NFL Nation: Josh Gordon

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.

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.

Browns, Gordon release statements

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
A statement from Cleveland Browns general manager Ray Farmer on Josh Gordon's season-long suspension being reduced to 10 games:
"We are aware of the new NFL policy related to the reduction of Josh Gordon's suspension to 10 games. We will continue to support and work with him under the NFL guidelines throughout this process. Our team's focus right now remains on preparing for Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens."

Gordon released this statement through the NFL Players Association, pointing toward his return for the stretch run and making clear he's permitted to be back with the team during this suspension:
""I''m happy that the NFLPA and NFL worked hard to agree on a new Substances of Abuse policy. I''m very thankful to my union for fighting for a significant reduction in my suspension. I''m glad I can go to the facility during my suspension. I look forward to going to meetings, working out individually, and learning from my coaches and teammates. I can''t wait until game 11 to get back on the field!""

Seven NFL predictions for 2014

September, 4, 2014
Sep 4
Golden Tate Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesThe Packers and Seahawks open the NFL season in their first meeting since 2012's "Fail Mary."

Of course. Two of the NFL's best teams will kick off the 2014 season Thursday night -- and all you want to talk about is some random play that happened two years ago in a dark period of NFL history.

Fail Mary? Thpptttt. You still don't think Golden Tate caught the ball? You're waiting for Roger Goodell to invoke his right to reverse outcomes? You're incredulous the NFL would open itself to outside influence by substituting woefully underqualified officials as leverage in collective bargaining? You're still following T.J. Lang after he posted the most re-tweeted tweet of all time?

Nope? Me neither. Over it.

I, for one, am far too focused on the crucial nuts and bolts of this game -- and the upcoming season -- to get worked up about the most recent time the Green Bay Packers visited the Seattle Seahawks. This is all business. I want to see if quarterback Aaron Rodgers can withstand the Seahawks' fierce pass rush and if his girlfriend, Oliva Munn, is in the stands to watch it. I'm pumped to break down how Richard Sherman matches up with Jordy Nelson -- in between viewings of his latest Campbell's Soup ad.

Nothing generates deep discussion of strategy, scheme and precision like the NFL. How will the Cleveland Browns find a deep threat after the suspension of Josh Gordon? (And what club will Johnny Manziel hit after their first game?) Will Robert Griffin III respond to new expectations as a pocket passer? (And who will be the next world leader to speak out against the Washington Redskins' team name?) How in the name of doomsday will the Dallas Cowboys field a competitive defense? (And can owner Jerry Jones find a way to market a practice squad player?)

So many questions, so little time in the film room. So for your collective preparation efforts, here is a touchdown's worth of predictions for the 2014 NFL season. Carve them in stone, bet the house on them, and if I'm wrong, feel free to call me at (555) 555-5555.

1. Officiating will be better

[+] EnlargeNFL Instant Replay
AP Photo/Jack DempseyOfficials will now get instant replay assistance from the league office.
Yes, I know. We spent the entire preseason freaking out about a spike of penalties for illegal contact and defensive holding, two key points of emphasis dictated by the NFL's competition committee. I'm well aware that officials called almost the same number of those penalties in 69 preseason games (271) as they did in 256 regular-season games (285) in 2013.

But it's also worth taking a breath and reiterating that the rate dropped sharply in the final week of the preseason as all sides adjusted. The rate will still be higher than in 2013, but I wouldn't expect anything close to what we saw in the first few weeks of the preseason.

Aside from that issue, the league took several important steps this offseason in response to a rough go of it in 2013. It replaced three referees and a total of 13 officials, the biggest turnover in more than a decade. New instant replay assistance from the league office will make the system more accurate and quicker -- by nearly 20 seconds per review, according to vice president of officiating Dean Blandino -- and officials will communicate better now via wireless headsets.

I still expect to see plenty of disputed calls, and I'm not sure how to quantify improvement. But there is no doubt this operation is moving in the right direction.

2. Russell Wilson will be elite . . .

By the time the season is over, the Seahawks' quarterback will no longer be the target of condescending compliments. He won't be known as a winner, a game manager or surprisingly strong-armed for his size. No, Wilson will be one regarded as one of the absolute best quarterbacks -- and passers -- in the NFL. Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees will have no choice but to let him into their club.

