AFC North: Josh Gordon

CLEVELAND -- This offseason will be a serious test to Ray Farmer’s plans.

The Browns general manager is straight from the build-through-the-draft school because it works. Green Bay and New England are known to develop their own players while using free agency only as a supplement.

But the Browns’ wide receiver position raises enough questions to wonder if Farmer will leave his comfort zone and spend on at least one outside, stretch-the-field pass catcher when free agency ramps up in March. Yes, Seattle isn’t loaded at receiver and wins big. You can win without top-shelf outside guys. But the Browns don’t have Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch, either.

There are several reasons the Browns must evaluate this position: Josh Gordon is likely done in Cleveland after his looming year-long suspension, the free agency wide receiver class is loaded, the Browns have nearly $50 million in cap space, and Farmer’s plan suggests he’ll use first-round picks on other positions, such as pass-rusher or nose tackle.

But with quarterback uncertainty, the Browns would be smart to give next year’s starter more reliable options. Andrew Hawkins is the only receiver on the Browns’ roster with more than 800 career receiving yards. He has 1,819 yards. Hawkins is a good player, validating the four-year, $13.6-million contract he signed last offseason. He’s also a natural slot receiver, as is ascending undrafted free agent Taylor Gabriel (36 catches, 621 yards).

Of course, Farmer can always point out the Browns were playing their best football, going 6-4, while Gordon was suspended last year -- essentially without a go-to option on the outside.

“I’m a believer that this whole notion that you’ve got to have this one guy that’s the silver bullet is a myth,” Farmer said after the season. “I think it’s like trying to catch werewolves and vampires. They just don’t exist. I’m a big believer in it’s a team sport, and when we combine the requisite skill sets necessary to let guys have success, we have that success. We saw that earlier this year that we were missing certain key components that people thought were high-value targets and assets for us, but we played team football. As a result of that, we were able to have success.”

The Browns don’t have to throw $40 million guaranteed at the position, but they must do something to address it, hopefully finding a No. 1 outside guy with length. Here are a few options on that front:

*Make a few phone calls on DeMaryius Thomas and Torrey Smith: The market includes Thomas, Smith, Dez Bryant, Randall Cobb, Michael Crabtree and more. Many of these players will stay where they are via the franchise tag or signing long-term deals (especially Bryant and Cobb). But if somehow the Broncos let Thomas walk, the Browns would be smart to feel this one out. He’s Josh Gordon without the headaches.

Smith is talented but doesn’t have the raw numbers (49 catches, 767 yards, 11 touchdowns) to warrant the same money as Thomas or Bryant. Make him a reasonable offer. Worst case, you make the rival Ravens pay more than they wanted to keep Smith.

Re-sign Miles Austin: Austin produced nearly 200 yards on third downs before being placed on Injured Reserve after Week 13. Austin is 30 years old, has a Pro Bowl pedigree and can’t command top dollar at this stage in his career. He seems like a logical option to bring back on a one- or two-year deal.

Draft a receiver in the late-first, early-second round: There are at least five good receivers in the draft but no guarantee that any of them will duplicate Odell Beckham Jr. or Mike Evans production. At least one of those five (Kevin White, Amari Cooper, DeVante Parker, Jaelen Strong, Sammie Coates) could fall to the second round. The speed-size combos of Coates or Strong would be great fits for what the Browns want to do. Other enticing options include Ohio State downfield threat Devin Smith or potential mid-round flier Dorial Green-Beckham, believed to have first-round talent but branded with the ‘character issues’ label.

Good matchup free-agency options: Cecil Shorts, Denarius Moore, Kevin Ogletree, Kenny Britt.

What's next for Josh Gordon?

February, 4, 2015
Feb 4
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CLEVELAND -- Since news broke on Jan. 25 about Josh Gordon's yearlong suspension, which became official Tuesday, the Browns have spoken, and Gordon himself has spoken, courtesy of an open letter at the website Medium.

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Gordon
The Browns say they've tried to help Gordon, without providing details. Meanwhile, Gordon sounds like he doesn't want help from one group in particular -- commentators he says don't know him personally.

Gordon's relationship with the Browns seems tenuous at best, but this much is clear-cut: He's not out of the league, at least not yet.

Here are a few thoughts on what might be next for Josh Gordon.

