Josh Gordon’s Season up in Smoke?
A day of celebration dissolved into confusion for the Browns.
Hours after quarterback Johnny Manziel’s arrival had Cleveland’s football pulse racing faster than it had in years, a report that star wide receiver Josh Gordon may be facing an indefinite suspension shattered the city’s collective joy.
As the second round of the NFL draft was set to open Friday, ESPN reported that Gordon, who led the NFL in yards receiving last season, had failed another drug test for marijuana and could be banned for a year. The ESPN report, based on anonymous sources, described letters the Pro Bowler received about the failed test.
The Browns deferred any comment on Gordon’s situation to the league office. Gordon’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, declined comment.
Gordon was suspended without pay for the first two games last season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy for the second time, but still led the league with 1,646 yards receiving in 14 games. He had 87 catches and nine touchdowns.
Gordon, ho was taken in the 2012 supplemental draft, entered the league with a history of substance issues. He was excused from Baylor’s team for twice failing drug tests and he also failed a test after transferring to Utah.
The Browns have been pleased with the easygoing Gordon’s maturity and his off-the-field progress. The team had the 23-year-old involved in many of their offseason activities this winter, including him in meetings with free agents and keeping him apprised of their plans.
At last week’s voluntary mini-camp, first-year Browns coach Mike Pettine praised Gordon for his game-breaking abilities and his willingness to accept his role with the team. Gordon spoke to a small group of reporters away from the TV cameras and said he was pleased to be so entwined in the team’s offseason regimen.
“It was actually big. I was surprised by it,” Gordon said. “It was good to have that camaraderie, we never really had that before. Nobody really tried to instill that in this group, but hopefully that brings us all together.”
Gordon was expected to be the top playmaker for either Manziel or incumbent starter Brian Hoyer.
It’s not known if the Browns were aware of Gordon’s possible ban before Thursday’s opening round, when they traded out of the No. 4, sending that pick to Buffalo for the No. 9 pick and a first- and fourth-rounder in 2015. Buffalo used the fourth selection on Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
If Gordon is suspended, the Browns are in big trouble at wide receiver. Greg Little and Nate Burleson would be the most experienced players at the position with newly signed Andrew Hawkins at the slot position.
Burleson underwent surgery last week to fix a plate in the left arm he broke in a car accident last year when he was with Detroit.
“I’m just fine,” he said in a text message to the AP. “I had a minor surgery to fix the plate in my arm so I’ll be ready well before training camp. If today were the playoffs, I would be playing.”
The Browns were expected to address their depth at receiver before the report on Gordon surfaced. But Cleveland went in a different direction in the second round, taking Nevada offensive tackle Joel Bitonio with the No. 35 overall pick.
At 6-foot-4, 302 pounds, Bitonio can also play guard and has been described as “nasty.”
“I like to play hard,” he said. “Football is played to the whistle and you have to play as hard as you can every snap. If you can play that hard every play, then there’s a good chance that if you’re equally talented and use your technique well, you’ll be able to beat the guy you’re going against. I want to play as hard as I possibly can. I know the AFC North is a tough, hard-nosed division, and I hope I can a little bit of that to the team.”
The Browns passed over wide receivers — seven were drafted in the second round — again in the third, when they selected Iowa linebacker Christian Kirksey. The 6-foot-1, 233-pounder played outside linebacker last season for the Hawkeyes, but Cleveland’s coaching staff envisions him playing inside.
Later, the Browns moved back into the third round and picked Towson State running back Terrance West. Cleveland sent a fourth-rounder (No. 106) and sixth-rounder (No. 180) to San Francisco for the No. 94 pick to take West, who rushed for 2,509 yards and 41 touchdowns last season.