This preseason, Wilson looked like a Ph.D. student who has submitted his dissertation. Preseason results are to be taken lightly -- sorry, just expunging the final drops of condescension -- but Wilson was the best player on the field this summer. He accounted for six touchdowns in three games while completing 31 of 37 passes for 400 yards. Wilson looked for all the world like a player on the brink of an individual breakout, one that will force the Seahawks to place him among the league's highest-paid players when he's eligible for a contract extension this spring.

3. . . . and Johnny Manziel, uh, won't

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
AP Photo/Duane BurlesonJohnny Manziel seems destined to be more like Troy Smith than Russell Wilson.
Manziel (6-foot) has drawn plenty of comparisons to Wilson (5-11) because of their height, but the associations should end there. This summer, Manziel revealed a big-play attitude but offered no confirmation that he has the physical attributes to carry it out.

There's reason to believe Manziel's inaccurate passing (47.9 percent in the preseason) can improve over time. But what made him a special college player was his ability to break the pocket and pressure defenses on the edge. Those expecting him to play that way in the NFL saw good instincts but not the kind of speed that suggests he can make a living doing it. Instead, we were reminded that Manziel (4.68 seconds in the 40-yard dash) isn't nearly as fleet as players who have pressured defenses with speed in recent years. Griffin (4.41), Wilson (4.55) and Colin Kaepernick (4.53) were all considerably faster when drafted.

Manziel will get on the field, but he'll conjure more images of Troy Smith than Russell Wilson this season.

4. Texans will regret QB approach

The Houston Texans made the right call in bypassing Manziel at No. 1 overall, despite the pleading of some fans. But they'll rue both the day they allowed the Minnesota Vikings to leapfrog them for Teddy Bridgewater at No. 32 overall and the day after, when they passed up Derek Carr at No. 33.

There is no more important job for a new coach than to identify his quarterback, and Bill O'Brien almost certainly won't do that in his first season. Evidence of concern surfaced last week, when the Texans acquired the mildly touted Ryan Mallett to join a mix of journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick and could-miss prospect Tom Savage. In all likelihood, the Texans have pushed this critical question into O'Brien's second year. Texans fans should prepare to hear a ton about Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston and Brett Hundley, the quarterback trio that should lead the 2015 draft.

5. A big-time coach is in his final season

I'm just not sure who yet. Will it be Tom Coughlin, the 68-year-old New York Giants coach whose team might need a rebuild? Coughlin has won two Super Bowls, but he has also missed the playoffs four of the past five seasons. Would the Giants move on if that streak becomes five of the past six?

What about Marvin Lewis? In resurrecting the Cincinnati Bengals, Lewis has made the playoffs five times but now holds the NFL record for coaching the most games (176) without a postseason victory. The Bengals will have their hands full in a tougher AFC North, and Lewis will be coaching without two treasured coordinators, Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer. Is this the year Lewis must win a playoff game to keep his job?

[+] EnlargeJim Harbaugh
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezWill Jim Harbaugh's supernova personality explode in San Francisco?
Then there's Jim Harbaugh, whose contract negotiations with the 49ers have been put on hold until after the season. Plenty of smoke arose this offseason about internal discord and even a potential trade to the Browns. Some consider Harbaugh's personality to be a supernova -- burning brightly for a short time before it explodes.

Jeff Fisher might be facing the biggest challenge in St. Louis. After consecutive seven-win seasons in the game's toughest division, Fisher has again lost his starting quarterback for the year. Has he built his defense into a strong enough group to carry the Rams into the playoffs? Otherwise, he's headed toward his fifth consecutive non-playoff season. The most recent time a Jeff Fisher team won a postseason game? The 2003 Tennessee Titans.

6. Marc Trestman's reputation as a "quarterback whisperer" will swell . . .

. . . when Josh McCown goes back to being Josh McCown, when Jay Cutler continues his refinement and when Jimmy Clausen (!) survives as the Chicago Bears' backup.

McCown had an undeniably great season in 2013. He finished with the NFL's top Total Quarterback Rating (85.1) and threw 13 touchdowns with just one interception. That performance got him a starting job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but the Trestman blip in McCown's career is too obvious to ignore.

Before teaming up with Trestman, McCown was a 58 percent passer with a 13-20 career record as a starter and seven more interceptions (44) than touchdowns (37). What's more likely: that he suddenly figured it all out in his 11th season, or that Trestman found a special connection?