The next 12 months will determine if Gordon is out of football for good, or if he still has hope: Gordon must essentially apply for reinstatement for 2016, and he must show he's clean. The Browns won't be able to help him with this. He can request NFLPA clinical help as part of the league's drug policy/program. Other than that, he's on his own.

One year from now, Gordon will be two months shy of 25, with one year left on his Browns contract. Youth, talent and size are always commodities on the NFL wide receiver market, even if the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Gordon did torch at least $30 million in potential contract extension money. He'll lose more unless he gets his affairs in order. Whispers persist that Gordon has had the wrong influences in his life for a while. Time to get that right.

Quick-cash incentive to come back: Gordon’s 2015 salary, which was scheduled to be $1.07 million, will push to 2016. If Gordon plays next year, he can earn the full salary, plus have a chance to recoup a portion of his $2.3 million signing bonus that he'll likely forfeit (if prorated, he'll temporarily lose around $564,000).

Get back, play a year, play well enough to stay on the team (wherever he plays), and you get more than $1.5 million before free agency.

How Browns' strategy affects Gordon: The Browns seemed done with Gordon before the latest suspension, and he now has minimal trade value. That said, the Browns don't need to cut him right now. He's still an asset of sorts. Does it send the wrong locker room message to play him in 2016 after multiple suspensions? Possibly. My guess is the Browns might try to showcase Gordon in September 2016 and hope a playoff chaser gives up a midround pick for him.
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CLEVELAND -- On the surface, many Cleveland Browns officials seem sharp, composed and reasonable, starting with the head coach, Mike Pettine.

Apparently those suits trade in wool fabrics for spandex, a WWE cage ring and a couple of metal chairs while behind the curtain at the Browns' complex in Berea, Ohio, because reports of dysfunction are becoming daily.

Since the season ended, the Browns’ greatest hits album includes a text-messaging probe involving general manager Ray Farmer, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan wiggling his way out of a contract with two years left, QB Johnny Manziel losing locker room credibility amid questions of commitment and preparation, Manziel entering a treatment facility for help off the field, receiver Josh Gordon’s suspension for a year, and a report of business execs meddling in football operations.

[+] EnlargeMike Pettine
Ken Blaze/USA TODAY SportsDealing with distractions has seemingly become the norm lately for Browns coach Mike Pettine.
Think that covers everything, but you can’t be sure.

The Browns don’t need to stop the bleeding. A paper towel won’t stanch this Kilauea-sized eruption.

NFL Rule No. 1,386: You won't be taken seriously when the league is investigating whether your general manager is breaking text-message rules on game days. Look it up. It's in the handbook.

Show a united front. Hold a news conference with Farmer, Pettine and owner Jimmy Haslam. Make some internal changes. Explain why these reports are crazy and bring it in for a group hug for the cameras.

Without some sort of response and a redirection of storylines, the Browns’ previous public statements that the franchise is in the best shape in years will continue to ring hollow.

To be fair, many of the problems listed above come from two players -- yes, the Browns drafted them, but it’s not all on Cleveland that Gordon decided to grab a few drinks while still under the NFL’s zero-drink stipulation and Manziel couldn’t control the Johnny Football life. The Browns can’t babysit their every decision.

But in an NFL era when the proverbial "team culture" is held in the highest esteem, Cleveland’s problems will only perpetuate until the culture shifts. Pettine said late last year that the Browns are building a house on solid ground, not on sand. If he’s right, this must be the phase where the kids bury Pettine up to his neck.

Pettine seems to be about the right things, as if he wants to prove Bernie Kosar wrong after the former Browns QB criticized the front office in December for a failure to establish a winning culture. Many people in the building probably want to prove Kosar wrong. Getting there seems arduous at best when things are getting ugly by Browns standards, which is pretty Brown-tastically ugly. I don’t have the same historical Browns context as colleague Pat McManamon, but his recent tweet tips me off on this subject.

Shanahan left a bad taste when he left the Browns days after a report by Cleveland.com that he was willing to take a lateral move and that personnel folks were sending play-call suggestions to the sidelines. It wasn’t a good look. But based on what we know now, is there any question Shanahan was uneasy about his work environment?

If you call the Cleveland Browns’ front office, the holding music includes clips of Pettine detailing his "Play like a Brown" plans from a news conference, with horns playing in the background. He wants mental toughness and accountability, he says.

For two months, the Browns’ plans as a franchise have been placed on hold. Optimism is scarce.

None of this will matter if the Browns win.

