The Sunday Drive saying hello/goodbye to a complicated Josh Gordon

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Flash Gordon’s future is cloudy, with the Browns or without…

The Browns’ season always seems to end up in a train wreck, and this year is no different.

I don’t know what to make of the news that Josh Gordon was suspended for the last game of the season, and I really don’t know what to make of the reasoning behind it.

If you are to believe the reports, Josh Gordon was at Johnny Manziel‘s Friday Christmas bash, then missed Saturday morning’s walk through. There’s so much to digest there. Why the hell would Johnny Manziel have a Christmas bash? I suppose if you’re an NFL quarterback, and you want to do something for the team, this is a way to go.

If you’re Johnny Manziel, what in the hell are you thinking.

If you’re Josh Gordon, why in the hell are you going to this party?

Don’t get me wrong, there are reports that there were others at the party that showed up late, and I’m not going to get into the pretzel of trying to weed all that out, or even try to explain why Manziel and Gordon shouldn’t have been anywhere near a discussion like this…

…because it should be clear.

Either way, questions pop up about Gordon, and even the Browns’ true intentions with the suspension. Whether Gordon goes to the party or not, he shouldn’t have done whatever it was that caused him to show up late to the Browns walk-through on Saturday morning. I’m not his Dad, or his agent, just a guy that watches the games…

…but I don’t know, when you’ve had the history that Gordon has, you have to toe the line, or at the very least, KNOW HOW TO SET YOUR FREAKIN’ ALARM. Now, us Monday Morning quarterbacks can debate Gordon’s lateness and how the Browns handled it until we’re blue in the face, but Gordon has put himself in that position, and I’ll document that later in this piece, and he has to understand that right or wrong, he’s going to be held accountable.

But the Browns have put themselves into this position as well. This is a path in which both are involved, and both can take the blame for whatever happens next.

The Browns essentially lost a year of Gordon thanks to his ten-game suspension. In suspending Gordon for a game, they get that year back. Is that why they suspended him? They’ve notated that he’s been fined previously due to showing up late to practice and film sessions. This was just the natural progression of things, right?

Seems to work out for the Browns pretty well though, doesn’t it?

Like I said, it’s a mess.

Are the Browns right in doing what they did? Are they spotlighting Gordon, knowing they can, because of his past discretions? Should Gordon stay home, like a choir boy?

Is it Gordon’s fault? Is it the Browns? Is it both?

Regardless, things have clearly changed for the Browns and their vision of Gordon’s future with the team, and with Gordon, and his vision of his future with the Browns. On Christmas Day, Gordon continued his Cleveland love tweets with this gem:

Don’t worry, I ain’t goin nowhere.. #love #DawgPound

— Flash Gordon (@JOSH_GORDONXII) December 25, 2014

I checked that tweet yesterday afternoon while researching this piece, and it was still there. You’ll likely notate that I haven’t embedded this tweet. Why?

This morning, it was gone.

It appears Gordon is ‘goin somewhere.’

Seems as though Gordon may either know something we don’t, or is ready to move on.

Regardless, it’s been a long highway to reach this point. Is it time for the Browns to say goodbye to Josh Gordon? That’s not for me to decide. Are the Browns trying to get him out of Cleveland as quickly as possible?

Let’s get driving, so we can take a look at Gordon’s football life, and ultimately, where it goes from here…

It’s time for the Browns to part ways with Josh Gordon, but the decision won’t be an easy one. It really isn’t that simple, and I realized that in a discussion with fellow EHC scribe Rich Primo yesterday. On one side of the coin, you have a receiver that’s capable of leading the league in receiving yards in only 14 games. On the flip side of that same coin, you have a player who continually puts himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

My first inclination for any player that grows up with the struggles that Gordon has both faced, and then created once he reached college and the NFL, is to find a way to help them. This was my hope prior to the 2014 season, one in which Gordon was set to serve a ten game suspension. Could the Browns find a way to “grow up” Gordon?

No, I’m not as concerned about the marijuana use as some others are. Yes, it’s illegal, and yes, he needed to serve his NFL punishment for using it, but that alone doesn’t lend itself to a player that is walking a bad path, regardless of what zealots out there say.

What was most concerning were the situations that Gordon continually put himself into. To be successful as an adult under the microscope of the NFL, a player has to mature, and do it quickly.

Mistakes don’t make a person, they build a person, if you let them. The hope with Gordon has always been to learn the lessons, own them, and grow from them. Too many NFL players fall down a certain path, and can’t get themselves out of that rut. The ones that do often become special. The ones that don’t, become cautionary tales.

Could Gordon? Can Gordon? Is that path set in stone?