McCown's performance overshadowed what turned out to be the best season of Cutler's career (66.4 QBR, 89.2 rating). With a settled offensive line and the Brandon Marshall/Alshon Jeffery receiving duo, Cutler has every opportunity to continue blossoming under Trestman. And if Clausen -- who was out of football in 2013 -- proves anywhere close to a credible backup, as the Bears are counting on, then it'll be time to recognize Trestman as the NFL's top quarterback guru.

7. This will be the last season of the extra point as we know it

Enjoy it while you can. League officials were pleased with an experiment that called for 33-yard extra points in the first two weeks of the preseason. It resulted in eight misses, albeit in some cases by place-kickers who won't be in the league in 2014. At this point, however, the NFL wants something other than a sure thing moving forward -- and the past season's 99.8 conversion rate was pretty darn close.

One alternative to keep an eye on: Some coaches and players want to see the spot moved from the 2- to the 1-yard line. That shift, as the theory goes, would encourage more teams to go for two points -- a decidedly more exciting play than an extra point from any distance. In either event, start getting your autographed prints now. The closeout sale has started.
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.”

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 Cleveland Browns released the following statements from general Manager Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine about the NFL's decision to uphold Josh Gordon's one-year suspension:
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."
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 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.
Three takeaways from ESPN's #NFLRank reveal the top 100 offensive and top 100 defensive players in the league. Today: 21-30.

1. Receiver rep: If you told someone that the Houston Texans' Andre Johnson is the eighth-best receiver in the NFL, as #NFLRank placed him in 2014, you probably wouldn't get much argument. But if you asked for a preference between Johnson, the Cleveland Browns' Josh Gordon or the Washington Redskins' DeSean Jackson, you might very well get a different answer. Clearly, Gordon's off-field issues make it difficult to make an accurate projection for the short-term. All things equal, however, he is a better player at 23 than Johnson is at 33. You could make an argument Jackson should be ranked ahead of Johnson, as well. Although it's not his fault, the Texans' woeful quarterback situation for this season does not bode well for a big year.

2. QB comparison: The composite #NFLRank voter would take Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson over the Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger (by a small margin) and the San Diego Chargers' Philip Rivers (by a bit more). Would you? There is no doubt that Wilson is younger, thus giving us fair reason to assume we probably haven't seen him yet at his best. He is a perfect quarterback for the way the Seahawks are constructed as a dominant team with an elite running back. On the other hand, what would happen if Wilson quarterbacked a team that relied on passing production to win, as both Roethlisberger and Rivers have done at times in their careers -- would he match them? It's at least a reasonable debate to engage.

3. Lavonte and Lovie: As he enters his third season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Lavonte David is already considered by #NFLRank voters to be the No. 25 defensive player in the NFL. His elite playmaking last season is especially impressive for a 4-3 outside linebacker, and there is plenty of interest and excitement around the league for how new Bucs coach Lovie Smith will use him in 2014. In Smith's scheme, it must be remembered, fellow outside linebacker Lance Briggs developed into one of this generation's best defensive players for the Chicago Bears. It's rare for an outside linebacker in any scheme to compile seven sacks, intercept five passes and defend a total of 10 passes in one season. David is versatile and should be a force for years to come.
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, 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.

"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."
IRVING, Texas -- Things are quiet at Valley Ranch these days. Most members of the Dallas Cowboys are on vacation, enjoying their final few weeks of downtime before training camp begins in Oxnard, California.

Everybody loves the fact it’s quiet, but things can change at any moment. Every team fears the 2 a.m. phone call, like every parent fears them.

So far, things have been quiet. But it could have been so much different had the Cowboys taken a different path in recent drafts.

The Cowboys wrestled with the idea of taking wide receiver Josh Gordon in the 2012 supplemental draft. They put in a midround bid for him only to be jumped by the Cleveland Browns, who took him with a second-round pick, in the selection process.

Coach Jason Garrett spoke with Baylor coach Art Briles numerous times about Gordon in the evaluation process. The Cowboys liked Gordon’s ability even if he didn’t play football in 2011 after transferring from Baylor to Utah. They felt they could help with the off-field issues that bothered Gordon and could fashion a similar plan to the one that helped Dez Bryant.

On July 5, Gordon was arrested and charged with driving while impaired after speeding down a street in Raleigh, North Carolina. He was already facing a year-long suspension for failing a drug test and is reportedly scheduled to meet with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell this month.