Winning won’t happen if key figures in the organization keep hitting each other from the top rope.
CLEVELAND -- Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon's well-written essay in The Cauldron lends some clarity to his recent suspension and blasts commentators who broadly categorize him as an alcoholic or drug addict.

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But by making the distinction he’s neither of those things, he’s basically blaming his issues on being a 23-year-old with a few lapses in judgment. This means he has the worst luck in league history or he thinks readers are incredibly naive.

A DWI, three NFL suspensions and one team suspension in three years -- that’s a lot to pin on a capricious nature. Gordon is authoritative at the top of the story -- yes, I have a "problem" -- but teases the reader by not delving into that problem other than stating that he "messed up" and describing his rough upbringing in the Houston area.

Gordon isn’t making excuses for his behavior. It’s just that the explanations of his incidents with the league still require more details. Gordon hasn’t earned the benefit of the doubt to ignore them. "Inadvertently" inhaling secondhand smoke and not knowing his zero-drinking stipulation might stretch into the first few days of the offseason don't seem like things that just happen. (If the second part is true, shame on Gordon’s camp for not reminding him 100 times over about the end date. Wonder how many of his teammates knew about the stipulation on the way to Vegas.) Missing team activities doesn’t just happen. There are rumblings from the team's office that Gordon's timeliness was an issue more than once late in 2014.

And it’s still unclear from Gordon's letter what concrete steps he plans to take to curb poor decision-making.

Good for Gordon for speaking out. He has every right to combat those who brand him as an NFL outcast. The letter strikes with conviction. You’re right, Josh, we don’t really know you. This letter helps, in spots.

But if your only "problem" is being young, that paints with the same broad strokes that your critics used on you. Perhaps Part II can dive deeper into this area.

After a growing number of incidents in three NFL seasons, Browns fans hoping for the best could use more to go off of here.

Sorry, guys, I wasn’t thinking, I’m only 23 -- that isn’t enough, especially when you start the letter throwing footballs at targets.

Fewer Charles Barkley rants, more energy pointed toward staying suspension-free.

CLEVELAND -- On the last week of the season, Browns players were getting ready for Christmas as reporters roamed the locker room. Small-chatting with Josh Gordon by his locker sparked an answer that's curious now, given the recent news of his impending one-year suspension for violating his third NFL-mandated drug or alcohol test.

"I just want to play a full 16-game season," said Gordon, unprompted, right before putting his backpack over his multi-colored hoodie and walking out. "I've never done that in my career."

Then he was gone -- likely for good, it turns out.

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Gordon's words could never validate his actions. A few days later, the team suspended Gordon for missing team activities. Nearly a month after that, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Gordon failed another NFL test and would miss the year as a repeat offender.

That locker-room exchange with Gordon reminded of what's been told from others about him -- his good intentions are overmatched by his influences and his demons. His track record suggests it's been that way for quite some time.

When Gordon returned to the Browns on the week of Nov. 17 after serving a 10-game suspension, he seemed humble and hungry. Gordon told the media he was "very ready." He planned to build on his 1,600-plus-yard pace from the year before. Performing well would pay back the people he felt he owed.

"My family members, friends, people that felt more embarrassed about it," Gordon said. "The people closest to me feel it harder than anybody and I feel as though I owe them as well as the Browns, but I'd like to do that by performing well."

For some reason, following through on those promises has been painfully difficult for Gordon, who seemed soft-spoken and well-liked in the locker room. His problems stretch far beyond football. Something seemed to change with Gordon in those final weeks. Media members recalled how cooperative Gordon was in 2013. Those last few weeks, he seemed distant on and off the field. Something wasn't right.

Though Brian Hoyer cautioned not to make Gordon "the savior" upon his return. Players were legitimately excited when he came back. That's what makes this sequence so odd. Support from the Browns was there. "You put him on any (of the) 32 rosters, it's a significant upgrade," receiver Andrew Hawkins said back in November. "I can't wait to have him back."

Twenty-four catches, zero touchdowns, multiple missed team meetings and another suspension later, the Browns have little choice but to replace excitement with a wave goodbye. The Browns have done all they can. Gordon is not a salary cap hit in 2015, so the Browns could wait a year and see if he holds value on the open market for 2016, which is technically a contract year.

Most people in the organization probably care less about his contract and more about him getting better, which only happens with the right support system around him. Whether Gordon really has that is difficult to tell.

