Determining the Value of Josh Gordon


The Browns front office is being put in a position where they have to determine what Josh Gordon is worth.  Joe Banner is a numbers guy and seems to have a good understanding of the math when it comes to the NFL as well as weighing risk.  That is why they made the move with Trent Richardson and why that is a good deal for the Browns, even if it also ends up being a good move for the Colts.  Anyone who saw the game against the Vikings would say he is worth more than a first round pick and beyond that, he is simply too good to trade.  On the field, he is.  Gordon is a stud receiver, a true #1 option and more.  He made the Browns offense go this week.  Off the field, he is one drug issue away from a yearlong suspension as well as issues behind the wheel.  The Browns have to decide if they believe Gordon, who has not gone a year without a drug issue since high school is to be trusted or if they need to sell high on the young receiver while they can.  Banner is in a tough spot either way as if they keep him and he has another drug issue, he is suspended and the Browns are roundly criticized for not knowing better and getting rid of him when they could.  If they trade him after the type of week he just had, they are roundly criticized for getting rid of their top offensive player not named Joe Thomas and the validation of the trade in a potential drug issue might not come for Gordon until the offseason.  If rumors are to be believed, the Browns are shopping Gordon and hoping to get a good offer for him as well as Greg Little to move them.  If that is true, then coming up with the value for where the rubber meets the road on a trade is important and when is the value worth more than the potential risk.

Aug 8, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon (12) against the St. Louis Rams during the first quarter at FirstEnergy Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports

As far as rumors go with the Browns front office, there has been a ton of chatter about what the Browns might do.  The question is how much of that is to be believed and how much is just rumor.  There have been rumors about Josh Gordon basically since the new front office came into place.  He is still here to this point.  Trent Richardson was dealt without any warning and completely blindsided everyone in the NFL.  The NFL community had no indication of who the Browns were going to select with the sixth pick in the draft and were shocked when they selected Barkevious Mingo.  The signing of Desmond Bryant came with almost no warning.  There was not much chatter when it came to Paul Kruger but there was plenty of evidence to suggest the Browns would take a run at him and they did.  The Browns might indeed be shopping Gordon and Little, but the Browns might be feeding people this information while they keep their true intentions in house.  Rumors become just that and no one in or around the organization truly knows what to believe and cannot broadcast their intentions at any given time.

If the Browns are truly trying to move Gordon, the value is a key issue.  On one hand, the Browns need to get enough to where the value of the deal outweighs or equals the potential risk in keeping Gordon.  The Browns also need something this year at least as part of the deal.  On the other hand, the team potentially getting Gordon knows about the risks involved with him and they want some assurances in the deal, so they do not end up giving up a big asset and having him get suspended for a year.  As a result, they are not inclined to give up a large amount, at least up front.

On the field for gameday, Gordon is a remarkable talent and has the potential to be a huge weapon for years to come.  He can be a franchise cornerstone and the first legitimate top end wide receiver since Braylon Edwards in 2007.  Gordon has showcased more ability than Edwards did, even in that season and there is certainly more upside.

Whether a means to showcase his talents for a potential trade partner or to show just how much he wants to keep him in the fold, the Browns coaching staff featured Gordon a ton.  Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner gave him the ball on an end around and Brian Hoyer threw the ball at Gordon 19 times.  He caught 10 of them for 146 yards, a touchdown and then the end around went for another 22 yards.

The downside is substantial as well as for all the talent Gordon has, one issue and he is done for a year.  There is nothing to suggest at least to this point that Gordon will not make that mistake.  He has had a drug issue every year of his life dating back to high school.  Will Gordon suddenly decide to make the decision that he will never again fall into those habits?  The math says no and Banner seems to work on the numbers.  The belief in the ability of the comeback and redemption would like people to believe in Gordon’s ability to make that choice and stay clean.  Chances are Chud represents the human element in this conversation.  He deals with him or his position coach on a daily basis so they have plenty of information on how he is doing on a daily basis.  Whether that is in the form of fighting for Gordon and believing in his ability to change or confirming that they believe he is a ticking timebomb in that regard is unclear, but that is likely his role in the discussion.