The Cowboys also passed on Johnny Manziel with the 16th pick in the first round of this year’s draft. The Texas A&M quarterback seemed to be a Jerry Jones dream, but the Cowboys' owner and general manager listened to his football people and drafted guard Zack Martin.

Manziel has been in headlines ever since he won the Heisman Trophy as a redshirt freshman with the Aggies. This offseason he has been a frequent visitor to Las Vegas, and many photos have been taken and distributed of his time there.

The Browns have asked Manziel to calm down his off-field life, but Johnny Football hasn't slowed down. He has done nothing wrong other than failing to realize perception is reality when it comes to quarterbacks.

This isn't to congratulate the Cowboys for what they didn't do because they would have taken Gordon if no other team had put in a better bid and would have taken Manziel if they did not have so much money committed to Tony Romo.

But it shows you just how much luck can be involved in decisions.

The Cowboys could very well be getting the late-night calls the Browns are receiving. Every team could.

Training camp can't get here fast enough -- for every team.
Join us today at 1 p.m. ET, 10 a.m. PT for ESPN’s NFL Nation TV’s Spreecast episode No. 13. Host Paul Gutierrez (Oakland Raiders reporter), co-host Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and guests Mike Rodak (Buffalo Bills reporter) and Pat McManamon (Cleveland Browns reporter) discuss a range of topics from Josh Gordon's latest legal entanglements to Kiko Alonso's season-ending knee injury to Johnny Manziel's latest tweak of his employer, among other timely issues. Viewers are encouraged to log in and ask the panelists questions as well as contribute in the chat feature.

To wake Josh Gordon up and snap him out of his pattern of behavior, the Cleveland Browns have to cut him.

That's the insight from someone who has been there before. Cris Carter is a Hall of Fame receiver who battled addictions to cocaine and alcohol early in his career and was cut by the Philadelphia Eagles.

"It's gut-wrenching for me to say this," Carter said Monday morning on ESPN Radio's "Mike & Mike" show. "I really believe the only thing that's going to help the kid is if they release him."

Gordon's arrest and DWI charge early Saturday morning set off alarms throughout the sports world, with everyone from Baylor coach Art Briles to former Browns linebacker D'Qwell Jackson expressing serious concern for Gordon's well-being.

Nobody, though, was more passionate and pointed than Carter, who was cut by Buddy Ryan in Philadelphia and who spoke on the radio to Mike Golic, one of his former Eagles teammates.

Carter said Gordon's future depends on his realizing what he can lose, and the only way that can happen is if the Browns release him.

"That's the only reality to me," Carter said. "When I got cut, I didn't have a team. I didn't have any teammates. I didn't have a jersey that I could put my name on the back and say I'm a part of this team. I'm a part of the Elks Lodge. I'm a part of the East Side Warriors. I'm a part of Ohio State. I'm a part of the Eagles.

[+] EnlargeJosh Gordon
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsJosh Gordon was facing a potential yearlong suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy before being arrested Saturday.
"When they took that away, man, that was my reality and that was the catalyst to get me on the road to recovery."

Carter's words were as inspiring as they were passionate. He can state the day he stopped drinking (Sept. 21, 1990) and the number of days he has been alcohol free (8,690). He said he had stopped using cocaine before he was released, but that alcohol masked his larger problems. Ryan told Carter he couldn't be trusted. The emptiness he felt after being released led Carter to get treatment.

Carter said he had great teammates in Philadelphia -- "Do you think I could have more quality friends around me than I had? Don't you think you guys did everything?" he asked Golic -- but that the change had to come from him.

"We're dealing with addiction, man, we're dealing with a disease," Carter said. "If Josh had cancer, we'd put him in a treatment center. And right now that's what we need to do for him.

"But no one wants to do the hard thing. Everyone wants to keep coddling, the same way they did in high school, the same way they did in Baylor ... and eventually it's going to blow up. Now it's blowing up in front of the National Football League, and his career is in jeopardy."

Carter said he'd be glad to help Gordon, and he added that the NFL's Employee Assistance Program is among the country's best.

"This is addiction, man," Carter said. "It's not about help, man. It's about looking inside yourself and realizing that 'I have a problem.' And for him, he just won't admit that."