It's not too late for Gordon to get right. Fulfilling that goal of playing a full NFL season has never seemed less attainable.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Maybe Ray Farmer was onto something.

Some scoffed at the notion from the Cleveland Browns' general manager that Josh Gordon, fresh off a 1,400-plus-yard season, would need to fit into the team's concepts upon return from his 10-game suspension. Force-feeding Gordon the ball, while possibly disrupting the team's rhythm, might not be wise. “I think that teams win, talent doesn’t,” Farmer stated matter-of-factly at his midseason news conference.

[+] EnlargeJosh Gordon
AP Photo/Tony DejakJosh Gordon is still seeking his first touchdown since rejoining the Browns on Nov. 23.
Six weeks later and neither side is winning when it comes to Gordon, who simply isn’t making the impact expected of a top-shelf receiver.

Someone has misfired this receiving weapon. The Browns threw Gordon the ball 17 times in his first game back. Two games later, he was off the field for several key third downs, a virtual ghost in the red zone. No balance there, either because Gordon isn’t providing it or the Browns can’t find it.

If Gordon didn't get himself ready, didn't absorb the playbook updates made during the season, that's on him.

If the Browns didn’t take all the necessary steps to try to maximize Gordon’s potential at a crucial point in the season, that's on them.

Whatever the reason, there’s no sensible way Gordon should be scoreless through four games, with an average of 46 yards in his past three games. I get that Gordon was behind because he missed three months of reps. One area the Browns (7-7) could use Gordon more is with a few deep tries or corner end zone plays from the red zone. Give him an easy jump ball. Takes the thinking out of it.

When I saw Brian Hoyer back in November working overtime to temper Gordon expectations in interviews from the locker room, you could just tell that this might be a struggle for everyone involved.

For the first 10 weeks, the Browns’ offense was Cleveland’s favorite overachievers. Hoyer and a receiving crew that lacked star power weren’t setting NFL records but they made it work. Andrew Hawkins was outperforming his contract. Miles Austin was reliable on third down (boy, his absence has been costly). Gary Barnidge and Jim Dray held down the tight end spot while Jordan Cameron was out.

Gordon’s late-season arrival should have bolstered the Browns' offense, not complicate it. The 26-24 win over the Falcons on Nov. 23 was the only time in the past five games the offense had life, and Hoyer still threw three interceptions in that one.

The final two games are huge for the Browns’ desire to establish a new culture. That’s a tough sell if they lose six of their last seven. Get to at least 8-8 and the momentum shifts their way.

But no Browns player save Johnny Manziel could use a bigger late-December push than Gordon, who still has time to reclaim his place in the receiver hierarchy.

If the struggles continue, blame will belong somewhere.

Can’t blame the playbook.
Perhaps most impressive about the Cleveland Browns' 24-3 win against Cincinnati was they won with this crew of pass-catchers: Miles Austin, Taylor Gabriel, Travis Benjamin, Jim Dray and Gary Barnidge.

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Brian Hoyer deserves credit for keeping the passing game respectable with no Andrew Hawkins, no Jordan Cameron, no Josh Gordon and no Alex Mack. Of course, running the ball 52 times helps ease the challenge. But Hoyer’s possibilities as a quarterback should mushroom when at least three-fourths of that missing arsenal returns.

Hawkins should be back this week against Houston. So should Cameron, with whom the Browns had to be cautious because of his concussion history. They sat him two games after his latest bout. My guess is he plays.

Gordon, probably the best receiver in the league last season, will be ready to practice Monday.

Specifically, here’s what their return will do for the offense and how the Browns should capitalize on the new weapons.
  • Let Hawkins do damage in the slot: The Browns can play Gordon and Austin on the outside, mix in some Gabriel, a little Benjamin, but can let Hawkins do his work inside. He will probably still play some outside some, too, but he’ll thrive finding soft spots in zone and darting for inside yards.
  • More third-and-long bailouts: The Browns’ offense thrives off running on first and second down, which sets up a potential third-and-short play-action. When Cleveland has struggled running the ball, the results on third-and-long passing have varied (bad against Jacksonville, good against Tampa Bay). Gordon will be a nifty lob option when you need 9 yards.
  • Use Gordon early and often: GM Ray Farmer said Gordon needs to find his place in this year’s team -- working within the frame of the team concept. That sounds great on paper, but there is no way Gordon will be a role player. He’s too good. He’s been sitting 10 games, so burn those tires for the next six. Use him.
  • Look for Cameron in the end zone: Cameron has 13 catches in a contract year, due in large part to missed time from various injuries. Tight ends, in today’s game, are judged largely by touchdowns. No one knows this more than Cameron, who will be eager to score in red-zone opportunities.
  • Go to more empty sets: Hoyer likes no-huddle offense and specifically looked comfortable in empty sets in midseason games. The Browns could use their new-found depth to spread out while keeping the running backs fresh.
  • Keep playing Gabriel: The Browns are high on the undrafted rookie. If one receiver gets muscled out of the rotation after Gordon’s return, my guess is Gabriel would win over Benjamin.
CLEVELAND -- Mike Pettine reiterated that the Cleveland Browns did not agree with the timing on the decision to uphold the suspension of Josh Gordon, but he wasn’t ready to call it unfair.

