Good things come to those who wait, except for the Browns.
The franchise's fears about Josh Gordon have become a reality. The All-Pro wide receiver has been banned from the NFL for at least a season because he violated its substance-abuse policy again. The league announced the decision Wednesday.
The Browns and their fans had been bracing for an official ruling since May 9, when ESPN's Outside the Lines reported that Gordon tested positive for marijuana and was informed by the NFL this past winter. A repeat offender of the league's policy, Gordon appealed in an effort to have the suspension reduced.
The process dragged out for months before a hearing was held before appeals officer Harold Henderson on Aug. 1 and Aug. 4 in New York. Gordon's defense team, including attorney Maurice Suh, planned to argue the Pro Bowler barely tested above the NFL's threshold for marijuana because he was a victim of second-hand smoke. The appeal, though, was ultimately denied.
The NFL released the following statement Wednesday:
"Appeals officer Harold Henderson has upheld the suspension for the 2014 NFL season of Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon for violating the NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse. The suspension is effective immediately.
"Gordon's eligibility for reinstatement will be determined following the 2014 season."
The 23-year-old Gordon will need to pass drug tests, comply with treatment and apply for reinstatement with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to resume his career. Usually a player in Gordon's situation is not eligible to apply for reinstatement until a full calendar year has passed, though the NFL has allowed itself some wiggle room in Gordon's case by stating reinstatement will be determined after the upcoming season.
But barring litigation, an option being considered by Gordon's camp, the bottom line is Gordon will miss the entire 2014 season and lose his salary of $825,604. The Browns, in turn, will be without their offense's top playmaker.
"I'd like to apologize to my teammates, coaches, the Cleveland Browns organization and our fans," Gordon said in a statement released by the NFL Players Association. "I am very disappointed that the NFL and its hearing office didn't exercise better discretion and judgment in my case. I would like to sincerely thank the people who have been incredibly supportive of me during this challenging time, including my family, my agent, my union, my legal team, and the Cleveland Browns staff."
For the most part, Gordon also must stay away from the Browns headquarters in Berea during the ban, meaning he cannot practice, work out or attend meetings with the team. According to the substance-abuse policy, he can only be at the facility to meet with his clinician and must vacate immediately after termination of the treatment session.
Players prevented from staying in the routine football provides are usually even more susceptible to trouble than they would be otherwise, and legitimate fear exists about Gordon struggling away from the Browns. Last week, he posted a photograph on Instagram of him catching a pass on the practice field with a caption that read, "Only place I can find peace." Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Justin Blackmon, who's serving an indefinite suspension from the league, was arrested and charged him with possession of marijuana in July.
"That type of talent you want on the field, whether it's at practice or game day," veteran wide receiver Nate Burleson said of Gordon in June. "You only get so many guys every few years that redefine the position, and he's one of those guys. He's not your traditional receiver. There's Calvin 1/8Johnson3/8 and there's Randy 1/8Moss3/8 -- these guys were hit with that special stick and God blessed them with attributes you can only create in video games. For him to miss any time, it's a loss for everybody in general, fans especially."
Despite his history of off-field issues, the Browns seem prepared to stick with Gordon through the remainder of his contract. The deal was originally scheduled to expire after the 2015 season, but that will be pushed back at least a year because of the ban.
While Gordon awaited the league's decision, he couldn't stay out of trouble.
He was arrested shortly before 3 a.m. on July 5 in Raleigh, N.C., and charged with driving while impaired. Gordon's blood-alcohol level was 0.09 when he was pulled over for traveling 50 mph in a 35 mph zone and he admitted to having three drinks with vodka, according to a citation obtained by WNCN, an NBC affiliate in Raleigh. The legal limit for blood-alcohol level in North Carolina is 0.08. The case is scheduled to resume in court Nov. 18.
The incident sparked debate among media and fans about whether the Browns should cut Gordon. Owner Jimmy Haslam said last month the Browns never considered releasing Gordon.
His teammates also insisted they still had his back.
"We support him," quarterback Brian Hoyer said last month. "We know the type of person Josh is on and off the field and what he's capable of, and we're here for him. When someone does something wrong, you can't cast them to the side. We know how important he is to the organization. I'm sure if you ask any of these guys, we're here to support him in any way possible. If he were to come to me and ask for something, I'd be more than willing to do it."
Gordon had another run-in with the law about six weeks before the DWI arrest.
A Cuyahoga County Sheriff's deputy issued him a speeding ticket May 25 for traveling northbound on Interstate 71 in Strongsville at 74 mph in a 60 mph zone. More questions were raised about Gordon's priorities and judgment because a passenger in his vehicle received a citation for possession of marijuana in an amount less than 200 grams during the traffic stop.
Gordon's activity away from football has been his downfall for a while.
He was suspended for the first two games and docked four game checks last season for violating the substance-abuse policy. He blamed prescription cough medicine containing codeine, a substance banned by the NFL, for triggering a failed drug test that led to the first suspension.
The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Gordon also failed three marijuana tests in college. The first two resulted in his dismissal from Baylor University. He later transferred to the University of Utah, where he tested positive for marijuana again.
Even though Gordon was surrounded by red flags, former Browns General Manager Tom Heckert gambled by spending a second-round pick on him in the 2012 supplemental draft. Gordon didn't disappoint as a rookie, tallying 50 catches for 805 yards and five touchdowns.
Former Browns CEO Joe Banner and ex-GM Mike Lombardi entertained trade offers for Gordon last fall because they knew another drug violation could result in a minimum yearlong ban from the NFL. But after Gordon returned from the two-game suspension last season, he proved his phenomenal talent by producing one of the best seasons any receiver has ever had.
The Browns started three quarterbacks last season because of injuries and poor performance, but Gordon still finished the year as the NFL's leader in receiving yards (1,646, which ranks 10th all time) and receiving yards per game (117.6, which ranks sixth all time). He also had 87 catches and nine touchdowns, earning Associated Press first-team All-Pro honors and his first Pro Bowl selection. Gordon ranked 16th on the NFL Network's The Top 100 Players of 2014. Players vote to form the list.
"Anytime you lose the leading receiver in the NFL, it's not a good thing," Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Cameron said in May. "It will be a void definitely. 1/8Offensive coordinator3/8 Kyle 1/8Shanahan3/8 is a smart guy. He'll find a way to fill that void, and we've got some playmakers that will fill in and try to fill that void the best we can."
The Browns, though, won't be able to come close to fully compensating for the loss of Gordon. General Manager Ray Farmer didn't pick a receiver in May's draft, even though he knew about Gordon's predicament.
Cameron becomes the top receiving threat with Gordon removed from the equation. Meanwhile, the receiving corps is filled with veterans who have durability concerns such as Andrew Hawkins, Miles Austin and Nate Burleson, unproven young players such as Charles Johnson and Travis Benjamin and undrafted rookies such as Tayor Gabriel and Willie Snead.
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