In October of 2010, Gordon and fellow teammate Willie Jefferson were arrested and handcuffed outside a Taco Bell for possession of marijuana when they were found sleeping in the drive-thru lane of the restaurant. Police found marijuana in both the center console and inside the floorboard of Jefferson’s car. At the time of the arrest, Gordon was leading Baylor receivers with 327 yards receiving and four TD catches.

For Jefferson, a little used Baylor receiver, it was the end of the line at Baylor. He was indefinitely suspended for his second violation of team rules, and ultimately transferred. For Gordon, it should have been a wake-up call. The charge of misdemeanor marijuana possession was dropped, and he was able to finish the season.

He has had several wake-up calls since. Makes you wonder if he’ll ever wake up.

According to reports, Gordon failed a drug test right after the incident, and then another after that. Heading into his Junior season, Gordon would have to walk the straight and narrow for head coach Art Briles, or his time at the university would be short, regardless of talent.

Fast forward nine months, and Gordon once again tested positive for marijuana, this according to Gordon himself, and Baylor and Briles had had enough. Gordon was indefinitely suspended from the football team. While many teammates, including Robert Griffin III, went to bat for Gordon to stay on campus with his scholarship and finish school, Gordon eventually  transferred to Utah, where he had a year to prepare for one more season of college football while sitting out the year because of the transfer.

Who helped line up the transfer for Gordon?

Art Briles and Briles’ offensive coordinator Dino Babers, who knew Utah’s offensive coordinator, Norm Chow really well. It was a short-lived stay at Utah, but entirely for the reasons most think.

In August of 2011, Gordon declared himself eligible for the NFL, but because he was too late for the 2011 version, had to sit out the entire NFL season while waiting for the 2012 version. There are a few reasons why he left Utah though, that go beyond his prodigious talent. Many thought it was simply to head to the supplemental draft, but that just isn’t true.

Rumors were also abound that he failed a drug test while prepping for Utah’s 2012 season, which is more rumor than fact, although there’s likely more truth to it than not. Still, what is fact is that his mother’s apartment had caught fire and Gordon decided to head home to help her out, working a minimum wage job to help supplement his mother’s teaching income, while attending a local community college to perhaps walk-on at Houston, which would allow him to stay home.

Gordon was invited to some post-practice workout sessions at Houston with a friend, and it was during this time that Babers let Gordon know that he was eligible for the NFL’s supplemental draft.

It’s kind of funny when you think about it. Here Gordon was, working a menial job, getting credits at a community college, and hoping he could walk on at Houston, without realizing that there was sufficient interest in the NFL for a 6’3″, 225 pound receiver with 4.5 speed and a 36″ vertical leap, and a possessor of really good hands.

In July of 2012, the Browns selected him in the second round, sacrificing a pick in that same round in the 2013 draft. Yes, Gordon had “character issues,” but the Browns were touting Mohamed Massaquoi and Greg “hands of stone” Little as their starting receivers. A gamble on Gordon wasn’t such a stretch, especially considering a whole host of past coaches and players, including Briles, had nothing but good things to say about Gordon…if he could stay focused on football.

Big if, right?

Who didn’t? NFL Network analyst (at the time) Mike Lombardi, who labeled the Gordon selection a “waste.”

Most, like Lombardi, saw Gordon as a kid who had the intellect and ability to be a fantastic football player, but lacked the critical judgement that most maturing adults begin to develop during their college years. Prior to the supplemental, Gordon passed a random drug test, and his Wonderlic score was a respectable 24 (the average score for a wide receiver in the NFL is 17, with QB coming in at 24), showcasing just enough for NFL teams to give the green light.

In other words, the Browns were in.

Gordon would immediately pay off with a fantastic 2012 season. He caught at least one pass in each of the Browns 16 games, including back-to-back games in which he caught 14 total passes for 202 yards and a touchdown. He had opened up eyes earlier in the year, however, when he “broke out” in back-to-back games against the Giants and the Bengals.

In the Giants game, Gordon had two catches, a 62-yarder and a 20-yarder, both for touchdowns. He followed that up with a three-reception game against the Bengals which included a 71-yard touchdown reception…

…and this was with Brandon Weeden as his quarterback.

Imagine what he could do with a real quarterback.

In May of 2013, Gordon received a traffic ticket, going 45 MPH in a 25 MPH zone. No, this isn’t a red flag of any sorts, but just a part of a bigger picture of bad choices that Gordon would seemingly begin to make from this point on.

Just one month later, in June of 2013, Gordon would receive his first NFL suspension, for two-games, supposedly for using cough medicine containing codeine, a banned NFL substance. Gordon accepted responsibility (like he had any choice), and waited out his suspension.