“The rules are the rules,” Pettine said after the preseason win over the Bears. “The league has a system that they set up. It was collectively bargained. We respect it.”

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Pettine admitted that the timing on Gordon’s suspension for a positive marijuana test was “not ideal” for the team.

“But we move forward,” he said. “How it played out was not ideal circumstances for us, obviously, but that’s behind us. Our full focus now is getting this team ready. You can’t worry about guys you don’t have.”

Andrew Hawkins will get the first chance to start opposite Miles Austin, though Hawkins will move inside to the slot on third downs, with probably Nate Burleson playing outside in three-receiver sets. Pettine said the team will focus on a committee approach to replacing Gordon.

“I’ve said this all along, you don’t replace a Josh Gordon, a top-five NFL receiver, with just one player,” Pettine said. “I think you have to get creative with what you do, and roll some different guys in there, maybe change some personnel groupings and get some different matchups. That’s the challenge that we face.”

Left tackle Joe Thomas spoke to a group of reporters that included 92.3-The Fan in Cleveland, USA Today and the Northeast Ohio Media Group. He lamented what he called a program that doesn’t reflect “the morals of society today.”

“The problem is that now you're sitting in a situation where you have a collective bargaining agreement that lasts 10 years and in the middle of it nobody's going to want to go back to the bargaining table and try to hash out things that may be an issue as they clearly are on a number of different levels, but that are only going to affect a couple of people,” Thomas said.

“I think there's a resistance from management of the NFL and also from the Players Association to do that type of needed updating of the drug policy because obviously there's some oversights when they wrote the program and some cultural changes that have happened that I don't think the program accurately reflects the morals of society today and the NFL and pro sports in general."

The last part of the NFL’s statement on the suspension of Josh Gordon provides a glimmer of hope that the Cleveland Browns' super-talented wide receiver might not miss the 2015 training camp.

Gordon’s “suspension” has been viewed as a one-year ban for one calendar year. By the letter of the law, that means Gordon could not return to the Browns until Aug. 27, 2015.

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Gordon
However, the league provided a tiny shred of hope to Gordon and his future with the Browns by stating the following in its release:

"Gordon’s eligibility for reinstatement will be determined following the 2014 season."

The release also states that Gordon is being suspended “for the 2014 NFL season,” which is not a calendar year.

This would indicate quite clearly -- imagine the layers of lawyers who went over the statement's two paragraphs -- that Gordon could be reinstated before training camp next summer, and perhaps even for offseason work. His absence then would be more similar to a season-ending injury rather than one that drags into the following season.

Nothing is certain.

Asked to clarify the statement, a league spokesman said the league would not elaborate.

So ... there’s that.

But the fact that that statement is included in the release indicates the league will at least consider the fact that the decision took until just before the final preseason game, and it should not affect 2015.

Gordon’s apology and statement that he hoped the league would have used better judgment indicated he knows his hopes for playing this season are slim.

But the league’s statement gives a tiny ray of hope for 2015.


The Baltimore Ravens are hurting at cornerback. This is not a news flash.

[+] EnlargeJosh Gordon
AP Photo/Mark DuncanThe Ravens have had success containing Browns receiver Josh Gordon. His year-long suspension is further relief for Baltimore's banged-up secondary.
What might help the Ravens early in the season is that opposing teams won't be at full strength at wide receiver, either.

The year-long suspension of Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon is just another break for the Ravens. Baltimore's banged-up secondary won't have to cover Cincinnati Bengals receiver Marvin Jones in the season opener because he's expected to miss the season's first four weeks with a broken foot.