For all of the talent he had, Santonio Holmes only netted a fifth round pick from the New York Jets when he was in a similar circumstance with drugs when he was with the Pittsburgh Steelers.  That is far below what Holmes’ value is on the field, but that is all they got in the trade.  A fifth round pick is not worth the deal to move Gordon and the value far outweighs the risk.  The Steelers were in a position where they wanted to flush that problem with the issues Ben Roethlisberger was going through at the time and he plays quarterback, which is clearly the more valued position.  They looked the other way with him and got rid of Holmes.

The Browns are not quite in the same position and do not need to get rid of Gordon.  Like with Richardson, it would be a deal of opportunity rather than a necessity.  They cannot deal Gordon for only  a fifth round pick.  They understand how valuable he is on the field and if they are moving, they are clearly holding out for more or he would already be gone.  He is not going to net a first round pick straight up, but he is certainly worth holding onto if the offer is only a fifth round pick.

The answer appears to be somewhere in the middle.  A team would probably have to give up a third or fourth round pick this year.  Certainly, the Browns would want a third round pick as a pick on the second day has far more value even if only in appearance than one on day three.  They could get a team to buy into that part of the deal.

The Browns would also likely require the team making the move for Gordon also give up a pick next year.  The team getting Gordon wants assurances in case he flames out with drugs.  That would suggest a conditional pick.  The question is the range on that pick.  If Gordon can go out and have a big year for his new team, they would be happy to give up a high pick and the Browns would certainly like to get that in terms of value.  The Browns would definitely push for the top end of the pick to be a first round pick should Gordon meet the conditions, even if they are sky high.  At the same time, even if he flames out, they are going to want something.  The basement seems like it would be a fourth round pick although the Browns would certainly push for that to be a third.  That would put the deal in similar framework as Brandon Marshall from the Dolphins to the Bears.  The Bears gave up a pair of third round picks for the talented Marshall.

Ultimately, the deal would seem to be something along the lines of a third or fourth round pick this year and a conditional pick next year ranging somewhere around the third round that could go up to a second or even a first round pick if he plays extremely well and the team has success.  From a trade standpoint, future picks are downgraded a round.  A third round pick in 2015 is worth a fourth in 2014.  The Browns followed that exact formula with the Colts and Steelers this past draft when they traded picks with each of those teams.

The X-factor in this discussion is if the Browns were to trade Gordon for a player or a player and a pick.  Ben Tate from the Texans and Kirk Cousins of the Redskins are two names that have been brought up, but going player for player on this scale is incredibly difficult.  It could certainly happen, but Banner and company seem to really covet draft picks and those are easier to work with from a mathematical standpoint.  If the Browns were to discuss a player for player deal, they would likely assign a draft pick value to any potential player they would get back in terms of making the math work to their satisfaction.

The best case for the Browns and for Gordon is for him to never even think about drugs again and just go onto a Hall of Fame career in Cleveland, but that simply may not be possible and the Browns are a team that is proactive in these situations.  Now, it remains to be seen if the Browns are truly shopping Gordon, but if they are, that seems to be about the framework that would make sense for both sides.  It comes down to whether that is just rumor or a reality and which team would want to bite.  If there are multiple suitors, the Browns might be able to get them into a small bidding war and would be more likely to land that third this year and conditional pick that starts as a third and could end up as a first round pick next year.  There will still be a ton of fans of the Browns who are absolutely inconsolable and ready to march on Berea if they move Gordon, but the fact that Joe Banner seems to be so unlikable to so many is also why he is probably the right guy to make this decision.  As good as Josh Gordon is and can be, he does them no good if he is not on the field and while draft picks are largely a theoretical value and the front office has to make all of those picks count, they can be used to build a talented team.  This front office is comfortable with that pressure to use those picks effectively and they will be retained or removed depending on how well they can make them count, starting with a franchise quarterback and working from there to the rest of the offense and finishing the defense.