In August of 2013, Gordon received another traffic ticket, this time going 98 MPH in a 60 MPH zone. Going 45 MPH in a 25 MPH zone is one thing, and while not good, something probably all of us have done either on purpose or by accident at one point or another. Going 100 in a 60 MPH zone is something completely different. While I can’t say I never did that when I was his age (and I’m assuming he had a car that lent itself to 100 MPH more than my ’76 Monte Carlo…well…maybe not), I likely would have been following my P’s and Q’s a bit more than this had I been sitting on a suspension after the troubles that surfaced during my college career…if I could.

That’s really the question that the Browns had to be asking at this point. Yes, Josh Gordon is a good kid, and he seems to say and do all the right things when he has supervision, but when he’s alone…

I’m definitively not a judge or a jury here, but just want to throw this out there: I think Josh Gordon is a really good guy, with really exquisite talents.

If you go back to Gordon’s pro workout, you can see that this is a kid that can grit his teeth and get to it. He was explosive that day, showcasing that 36″ vertical I mentioned earlier. He threw out a 10′ standing broad jump, and had an impressive 82″ wingspan. The one area that he didn’t work on was the 40-yard dash, and he was less than happy with the 4.52 that he ran, so he ran it again, slower.

It came at a price though. During the run, Gordon partially tore his left hamstring. He wanted to opt out of the final drill, the three-cone receiving drill, but once rumors began circulating and scouts began saying, “I told you so,” Gordon decided to grit it out.

Scouts kept asking him to run routes, and he did…every one…with a partially torn hammy.

He didn’t drop a ball after over an hour of requests.

That’s special, and doesn’t fit the bill of what we’ve seen from Gordon before or after. This is a kid, who with his back to the wall, performed at the highest level, showcasing a level of grit you wouldn’t expect from a player that didn’t have the intellect or desire to ‘take the next step.’

Where does this Josh Gordon go?

Josh Gordon was more than special in 2013. You already know the numbers. In 14 games, Gordon caught 87 passes for 1,646 yards. He had, perhaps the most prolific back-to-back games in the history of football, against Pittsburgh and Jacksonville.

Against the Steelers, Gordon had 14 catches for 237 yards and a touchdown. Against the Jaguars, he had 10 catches for 261 yards and two touchdowns. The Browns lost both games, but Gordon was in the midst of a sublime stretch in which he’d catch a TD in five straight games, and would have 100+ yards in four straight.

Special.

The sad part of this whole story is that I’m convinced that at the center of Josh Gordon is a truly special person…who makes truly idiotic decisions. This is honestly speculation on my part. I only go by what I see and hear, and he seems to paint a picture of an honest to goodness good kid.

Some of that is likely shrouded in my vision of that receiver who caught everything thrown his way during that incredible 2013 season. Some of that is likely shrouded in the fact that as an educator, I tend to see the good in everyone before I see the bad.

Regardless, Gordon’s enigmatic personality has both helped and hindered him throughout his career.

In December of 2013, Gordon was elected to the Pro Bowl, and over the course of the offseason, Gordon seemed to handle his accolades with the aplomb of a player and person that was “growing up.” This is where a fan has to take a step back and realize that the only part of Josh Gordon that we know about are the three hours on the field he spends each weekend, and the soundbites we see from time-to-time in between.

Special interest stories, like this one, rarely tell both sides of the story, or they lean one way or another.

It’s hard to know the root of what drives a person, and the desire that carries him or her through life.

In May of 2014, the eve of the NFL draft, reports began surfacing that Gordon had tested positive for pot in 2013, and would be facing a suspension during the 2014 season. The reports turned out to be true, but before we get to the suspension, a few other things happened in between.

Later that month, while attending OTAs, Gordon was stopped once again for speeding, this time going 74 in a 60 MPH zone. The police officer noted an odor of marijuana. A passenger in the car was cited for having a small amount of the drug, and they went on their merry way.

Yeah, I know. A third speeding ticket, and this one about nine miles away from his last speeding ticket…and oh yeah, while about to get served a potential year long ban from the NFL for a “third strike.”

Talk about frustrating for a fan, or a coach, or an owner.

Not done yet though.

During the July 4th weekend, Gordon was arrested and charged with DWI in Raleigh, N.C. while driving P.J. Hairston’s car. He was pulled over for going 50 in a 35 MPH zone. For those counting at home, that’s the fourth speeding ticket, and this time, Gordon had been drinking…while facing suspension…after getting pulled over barely a month earlier, with pot having been smoked in that car.

You seriously can’t make this stuff up. Well, you could, and even then, it would be fantastic fiction.

Hairston’s story for why Josh Gordon was driving his car?

“Me and Josh Gordon met at the Fresh Market…I went into the Fresh Market to get fruit. I was trying to take care of my body, trying to get fruit. And I just happened to run into Josh in there….I knew who he was. And I mean, right way, I’m a football fan, so I knew who he was. And, right away we started talking about football, basketball. And we walked outside, and he asked, ‘Do you mind if we switch cars? We exchanged numbers, we switched cars.'”