The big blow is the Browns losing Gordon, the NFL's leading receiver last year. The Ravens have held Gordon in check, limiting him to six catches for 98 yards and no touchdowns in three games. Still, the Browns rely heavily on Gordon. Last year, Browns quarterbacks threw nine touchdowns and two interceptions when targeting Gordon, and they threw 17 touchdowns and 18 interceptions when targeting others.

When the Ravens play the Browns this season, they just have to worry about defending Miles Austin, Nate Burleson and Andrew Hawkins on the outside. These three receivers combined for 75 catches and one touchdown in 2013, which is less than what Gordon produced alone (87 catches and nine touchdowns ).

In comparison, the Ravens have had more trouble containing the Bengals' Jones, who has 11 catches and two touchdowns against them in four games. The Bengals, of course, still have starting wide receivers A.J. Green and Mohamed Sanu.

It doesn't look as if the Ravens will catch any breaks from the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 2. If the Steelers decide to suspend either of their running backs (Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount face charges over marijuana possession), they'll probably only miss the season opener against the Browns, according to ESPN.com Steelers reporter Scott Brown.

Some may suggest the Ravens got their biggest break when running back Ray Rice was suspended only two games for his alleged domestic violence incident. When the Ravens play the Browns in Week 3, Rice will be coming off suspension while Gordon will be in the early stages of his year-long absence.
BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns ended the last open practice of training camp with a line of folks taking the Ice Bucket Challenge to fight ALS, and with some stone-cold realities facing them as they head toward the rest of preseason.

One is that coach Mike Pettine brought up the dreaded two-quarterback reference, saying he believes the team has two quarterbacks who can win. An adage in the NFL is that when a team has two quarterbacks, it has none. Pettine said he will decide on a starter Tuesday, one day after Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel face the Washington Redskins in the Browns' second preseason game.

[+] EnlargeMike Pettine
AP Photo/Mark DuncanCoach Mike Pettine said the Browns would like to settle on a starting quarterback by Tuesday.
The other reality is the crippling effect that the looming suspension of Josh Gordon will have (the NFL has yet to determine its length). The team's receivers have done little to distinguish themselves when Gordon is not in the lineup, and at the rate things are going Travis Benjamin might be the other starting wideout alongside Miles Austin. With Nate Burleson out with a hamstring, the team’s young receivers have struggled.

The Browns may be bringing in receivers with a front-end loader after the upcoming rounds of roster cuts -- especially if, as expected, Gordon is suspended for the season.

As for the quarterbacks, Friday clearly belonged to Hoyer. Perhaps knowing he'll start Monday vs. the Skins helped him relax, but he had one of his best days in some time. Manziel made some good and some not-so-good throws.

The competition that has droned on all camp will continue through Monday and come to a conclusion Tuesday, according to Pettine. As the coach said, at that point it would be nice if one of the two quarterbacks has stepped forward and seized the job.

If not, “a decision still has to be made,” Pettine said.

He said he’ll do it with input from quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and GM Ray Farmer. But Pettine said there’s a balance between naming the starter and expecting the starter to produce.

“I don’t want whoever the starter is to feel like, ‘If I make one mistake, I’m out,'" Pettine said. "But I also don't want him to feel like, 'I've achieved something, this is my team for the rest of the year.'"

Earlier this week, Loggains spent a lot of time gushing about Manziel and not talking much about Hoyer. Pettine still went with Hoyer as the starter in preseason Game 2, which indicates the head coach may take a more active role in the decision than he said he would.

At least he won't be flipping a coin.
Josh GordonDavidDermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesJosh Gordon will have a chance to appeal a one-year minimum NFL suspension in a hearing on Friday.
The Josh Gordon stew was put on boil Tuesday when details about the arguments Gordon's side reportedly will present Friday became public through ESPN's Adam Schefter and Pro Football Talk.

One of the arguments his attorneys will present at his appeal to avoid a one-year minimum ban from the NFL will be to blame secondhand smoke for a positive marijuana test. The other will state that he gave two samples, one of which was barely above the NFL threshold, the other below.

