Jun 4, 2013; Berea, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns linebacker D
In the past two days, D’Qwell Jackson and Joe Banner have come out and publicly talked about how short Josh Gordon’s leash is in regards to not only the Browns but Jackson spoke on a larger level with the NFL as a whole. The timing of these statements could be a coincidence but it certainly comes off like a strategy from the angle of the organization to vocalize the need for Gordon to appreciate the opportunity he has and grow up both from the front office as well as the locker room. While it remains to be seen if Gordon has gotten the message and approaching the situation with the appropriate gravity, this move by the organization looks smart as well as a unified front, but also might show a growing sense of ownership of the team by its players.
D’Qwell Jackson is entering his eighth year with the league, all with the Browns, is a good player, and is probably the most vocal leader on the team, so he is probably the best choice to bring this type of message to Gordon.
“He doesn’t have that many lives left,” Jackson said in an interview with The Plain Dealer. “He’s got one more time to really straighten things up before he’s got to leave. I think he is starting to realize that.”
Last year, when Joe Haden was suspended, he made some public comments about Haden’s collection of cars and lifestyle and basically told him to get rid of them. Sound financial advice for starters but it also shows that this is not Jackson’s first time he has made comments in hopes of guiding a young player on this team.
Today, Joe Banner said the following of Gordon in a press conference:
“He spent a fair amount of time talking to Chud and he’s got to do some work and he understands he’s going to be held accountable and he gets the rope that’s left isn’t long,” Banner said. “In working with the coaches they need to see that commitment, that work ethic. Obviously, off the field he needs to make good choices.”
This unified front could be one more way to hammer home the message to Gordon that he needs to make the most of this opportunity. Gordon’s history has been that of extra chances. He failed three drug tests in college which resulted in getting kicked out of Baylor and then merely practicing with Utah before declaring for the supplemental draft where he was a second round pick. So for Gordon, despite the mistakes and missteps, he has not only landed on his feet, but even failed upward. He could have been a first round pick if he stayed clean and focused on football, but he jerked around and still got to be a second round pick. Regardless of how he was suspended for the first games of this season, the gauntlet has been laid out by the organization as well as the locker room. If Gordon has another issue, he will likely be dealt or cut. In the past, the front office and Mike Lombardi have basically gone as far as saying they would not have picked him and they are trying to get the most out of him. Banner may have simply seen an opportunity with the comments by Gordon and jumped on it to back him up and show everyone on this team is on the same page within the team.
Gordon has tantalizing talent in terms of physical ability and what he can be if he does mature and embrace the situation with the Browns. He can be a #1 receiver and was far ahead of schedule last year, which was expected by many to be almost a ‘redshirt’ year while he figured out the NFL, much like Stephen Hill, the similarly talented and raw second round receiver of the Jets. He outperformed expectations and really looked impressive while Hill had far more trouble adjusting to the league as a rookie. There is no question he can be a great player and if he really focuses on his craft and stays clean, he can get much better than he has already shown, but there were risks when they drafted Gordon and they knew it. The belief was not only that they needed to good more quickly but they did not believe a talent like Gordon would have been available in the second round without those types of issues. They were probably right.
Gordon claims to understand the situation and resolves to be the player the Browns drafted him to be. This move by the organization gives the fans the unified message they want that makes them look like they are taking this issue seriously. It also reaffirms the message to Gordon publicly just in case there was any reason to think this was not his one and only strike. It also gives the team a sense of ownership, especially from the players. Jackson is in a position where he has a huge stake in the Browns being successful, considering how long he has been here, has never played for another NFL team, and the fact he is on a contract extension. Players like Athyba Rubin and Joe Thomas are in a similar boat as they have been here long enough and are making enough money to really have a sense of ownership as well. Joe Haden, T.J. Ward, and Alex Mack could be joining that list shortly. This is their team and they not only want guys who are going to help them win on Sundays but are not going to embarrass them the rest of the week and get suspended. These guys want to win and they want to make the Browns a winner.
The Browns have a decent number of quiet players who are not looking to rock the boat or throw teammates, but having a few more like Jackson who are not afraid to speak up and really show that this is their team rather than just the team they happen to play for is a small but important step for this team. The message to Josh Gordon is a message to Gordon, but it also gives a small sense of the fact that the players know this team could be headed in a good direction and they are not going to tolerate issues that could jeopardize it.
The Browns need Gordon to work out or a significant hole is created on their roster. Not only that, but the other thing the Browns would like to avoid is having Gordon screw up again, moving him, and then figuring things out and being a great player for another team. Many of the people who were complaining about Gordon with the suspension and the incredibly overblown issue with tweeting about LeBron will call into any radio show they can find and complain about how the Browns gave up on Gordon too early, like they did when Danny Green got hot for the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals. Hindsight is 20/20, especially when leaving out important facts like Gordon’s issues with drugs as opposed to Green’s issues with staying on a roster, including being cut by the Spurs twice (not that it stopped anyone before, so it would not now).
Gordon working out would really help to move the Browns forward in their hopes of being a consistent contender and they can use all of the young playmakers they can find. As important as getting Gordon to work out is, the players developing a sense of ownership of the team is huge as well. Creating a good environment where the players are policing themselves and elevating their expectations for each other could work to eliminate issues like with Gordon as well as future potential issues and getting the most out of each other rather than being 53 independent contractors waiting until the job has finished. Jackson being willing to talk to the public is hopefully a sign of things to come with more guys taking a similar stance of responsibility and giving the fans what they really want; a perennial contender and a championship.