in a way by having a two vs. a four-game suspension. He's not going to get that lowered any further because whether it was done innocently or not, he took a banned substance. I do wonder if he will appeal the number of game checks he is being fined, despite his statement saying, "I have chosen to be immediately accountable for the situation."
  • I do not expect this to change how many reps that Gordon receives in training camp and during the preseason. The question then becomes, "how do the Browns respond during the first two games of the regular season?" If I recall correctly, Gordon will not count toward the 53-man roster for the first two weeks of the season, so the Browns could presumably carry an extra receiver and then place him on waivers after Week 2.
  • The Browns face Miami at home and then Baltimore on the road to start off the year. In two games against Baltimore last year, Gordon only had a total of 4 catches for 58 yards. Davone Bess has been viewed as a slot receiver, and I think it'd be wise to keep him in that role and promote another player instead to the starting lineup. It's a similar philosophy to keeping a nickel cornerback at nickelback when a starter gets hurt -- you don't want to start changing multiple roles if you don't have to.
  • Starter reps might be too many reps to put on the returning David Nelson, which means that Travis Benjamin, who has reportedly been having a great offseason, could be the man for those two games. If it happens, it could be a blessing-in-disguise for Benjamin. If he has a couple of great games, he could earn more reps in a rotation or as a fourth receiver for the rest of the season.
  • Gordon's base salary in 2013 is $632,802. When you divide that by 17 weeks, you get $37,223. Multiplying that by four games, Gordon is scheduled to lose $148,894. The Browns could also try to go after a little bit of his signing bonus -- about $68,352, according to Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland -- if they so choose to. My guess is that they won't try to recoup it.
  • I think the biggest fear long-term for Gordon is not related to his talent, but whether a "mistake" like this will happen again, similar to whether Trent Richardson will keep suffering "injuries" despite his talent. Gordon has the tools to be a Pro Bowl type of receiver (which he will not be ineligible for this season, due to his suspension), and a two-game suspension is not going to suddenly rot away a career. Getting into deeper substance abuse trouble obviously would put a major damper on his reliability as a player, though.
  • Lastly, for those wondering why Joe Banner would hesitate to proclaim Gordon as a great second-round pick by the former regime this entire offseason, I think you have your answer. That doesn't mean there isn't faith in Gordon's abilities, but a standard has to be set.

In terms of what player could take advantage of a temporary roster spot, you could look at Jordan Norwood and Josh Cooper as the leading contenders. Then, there are a bevy of other undrafted free agents who could be the type of safety valve guy the Browns keep around, only to waive them and then put them on the practice squad.

What are your day-after reactions to the Gordon suspension? Are you worried about him long-term, or do you feel this will just end up being a footnote by the time the 2013 campaign concludes?