Here are a few thoughts to consider:

  • The defense is compelling and interesting. However, the process has to play out.
  • To pretend Gordon is not a repeat offender denies reality. He had an incident at Baylor in which he and a teammate fell asleep in a Taco Bell drive-through line in the wee hours of the morning and police reportedly found a bag of marijuana in the car. According to NFL.com, Gordon failed three marijuana tests in college, including one at Utah, where he transferred after he was dismissed from Baylor for what he told the Houston Chronicle was a failed marijuana test. He’s had problems in the NFL -- speeding tickets, a DWI, a car pulled over with the smell of marijuana wafting out of it with him driving, the positive test. List that pattern about anyone, and eyebrows would rise. That he’s a marvelous athlete does not change that reality.
  • The secondhand smoke argument likely won't hold much water. How can a guy who has had at least three violations of the substance abuse policy -- the general trigger for a suspension -- continually put himself in situations in which he risks a suspension?
  • The league looks at substance abuse policies as a medical program. Initial positive tests are treated with treatment and counseling. Players are given second and third chances. When a fourth chance is needed, drastic steps might be needed. The performance-enhancing drug program, per the league’s view, is about the integrity of the game. And the league does not feel comparing NFL thresholds for marijuana -- 15 nanograms of concentration of a drug per millimeter -- to those of the World Anti-Doping Agency -- 150 ng/ml -- is appropriate because WADA tests for performance-enhancing drugs, and the NFL does not consider marijuana a PED.
  • Players are responsible for what goes in their bodies. That’s a simple tenet that is a foundation of the league’s drug testing programs for PEDs and banned substances.
  • Other players have already been suspended this year for not recognizing what was in their body. Colts defensive end Robert Mathis got four games for a fertility drug that raised his testosterone level. The principle remains.
  • The one interesting claim that Gordon will make involves the two urine samples collected. The first, according to reports, tested positive at 16 ng/ml, which was just above the threshold of 15. The second -- the B sample -- was at 13.6. The legal team will say the disparity indicates secondhand smoke. Still, the 16 was a positive test.
  • What’s also interesting is that Gordon evidently is not claiming a flawed process or a mixed-up sample or a mishandled sample. Those are lame excuses (baseball's Ryan Braun) that do not deny taking anything, merely call the process into question. Gordon is saying, evidently, that he did not smoke any pot.
  • Yes, marijuana is legal in three states. Yes, it’s a recreational drug. But the league has wanted HGH testing for years. Recently, word broke that a new policy that included HGH testing would include reduced penalties for marijuana. Perhaps Gordon is caught in the middle here as the two sides hammer out these details, because no new agreement on policies and procedures has been reached.
  • Looming over everything here is the NFL’s decision to suspend Ravens running back Ray Rice for two games for domestic violence when video evidence showed him dragging his unconscious then-fiancée out of an elevator. Two games seems inexplicable. How, folks ask justifiably, can Gordon lose one year for being one ng/ml over the limit when Rice allegedly knocks out his now-wife and loses just two games?
  • The Rice/Gordon comparison is a bit apples and oranges. Substance abuse penalties have been negotiated in the collective bargaining agreement, and agreed to by both sides. Personal conduct also was negotiated, and decisions were left in the hands of the commissioner. The one-year ban for failing a test at this point is written in the CBA.
  • For folks who suggest ignoring the rule, negotiated with hours of sweat and discussion, I bring back ex-NBA commissioner David Stern. When it was put to him that one-game suspensions for leaving the bench during the playoffs were not fair, he said: “It’s a rule. What other rule should we choose to ignore? The traveling rule? The out-of-bounds rule? It’s a rule in our books.” Would players like it if teams decided to ignore the rule mandating one off day per week during training camp, which is also in the CBA?
  • The answer also lies in multiple violations for Gordon and not for Rice, but the anger over the weight of the punishment considering the gravity of the two incidents remains.
Micheal Irvin has a serious issue with Cris Carter.

While stressing several times that he loves Carter (an ESPN analyst), Irvin said it was “irresponsible” of Carter to say this week that to save receiver Josh Gordon the Cleveland Browns should release him.

Gordon
Gordon
"We would all like to think, and most of us that have gone through any kind of ... recovery issue, that what has worked for us works for everybody," Irvin said on "The Dan LeBatard Show" on The Ticket in Miami. "But that is so far from the truth."

Carter said being released by Philadelphia is what led him to recovery. Irvin, the former Dallas receiver, said he was angry that Carter advocated that move for Gordon without talking to professionals, counselors and otherwise, who have worked with Gordon.

"Isolation for Cris may have been the best thing," Irvin said. ?Separation for Cris may have been the best thing. For Josh maybe it’s the worst thing."

