Josh Gordon granted conditional reinstatement; Browns stay non-commital

(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

The Cleveland Browns learned on Wednesday that wide receiver Josh Gordon has been conditionally reinstated by the NFL. What comes next, however, is still a mystery.

The NFL announced early Wednesday evening that wide receiver Josh Gordon has been conditionally reinstated.

Gordon has been suspended since the end of the 2014 NFL season for violations of the league’s substance-abuse policy.

The league office released the news on its website and listed the conditions of Gordon’s potential return to the league:

"“Effective immediately, Gordon may join the Browns to attend meetings, engage in conditioning work and individual workouts. Subject to compliance with clinical and other requirements, he will be placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt list and be permitted to practice with the team beginning on Monday, November 20. Beginning Monday, November 27, Gordon will be eligible at the team’s discretion to return to active status or to remain on the Commissioner’s Exempt list for an additional week before returning to active status.”"

The Browns are on their bye week and do not play another game until Nov. 12, when they hit the road to play the Detroit Lions. In theory, the first game that Gordon would be eligible to play in is Dec. 3 against the Los Angeles Chargers.

That is still a long way off and nothing is ever that simple when it comes to Gordon. It was just a little more than a year ago that he was coming off his last conditional reinstatement, only to go into rehab on the eve of his possible return.

Browns executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown issued a statement via the team’s website that, while showing continued support for Gordon as a person, should not be seen by anyone as a ringing endorsement that the team will put him back on the field:

"“We’ve been informed of the league’s decision to reinstate Josh. The personal well-being of all our players is of the utmost importance to us. We respect and commend Josh for taking the steps necessary to have the opportunity to return to the league. Josh will be in our building in the coming days and we look forward to having him back and sitting with him to discuss his future on our team.”"

Today’s news is just the latest in a saga that has dragged on longer than anyone could have imagined.

The Browns used a second-round pick on Gordon in the summer of 2012, selecting him in the annual NFL Supplemental Draft. Gordon had a troubled collegiate career, first at Baylor and then at Utah, where he never played a down before being dismissed from the team. All together, he reportedly failed three drug tests while in school.

Gordon had a solid rookie year, making 13 starts and finishing with 50 receptions for 805 yards and five touchdowns. His second year opened with a two-game suspension, but over his final 14 games Gordon lit up the league by catching 87 passes for a league-leading 1,646 yards and scored nine touchdowns.

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It was all downhill from there, however.

Gordon followed up the 2013 season by failing a drug test and being suspended indefinitely by the NFL. That suspension would eventually be reduced to 10 games and Gordon made his return in Atlanta for a Week 11 game.

A disengaged Gordon, who never bothered to learn the playbook, finished the year with just 24 receptions for 303 yards and no touchdowns. He also picked up another suspension – this time issued by the Browns for the season finale against the Baltimore Ravens.

Little did anyone know it at the time, but Dec. 21 against the Carolina Panthers, when he had four receptions for 45 yards, would be the last time Gordon appeared in a regular season game to date.

In January of 2015 Gordon was suspended for a year by the NFL for another violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy. That suspension lasted into 2016 before Gordon was conditionally reinstated by Goodell. All Gordon had to do was sit out Cleveland’s first four games and then he could resume his career.

But just days before his potential reinstatement, Gordon voluntarily entered a rehab facility and remained on the league’s suspended list.

Which brings us to today.

Gordon is possibly one of the most divisive players to wear a Browns uniform, which is saying a lot for this franchise. His supporters – who have long cared more about his career than Gordon has – steadfastly believe that he will automatically be the same player he was in 2013.

But that ignores the reality that 2013 was four long years ago and that Gordon was completely disengaged when he played in 2014. It is just as likely that a player who will have missed 54 of Cleveland’s last 59 games by the time that he is eligible to return will be the 2014 version as it is that he will be the player he was in 2013.

Next: The definitive Josh Gordon retrospective

That is a discussion for another day, however, as the Browns and Gordon renew the process of what comes next in his career.

Unfortunately for everyone involved, it is a familiar road that they will be traveling.