Complete Browns season preview.
Farmer: "While we may have strong feelings on the timing and the process of this decision, we have also consistently communicated that we will focus on what we can control in our day to day approach. Right now that is preparing our team for the 2014 season and at the same time, supporting Josh however we are able under NFL guidelines during his suspension."
Pettine: "We will continue to support Josh and we understand that there is accountability for one's actions. Our job and that of the team is to focus on what we can control. Our philosophy in building this team and the mentality we're establishing is that we're going to have to overcome challenges and situations throughout the course of a season. We'll continue to be relentless in our approach, in how we work and focus on our goal of returning winning football to Cleveland."
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.
"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.
DavidDermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesJosh Gordon led the NFL with 1,646 receiving yards last season.
Out for season
Gordon will be the first player since Jim Brown to not play the season after leading the league in receiving or rushing yards. Brown retired after leading the NFL in rushing in 1965. Gordon is the sixth All-Pro player to face a suspension of one year or more from the NFL and the first since Ricky Williams in 2006.
Outstanding in 2013
Despite missing the first two games of the 2013 season, Gordon led the league in receiving yards with 1,646, setting a Browns single-season record in the process. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Gordon was the second-youngest player in NFL history to lead the league in receiving yards at age 22. Only Billy Howton of the 1952 Packers did so at a younger age.
The Browns found a receiving threat in Gordon that had been lacking for some time. Gordon was the first Browns player to lead any league in receiving yards in 64 years. Mac Speedie led the All-America Football Conference with 1,028 yards in 1949. Before Gordon, no Browns wide receiver had a 1,000-yard receiving season or made the Pro Bowl since 2007.
Gordon had a two-game run that was particularly outstanding. In Weeks 12 and 13, Gordon became the first player in NFL history with consecutive 200-yard receiving games, setting the Browns' single-game record for receiving yards (237 and 261) twice in consecutive weeks. Per Elias, his 498 yards over that tremendous two-game span was the most in NFL history.
Career in context
Since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, only two players have had more receiving yards in their first two seasons than Josh Gordon: Randy Moss and Jerry Rice. To give you an idea of what kind of career trajectory Gordon was on -- Rice is the all-time leader in receiving yards, while Moss ranks third on that list.
Gordon’s 1,646 receiving yards were the third most in a player's second NFL season in league history. The last player to eclipse 1,600 yards in his second NFL season was Torry Holt with the Rams in 2000 (1,635).
Impact on Browns
The Browns' offense relied heavily on Gordon last season, as he accounted for nearly 38 percent of their receiving yards. He had over 600 more receiving yards last season than the rest of the Browns' wide receivers combined. The 1,029 yards amassed by the rest of Cleveland's receivers combined would have ranked 24th in the league among individual receivers, one spot behind Michael Floyd (1,041) and one ahead of Brian Hartline (1,016).
Browns quarterbacks got more out of Josh Gordon than any other receiving option by far. Gordon was tied with Jordy Nelson for the most 30-yard receptions last season. The rest of the Browns' receivers had 11 such receptions combined. When throwing to Gordon, Browns quarterbacks averaged 10.7 yards per target, compared to 5.6 yards per target when throwing to all other pass-catchers.
With Gordon out, the Browns will have to rely on returning Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Cameron as well as offseason additions Miles Austin and Nate Burleson in the passing game. But truthfully, a talent like Gordon is immensely difficult to duplicate or replace.
The Cleveland Browns made some moves to prepare for the loss of Josh Gordon for the 2014 season, but they weren’t enough. The impact of his absence may be immeasurable.
The team could have lost almost any other player on the team and not felt it as significantly. Gordon was the offense’s main playmaker, the guy who opened up the field for every other offensive player.
His suspension for another failed drug test means he failed his team, his teammates, Browns fans and, most importantly, himself.
“I’d like to apologize to my teammates, coaches, the Cleveland Browns organization and our fans," Gordon said in a statement released by the NFL Players Association. "I am very disappointed that the NFL and its hearing office didn’t exercise better discretion and judgment in my case. I would like to sincerely thank the people who have been incredibly supportive of me during this challenging time, including my family, my agent, my union, my legal team and the Cleveland Browns staff.”
Austin and Hawkins had moments in camp, but neither gives the long-term hope of being a sure No. 1 receiver. Burleson was sidelined for a good portion of the most important part of camp, then admitted in Detroit he would retire after this season. Nobody left on the team has the pure skills, the combination of size and speed and hands, that Gordon has.