What do you do with that? I realize Hairston said this, and likely made up every bit of it, but regardless, what the hell do you do with that? If it’s true, Gordon is an idiot. If it’s not true, Gordon is an idiot.

See where I’m going with this?

The connection between Hairston and Gordon was Haydn “Fats” Thomas, a felon who bailed out Gordon after the DWI, and had a prior relationship with Hairston.

In other words, not a guy anyone respectable should be hanging out with.

Gordon was either screaming for help, had given up, or was just showcasing the type of immaturity that a player can’t get past.

Who knows.

In August of 2014, Gordon was suspended for the 2014 season, after an appeal was denied by the NFL. Gordon’s plea during that appeal was because of “second hand smoke,” which may actually be true. His first urine sample resulted in a positive test, but his second sample fell below the league threshold for a positive result.

You know what they say though, “You reap what you sew.”

Again, I’m not trying to argue the yes’s and no’s of pot smoking, or having friends that smoke pot. What I am arguing is a player with as much talent as Gordon has, and with as many people in his corner that Gordon has, continually making idiotic decisions.

Fool me once, fool me twice, fool me ten times…ugh…

In September, Gordon’s suspension was reduced to ten games, and thus began Gordon’s quest to regain the trust of his teammates and the fans in Cleveland. Hell, fans in Cleveland are pushovers for underdogs. Albert Belle had nearly run over trick-or-treaters and beaned fans and photographers with his sharpshooting arm, and had remained loved by all, until he took the money and ran.

Gordon had the same kind of talent, and something Belle never had…twitter.

The Browns played inspired football in 2014, prior to Gordon’s arrival, and were 6-4 when the prodigal son returned in week 12. Against the Falcons, Gordon was electric once again, catching eight balls for 120 yards. The Browns won the game, pushing their record to 7-4.

All looked beautiful.

Gordon, who had professed his love for Cleveland via twitter time-and-time again, showcased his incredible talent. The Browns were in first place. There was a glimpse of the playoffs right in front of them.

Gordon was a part of a revitalized receiving corp. Newly signed Andrew Hawkins and an undrafted rookie in Taylor Gabriel were playing inspired football, along with Miles Austin, who many thought was finished in the NFL. Jordan Cameron had been hurt but was returning in week 11 as well.

All was good…

But the Browns haven’t won a game since. A quarterback controversy erupted in the wake, and Gordon has played more like Little…well, not quite that bad. The passing attack has disappeared

In the four games since his big splash return, Gordon had 16 catches for 183 total yards. He was targeted 31 times in those four games, catching barely half. He wasn’t the same.

Was it Brian Hoyer‘s struggles, and then Johnny Manziel’s? Was it the offense as a whole that couldn’t sustain itself? Did Gordon play a part in all of this?

What was noticeable as the season carried on is that Gordon didn’t know his routes. There were at least two picks caused by Gordon moving one way, when Hoyer knew he was supposed to move another. There were balls that were dropped, including a big drop against Indianapolis that cost them the football game.

He wasn’t the same.

He isn’t the same.

Now, it looks like both the Browns and Gordon are ready for a new chapter. Maybe they are both right.

The Browns 2015 season looked bright, even with the turmoil prior to Gordon’s suspension. While the quarterback controversy is messy, the team seemed set and ready to go. They had two young running backs that just needed a good game plan to be special. Past Gordon, Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel appeared to be the real deal as the #2 and #3 wide receivers. Jordan Cameron, when healthy, looks like a top five tight end. Their offensive line is solid.

On defense, their linebacking crew is really good, and their defensive secondary, led by Joe Haden and Donte Whitner, has the potential to be the very best in football, and that’s not hyperbole.

Their line has holes, but they can be filled, and once they are, this defense could be really, really good.

Now, the QB controversy looks bigger. Will Josh Gordon be back? Can this team fill that hole if he’s not? If he is back, will either side be a happy about it?

These are all questions that a solid organization can solve in an offseason, and we’re about to see if Jimmy Haslam has that in place with Ray Farmer leading the way, and Mike Pettine learning the ropes as a head coach.

The signs are there that they are doing things right, and perhaps this suspension is a manifestation of that. Of course, this could be a front office just trying to dig into their star receiver for one more season. Not good, but also not a possibility if Josh Gordon made some different moves leading up to this 2014 season.

Sometimes, you can learn from your mistakes. Sometimes, those mistakes catch up to you.

What does this mean for the Browns?

What does this mean for Josh Gordon?

Hopefully both learn from their past, and going forward, become the team and player each could be. Unfortunately, how they get there is going to be a long and bumpy, and whatever path both the Browns and Gordon take, it may be in two different directions.

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