Gordon is facing a one-year minimum ban from the NFL for failing a drug test this offseason. He was suspended two games and played two without pay in 2013, and last weekend in North Carolina was arrested for suspicion of DWI.

Irvin and Carter are both Hall of Famers who speak from a shared experience of addiction and recovery. Both said they work with players who have problems now. Irvin, though, said he wouldn’t advocate a move like releasing a player without first discussing the player’s issues with a counselor -- something he said he has done.

He said Carter applying his experience to others is "out of line."

"You cannot make a blanket statement and say, 'If it worked for me it’ll work for him.' That’s not necessarily the truth and I thought it was a bit irresponsible."
As they read this, members of the Cincinnati Bengals' front office are probably furiously knocking away at whatever item made of wood happens to be nearby.

In an NFL offseason that's been filled with arrest stories and Johnny Manziel's Monday morning twitpic updates, the Bengals have mostly flown under the radar, enjoying a comparatively quiet few months away from the field. After years of being the posterchildren for in- and out-of-season arrests and disciplinary issues, they ought to be commended for their relative good behavior in recent months.

Instead of a proliferation of mugshots and players in police blotters this summer, the Bengals have been taking baby pictures and wedding photos. It's certainly a welcomed departure from what previously had been the norm along the Ohio Riverfront.

I used the word "relative" regarding the Bengals' good behavior because there is, of course, that Sam Montgomery thing and that Orson Charles thing. Both Bengals are in the middle of pending legal situations after respective interstate traffic stops. Montgomery was pulled over and subsequently arrested two weeks ago for driving 89 mph in a 55-mph zone. South Carolina state law, where he was stopped, stipulates motorists traveling 25 mph or more over the speed limit are required to be jailed. Charles was arrested in April after allegedly brandishing a firearm at a motorist during a road-rage incident on Interstate 75 in Kentucky.

Montgomery's arrest primarily received attention after the state trooper's dashcam video was made public last week. During the arrest, the since suspended officer informed Montgomery he was under arrest right after inquiring if he played in the NFL. The officer also threatened to use a taser on Montgomery while barking a series of confusing orders as he tried to get the much larger Montgomery to get his hands behind his back for the handcuffs. Montgomery appeared to be cooperative throughout the video of the arrest, which began with him pulling over and ended some minutes after he and the officer were riding to the jail.

Since a firearm was involved in Charles' case, that incident rightfully gained traction both around Cincinnati and Kentucky (where the arrest happened), as well as nationally. After the legal process began, though, the entire ordeal mostly faded away. It wasn't a topic of conversation during minicamp and organized team activities, which Charles attended. That doesn't mean it has completely ended, though. Charles still has several steps ahead of him. Just last Thursday, he formally was arraigned in Madison County (Kentucky) Circuit Court on charges of brandishing a firearm in public.

What helps deflect attention from the arrests is both players easily could be cut based on merit alone when training camp opens later this month. If that happens, their issues no longer would concern the franchise.

Aside from those incidents, the Bengals have stayed out of the glare of negative spotlight. A few starters have made minor headlines for more positive reasons.

The Bengals have spent their offseason focusing on expanding their families and preparing to defend their division crown. (Wait, what's that sound you hear? Ah, it's the rapid hollow thumping of wooden desks at Paul Brown Stadium. It's a welcomed sound in Cincinnati, I assure you.)

This time last summer the Bengals had just learned cornerback Adam Jones was involved in a bar fight downtown. He was slapped with an assault charge and ordered to trial that October. Given his rather turbulent past, it was easy to immediately view the case as yet another instance of "Pacman" outshining his better half, Adam. When video of the event later surfaced and a judge ruled on the matter, Jones was declared innocent of wrongdoing, although the judge felt Jones and the woman who instigated the incident should have handled themselves better.

Fast forward to this past weekend and Jones turned heads in an all-white tuxedo for a different reason. He married his longtime girlfriend, joining a long list of Bengals to get hitched this summer. Running back Cedric Peerman and receiver Marvin Jones were among those who also got married. Linebacker Vincent Rey got engaged early in the offseason. Quarterback Andy Dalton and his wife had their first child last week.

Despite the situations with Montgomery and Charles, the Bengals seem to have turned a corner off the field. As is the case with every other team, there's still work to be done on that front, though, and that's why Bengals executives are going to keep knocking on wood.

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