Gordon not only led the league in receiving yards last season (1,646), he obliterated the team record. And he did it in 14 games (he was suspended the first two). In the two games he did not play, the offense wallowed, scoring one touchdown and 16 total points. With Gordon playing, the offense averaged 20.8 points per game.
Run down the rest of the numbers. Gordon’s total receiving yards were 600 more than the rest of the team combined. He had 1,181 yards more than the team’s second-leading receiver.
The total of 1,029 yards by Browns receivers other than Gordon would have ranked 24th in the NFL in 2013, behind individuals such as Michael Floyd (1,041) and just ahead of Brian Hartline (1,016).
Gordon’s 37.6 percent of the team’s receiving yards ranked as the second-highest total in the league. The team’s quarterbacks averaged 10.7 yards per target with nine touchdowns and two interceptions throwing to Gordon, and 5.6 yards with 17 TDs and 18 interceptions throwing to everyone else, per ESPN Stats and Information.
Gordon alone had 14 30-yard plays. The rest of the team had 11.
The Browns do have a very talented tight end in Pro Bowler Jordan Cameron. But Cameron will feel Gordon's absence as well, because no longer will teams have to double the outside. Cameron may get a lot more attention from defenses.
Gordon’s absence creates a potentially crippling void the Browns will have to fill by spreading the ball around to several players. It leaves opposing defenses able to approach the Browns playing two-deep with corners keeping plays in front of them. In a time when the passing game has become dominant, the Browns will rely on passing efficiently, running the ball and playing defense.
Teams have overcome injury and loss of a player in the past. The Miami Dolphins' perfect season marched right on with a backup quarterback.
But a player with Gordon’s talent should be the guy a team builds around. He shouldn’t be the guy who has folks wondering what to do without him and what to do with him in the future.
Losing Gordon was the one blow the Browns simply could not afford to take.
The NFL announced Wednesday that arbitrator Harold Henderson upheld the suspension for a failed test for marijuana. The Pro Bowler had appealed the ruling and met with Henderson and other league officials in New York on Aug. 4.
Gordon's suspension is effective immediately, and the league said in its statement that his "eligibility for reinstatement will be determined following the 2014 season." Gordon does remain under the care of medical professionals in the NFL treatment program, which includes counseling and rehab, if necessary. He also remains subject to random testing.
In the meantime, Gordon is not allowed to practice with the Browns, attend team meetings or other club functions.
Gordon served a two-game suspension for a drug violation last season but still led the league in yards receiving and emerged as one of the game's top players.
"I'd like to apologize to my teammates, coaches, the Cleveland Browns organization and our fans," Gordon said in a statement released by the NFL Players Association. "I am very disappointed that the NFL and its hearing office didn't exercise better discretion and judgment in my case. I would like to sincerely thank the people who have been incredibly supportive of me during this challenging time, including my family, my agent, my union, my legal team, and the Cleveland Browns staff."
The Browns have been waiting four months for a resolution to Gordon's case, which hung over him and the team. He continued to practice and played in Cleveland's first three exhibition games.
The Browns have been baffled as to why it has taken so long for the league to rule on the appeal and have been increasingly frustrated over where the suspension would leave them and Gordon, team sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
"While we may have strong feelings on the timing and the process of this decision, we have also consistently communicated that we will focus on what we can control in our day to day approach," general manager Ray Farmer said in a statement. "Right now that is preparing our team for the 2014 season and at the same time, supporting Josh however we are able under NFL guidelines during his suspension."
Gordon fought the suspension, hiring attorney Maurice Suh to represent him at the appeal hearing.
Suh, who had successfully gotten a suspension reduced for Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman
- Tight end Jordan Cameron was back after his one-day excused absence. Cameron shrugged off the absence, saying it was nothing. Pettine did the same.
- There were several questions to Pettine about using a two-quarterback system, with a package of plays that Johnny Manziel could run as a change of pace. Pettine said it's tough for a defensive coordinator to prepare for two, then said this when asked if other teams might be expecting it from the Browns: "You'd have to ask them." Touche.
Because the Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback clearly knew what general manager Ray Farmer told ESPN.com’s Jim Trotter last week, as Manziel prefaced his growth in the preseason by saying: “You look at what Ray had to say ...”
Farmer said this: “I think he is right where he’s supposed to be. I laugh because it’s four weeks into his first training camp, and everyone is waiting to see Steve Young run out the tunnel. I don’t know where the reality in that lies.”
But he also said he never expected to walk in and be ready for everything immediately, that the only people who can do that have to know where they will be taken two months before the draft.
