Cleveland Browns: Who benefits the most from Josh Gordon’s suspension?

Jul 31, 2016; Berea, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon talks with wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (18) during drills at the Cleveland Browns Training Facility in Berea, OH. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 31, 2016; Berea, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon talks with wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (18) during drills at the Cleveland Browns Training Facility in Berea, OH. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports /

The Cleveland Browns are going to have a roster decision to make after Josh Gordon returns from suspension. So who can benefit the most in his absence?

After spending the past two years treating wide receivers like nothing more than an annoyance on the roster, the Cleveland Browns headed into training camp flush at the position.

The Browns have 12 players working for what will likely be just seven roster spots, which is a good problem to have, all things considered.

It is not going too far out on a limb to say that rookies Corey Coleman, Rashard Higgins and Jordan Payton will claim three of those spots. Veteran Andrew Hawkins should also be safe, as is Marlon Moore, who special teams coordinator Chris Tabor will most certainly fight to keep on the roster.

If Josh Gordon, who has yet to practice as he deals with a quad injury, can return to the field and show that he is even 80 percent of the receiver he was in 2013, then he should also lock up a roster spot.

That leaves six players – headlined by Taylor Gabriel, Terrelle Pryor and Ricardo Louis – in a training camp fight for the final roster spot.

“There are a lot of different things that we’ll do with Terrelle Pryor because I think he’s very talented.” – Head coach Hue Jackson

Of course, there is the complication of Gordon’s looming four-game suspension, part of his conditional reinstatement, that the Browns still have to deal with. Gordon is slated to miss the first four games up the upcoming season, meaning that a wide receiver who would otherwise be cut is going to temporarily earn a roster spot in Gordon’s absence.

So who will benefit the most from what will essentially be an extra four-week audition?

Louis is the rawest of the four wide receivers the Browns drafted after catching just 98 passes in four years in Auburn’s run-oriented offense. His size (6-foot-2 and 215 pounds) makes him a big target and a threat as a runner (he averaged 12.2 yards per carry at Auburn). Even if he was on the 53-man roster when the season opens, he wouldn’t see much playing time. So let’s say he clears waivers and lands a spot on the Browns practice squad.

That means Pryor and Gabriel will temporarily earn the final two positions at wide receiver. But what happens when Gordon returns?

Gabriel would seem to have the inside edge as he has actually played wide receiver in the NFL. But that was before his yards per catch dropped from an impressive 17.3 in 2014 to a very pedestrian 8.6 last season. If he can’t show the coaches more than that, especially given what will likely be very limited playing time, Gabriel could be an easy roster cut when Gordon is eligible for reinstatement.

Which brings us to Pryor, who is still as raw as any wide receiver currently on the roster.

Head coach Hue Jackson clearly has a soft spot for Pryor and is tempted by what could be from the athletic former quarterback.

“There’s a lot of different things we’ll do with Terrelle because we think he’s very talented,” Jackson said. “So we’ll just continue to find different ways to have him make a difference on our offensive football team.”

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Part of that process has been to switch Pryor to the “Z position” in the offensive alignment, which is opposite of the “X position” that Gordon and Coleman play. The move could just be part of the plan to “find different ways” to get Pryor on the field. Or it could be Jackson’s way of finding out if Pryor can handle the position opposite of Coleman during the first four games of the season.

Of course, that further muddles the question of what happens when Gordon returns. The Browns drafted Coleman in the first round not knowing if (or when) Gordon would be reinstated, but even with Gordon on the team there is no way the Browns are going to have Coleman on the bench.

With Hawkins holding down the slot position, and Gordon and Coleman as the outside receivers, there may not be many snaps available for Pryor come October.

That could lead to a scenario where Gordon takes Gabriel’s roster spot, and the Browns promote Louis from the practice squad and end the Pryor experiment by releasing him.

Given Jackson’s desire to get as many playmakers on the field as possible, and Pryor’s work ethic – which is his biggest asset right now – it seems more and more likely that Pryor is going to find himself a roster spot for the full 16 games this fall.

“[Terrell] keeps improving and he’s turning over every rock to make sure he can find a way to get himself better, and it’s a hats off and a credit to him because he wants it,” quarterback Josh McCown told “Some guys I’ve been around in the past [who] have made that kind of transition are kind of reluctant, and their reluctance kind of leaks through in everything that they do. But that’s not the case with TP. TP is all in.”

Next: Browns training camp: Day 4

We are still a month away from the final roster cut downs, and thanks to Gordon’s looming suspension almost two months away from seeing how things play out.

Let the games begin.