Cleveland Browns: Josh Gordon’s reinstatement is bittersweet


Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon’s return is bittersweet as, while exciting, it is also a reminder of the damage drugs can do to a career.

To Cleveland Browns fans’ delight, Josh Gordon was reinstated by Roger Goodell on Monday. Gordon returns to the Browns after missing 27 of the last 32 games due to suspension and when he last played two seasons ago, he struggled to shake the rust off and return to form.

Yet, the prospect of a Baylor super team consisting of Josh Gordon, Corey Coleman and Robert Griffin III is something fans can get excited about.

If Gordon can return to the Pro Bowl form he displayed in 2013, the sky is the limit for the Browns offense in 2016. Having Gordon on the field forces opposing defenses to account for his presence on every play. As a result, receivers like Coleman and Gary Barnidge will see one-on-one coverage, and the running game will benefit from having one less player in the box on a consistent basis.

Lest we forget, (how could we?) in 2013 Gordon led the league in receiving with 1,646 yards, was named to the Pro-Bowl and was a first team All-Pro. Having Gordon back in the locker room can only be a good thing, right?

Related: Josh Gordon conditionally reinstated

On the one hand, Gordon’s return provides a confidence lift for the room in general. Before Gordon’s return, the wide receiver group consisted of mainly rookies with a couple of veterans sprinkled in for flavor. The Browns drafted four wide receivers in order to help ameliorate a position group that was sorely neglected by former general manager Ray Farmer, and now the room has a legitimate All-Pro presence.

Gordon brings success at the NFL level that the new rookies can only dream of at night. He has been there and done that. If he has bought in to staying clean and producing on the field, he could provide the veteran leadership and production that room seriously needs.

On the other hand, his presence is bittersweet because Gordon will serve as a living, breathing reminder that what the NFL giveth, the NFL can easily be taketh away.

Every year rookies have to go through an orientation in which they are given advice on how to deal with the highs and lows of life in the NFL. They are given good (and sometimes not so good advice) on how to negotiate life on and off the field.

Gordon is an example of how not to handle life off the field, and his missteps will serve as a reminder to the rookies that failed drug tests and legal trouble have real consequences. If they don’t think it can happen to them, they only need to look across the room at Gordon to see that it can.

Related: Josh Gordon given final chance by NFL

If Gordon falls off the wagon again, his presence could be disruptive to a developing wide receiver room. As Gordon is the successful veteran of the group, he will be the role model for  rookies and the last thing the Browns want or need is a negative role model influencing players in the wrong direction.

It will be imperative that the Browns, who plan to meet with Gordon to discuss expectations, have a plan in place that clearly spells out the consequences for failure.

Bleacher Report Insider Jason Cole reports that Gordon is on “thin ice” with management, as he should be. The Browns do not need a negative influence or someone behaving stupidly, and the team is hoping that Gordon’s presence is a deterrent for any stupid behavior from others on the roster.

Beyond that deterrent for stupid behavior, Gordon now limits the number of rookie receivers who will make the team.

The good news is that the Browns drafted Coleman to start as the No. 1 receiver. Gordon’s return means that Coleman will not have to carry the burden of being the top receiver after game four, when Gordon finishes his suspension. If Coleman plays up to the No. 1 billing during the first four games, then Gordon can be eased back into the starting receiving group when he is ready.

Rashard Higgins will still make the team because of his excellent route running and pass-catching ability. He excelled in making catches over the middle and racking up yards after the catch in college, qualities that make him a viable option either outside at No. 2 or a slot/possession receiver.

Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel are similarly sized and play a similar style of game. Keeping both of them in light of the reworked wide receiver room would be redundant. Gabriel is cheaper, younger and faster. But Hawkins is cheap (for a veteran) and his veteran presence will still be valuable in the room and in the slot.

Related: Does Terrelle Pryor have a roster spot locked up?

Terrelle Pryor will make the team, as his combination of size and speed is similar to Gordon’s. In addition, his previous experience at quarterback makes him a valuable weapon. Head coach Hue Jackson likes to use the double pass, so who better to throw that pass than a former quarterback turned receiver? Pryor’s upside as a receiver is too great to pass up.

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This leaves Ricardo Louis and Jordan Payton on the bubble. With Gordon on the team, the need for a developmental receiver with size and speed is far less than it used to be. Louis has a lot of room to develop as a route runner and receiver. Keeping a developmental project who has no clear place on special teams as of right now is a hard sell. Expect Louis to be on the practice squad.

Payton is on the bubble because he missed all of OTAs, meaning that he is coming to training camp behind. For as much talk as there is of giving him a fair chance, if he does not come into camp in shape and knowing his playbook, it may be too much for Payton to overcome. His big body, ability to run routes and use of body leverage make Payton useful as a possession receiver on the outside. If that is enough for him to make the team only time will tell.

If history repeats itself and Gordon falls off the wagon again, then at least this time the Browns are prepared to move on without him. However, if Gordon can commit to a healthy lifestyle and to what Sashi Brown, Paul DePodesta and Jackson are building in Cleveland, then he can be a great asset to the Browns.

Next: Josh Gordon's final chance

If Gordon stays eligible, the Browns offense featuring the Baylor super team will be exciting to watch.

What do you think, Browns fans? Can Josh Gordon stay clean and regain his All-Pro form, or are the Browns just being set up for more disappointment?