“I think they’re happy with my progression through the time I’ve been here so far,” Manziel said of the team. “I think they knew what they were getting when they took me, that it would be a process. It’s not a spread-the-field out and run, pick-a-side concepts like we did at A&M.”
The Browns are committed to the Kyle Shanahan system, so rather than change the system for Manziel’s talents, they are force-feeding him the system. He accepts it.
“It’s just different what we do here and what the NFL game is all about,” Manziel said. “I think they knew that, they were smart enough to watch the tape and (to have) known and heard enough about our system to know how it was.
“I think they knew it would take some time for me to get adjusted to everything.”
He knows things have looked bad and there have been struggles, but he also said after watching the film that there were some good things in the 33-14 loss to St. Louis.
“If we just sucked, then I think we’d be down on ourselves,” Hoyer said Tuesday as the team looks ahead to the preseason finale Thursday against Chicago. “I think we realize what we can be.”
It is preseason, but this also is a team with a new and complex offense learning on the fly -- a team that until a week ago had a quarterback competition, and a team that has lost 10 games in each of the last six seasons.
Even with preseason being about evaluating and assessing players and positions, winning should never be taken for granted when losing has been so pervasive.
Hoyer, though, said the offense is not “down on ourselves.”
“I think the most frustrating part is that we do do some things really well,” he said, “and then we shoot ourselves in the foot.”
The first-team offense has scored 16 points in its playing offense -- all on possessions with Hoyer at quarterback. Those 16 points came on 15 possessions. The only touchdown came on a late two-minute drive against the Rams.
There have been turnovers, missed throws and some serious struggles -- with only six passes that gained at least 15 yards. Hoyer said the team runs the play called no matter what the defense is doing, but clearly the Browns would like some better production.
Because they need the time, coach Mike Pettine will play the starters up to a quarter Thursday, a game normally reserved for reserves.
Hoyer, though, is not ready to say he and the starters need a positive experience from the fourth game. Just that they want one.
“I don’t think there will be any kind of hangover, whether it’s positive or negative, going into the regular season,” he said. “I think it’s a whole new ballgame when that comes around.”
That’s not a new statement from a Browns player at this point of preseason.
The hope in Cleveland would simply be that Hoyer is the guy who is finally right about it.
• Most significant move: The release of wide receiver Anthony Armstrong isn't exactly a shock, but it does show where the Browns are when it comes to the wide receiver position as they await word on the suspension of Josh Gordon. Armstrong is a veteran with knowledge of Kyle Shanahan's offense, and he stood out in shorts in the OTAs and minicamp. But in training camp he leveled off, and as time went on it was evident he was not going to be a major contributor. The development of a young player like Taylor Gabriel made this decision easy.
• Running away: Running back Edwin Baker started at the end of the 2013 season, but he didn't make it past the first cuts in Cleveland. That's a sign of the way the Browns viewed the running backs of last season, and of the reality that they have added Terrance West through the draft. Baker's cup of coffee in Cleveland might, though, give him a chance with another team.
• What’s next: The decision on Gordon lingers. The Browns' final two moves took the roster to 76, which indicates the team expects -- or at least hopes -- to hear something before the deadline (a few hours away as of this writing). A suspension of Gordon would take care of that last spot.
• Browns moves: Waived DB Royce Adams, RB Edwin Baker, OL Randall Harris, DB T.J. Heath, DL Cam Henderson, WR Jonathan Krause, OL Ryan Lee, LB Caleb McSurdy, OL Keavon Milton, LB Keith Pough, WR Tim Smith, OL Jeremiah Warren, TE Martell Webb. Contract terminated: WR Anthony Armstrong. Placed on injured reserve: OL Michael Bowie, LB Darius Eubanks.
Wide receiver Josh Gordon was practicing as he awaits word on his suspension, but three cornerbacks were riding the stationary workout bikes: Joe Haden (foot), Buster Skrine (thumb) and Pierre Desir (knee). Defensive lineman Desmond Bryant was not practicing after having surgery on his wrist.
Gordon was due to appear in Wake County court Tuesday on charges of driving while impaired and speeding. Attorney Trey Fitzhugh says Gordon had a waiver to miss the pretrial appearance and the case is continued until Nov. 18.
Gordon was arrested July 5 in Raleigh after being pulled for going 50 mph in a 35 mph zone.
He is still waiting to hear from the NFL on whether he'll be suspended for all or part of the upcoming season for violating the league's substance-abuse program. The Pro Bowler led the NFL with 1,646 yards receiving last year.