No hiding what Gordon's loss would mean

May, 12, 2014
May 12
8:00
AM ET
There’s been much said and written about what it would mean if the Cleveland Browns really were to lose Josh Gordon for a year.

Much of it has been lamentation worthy of desert wanderings. Which is the easy way to go in Cleveland, of course; negativity lurks at every corner.

[+] EnlargeJosh Gordon
Matt Sullivan/Getty ImagesThe Browns' passing game will surely be easier to defend if Josh Gordon is suspended for the season.
But in this case, much of it is justified. Sugarcoating what the loss of Gordon for an entire season means is illogical and impossible.

That’s a tough blow for GM Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine, who pulled off an eye-opening first day of the draft. They now see some of the excitement over their moves tempered -- from outside at least -- by the impending suspension of Gordon for a failed drug test, which was first reported by ESPN’s "Outside the Lines" on Friday.

Farmer remains steadfast the Browns can win with Gordon or without him. Heck, even with him last season, the Browns won just four times. Farmer said he can still build a receiving corps, and that sometimes guys simply need opportunities, using the Giants' Victor Cruz as an example of an unknown receiver who took advantage of an opportunity.

Farmer also is right that teams lose guys to injury all the time and it’s his job to make sure the team can win no matter what happens.

His confidence gives reason for belief, but the challenge he and the Browns face is significant. While Farmer is encouraging, every team has certain players they simply can’t lose.

Right now, Gordon is that player. His loss would leave the Browns as a run-the-ball-win-with-defense kind of team.

Or a dreaded manage-the-game team.

Even with Johnny Manziel.

Not to mention it brings into question Gordon’s long-term future in Cleveland. Do the Browns bring back a guy who tested positive after getting a break from the league on his suspension last season? Can they trust him? Can they pay him?

Those difficult questions are down the road. This season’s are ahead.

With Gordon, safeties have to respect the deep area of the field. Double coverage opens up the field for tight end Jordan Cameron and the second receiver and allows the run game to work.

Without Gordon, the Browns become so much easier to defend.

Stack the box, stop the run, and force the Browns to find a playmaker to beat them. The whole point of the Cover 2 defense is to force teams to be patient and take the long way to scores.

Without Gordon, that’s the Browns' offense. Short passes and the run game. Which may be why the Browns took a strong, powerful offensive lineman in Joel Bitonio and added a talented running back like Terrance West.

That goes completely counter, though, to the direction most of the NFL is going. It’s a passing league, as Joe Thomas will remind anyone, dependent on throwing the ball to guys like Gordon for big plays and big chunks of yards. His presence was the foundation of the offense.

Fans can be optimistic about Manziel all they want.

They can be excited for what he may bring, what he can do on the field.

But Manziel might not even have a receiver on the Browns as good as what he had in college, when he threw to Mike Evans.

At this point he has to do what Tom Brady does in New England and Aaron Rodgers does in Green Bay -- and that’s make every receiver who plays on his team better.

If Manziel can do that, then the Browns might be OK.

But that’s a tall order for a rookie quarterback, one who still has to earn the job, according to his coach.

Farmer is right that games aren’t played until September and there’s time to address the situation. But to say that losing Gordon for the season would be detrimental to the Browns' hopes is a gross understatement.

It would be a very tough shot to the gut to a team that really doesn’t need any more shots in the gut.

And it makes for a very tough challenge in figuring what to do to replace him.

There’s no hiding from that reality.

Pat McManamon

ESPN Cleveland Browns reporter

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