Whatever happens, Gordon will get another chance to play -- whether it's with the Browns or another team, Carter said, comparing Gordon's talent to Randy Moss.

"I'm not concerned about him playing football ... " Carter said. "I'm concerned when he's 48 like me and he's sitting at his kitchen table like I am right now, can he look himself in the mirror and say, ‘Man, I'm mentally and physically healthy.'"

But Carter added another reality he came to understand: Other talented receivers will come along to take Gordon's place.

Carter's conclusion: "It's up to Josh."

Call me cynical. Maybe I'm na´ve. Perhaps there are some private facts I'm just not aware of. Regardless, I don't understand the current handwringing suggesting that Josh Gordon's NFL career could be over.

Let's be clear: Great players routinely get second and third chances to return to the field after major off-field problems. The Cleveland Browns' Gordon arguably was the league's best receiver in 2013, and assuming he can back away from the police blotter for a while -- and the money at stake usually provides ample motivation, either for the player or those around him -- there is every reason to believe he will resume his career at some point.

This might not be what you want to hear. You know that you're getting fired, and will have a hard time finding work, if you incur multiple arrests connected with your job. The NFL's star system works a bit differently.

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AP Photo/Mark DuncanIf Josh Gordon recovers, history shows that he'll undoubtedly catch on in the NFL, whether in Cleveland or elsewhere.
It's true that Gordon has almost no hope for playing in 2014, given the latest in a series of incidents to have played out over the past few months. He was arrested Saturday for the second time in two months, this time for driving while impaired. He is also facing a year-long suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.

While Gordon is undoubtedly in big trouble at the moment, sometimes we forget how many players have turned themselves around -- or, at least, been given multiple chances to do it -- in recent years.

Remember Plaxico Burress? He accidentally shot himself in the leg in 2008 while at a New York nightclub, triggering a two-year jail term. He signed with the New York Jets two months after his June 2010 release.

Donte' Stallworth served jail time for DUI manslaughter in 2009. The NFL reinstated him in time to play with the Baltimore Ravens in 2010. And let's not forget Michael Vick, who is entering his sixth season since a three-year prison sentence in connection with dogfighting charges.

At age 22, Gordon led the NFL in receiving yards last season (1,646) despite a two-game suspension at the start of the season. He did so for a 4-12 team that had no established quarterback and cleaned out its front office and coaching staff after the season. If Stallworth and Burress got back into the NFL, why do we think Gordon would somehow be denied?

I realize there are more pieces to this puzzle. This isn't a simple matter of the NFL reinstating him and a team signing him. History tells us that will happen. The biggest obstacle, and the only part that should cause genuine concern, is whether Gordon can get himself straightened out.

Scores of people with NFL connections are expressing concern about Gordon's path. Indianapolis Colts linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, a teammate in Cleveland, told that "he needs help." ESPN analyst Cris Carter, who overcame drug addiction during his Hall of Fame career, suggested the Browns should release Gordon to give him the shock he needs to turn his behavior around.

[+] EnlargeCris Carter
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsCris Carter faced similar circumstances to Josh Gordon early in his career, and he made the Hall of Fame.
"We're dealing with addiction," Carter said on ESPN's "Mike & Mike in the Morning" . "If Josh had cancer, we'd put him in a treatment center, and right now that's what we need to do for him. But nobody wants to do the hard thing. Everyone wants to keep coddling him the same way they did in high school, the same way they did in Baylor, where he had problems. And eventually it's going to blow up, and now it's been blown up in front of the National Football League and his career is in jeopardy."

To be clear, Gordon's career is in jeopardy only in the sense that he will remain suspended if he keeps getting arrested. Again, I might be cynical, but it seems to me that Gordon's performance last season provides enormous incentive for the people around him -- and perhaps some newcomers as well -- to help in every way imaginable.

When in good negotiating position, the best NFL receivers get contracts that average anywhere from $12 million to $15 million per season. Gordon's agent is Drew Rosenhaus, who also represented Stallworth and Burress and is well-versed in navigating a troubled player's path back to NFL credibility.

We can be dramatic and call for the end of a superstar's career at age 23. We can pound our fists and hammer Gordon for his mistakes. Or we can be realistic and recognize that similar problems have arisen and been quelled often in recent history. Unless and until we learn something more sinister, what we have is a 23-year-old professional athlete with a substance abuse problem. That's hardly an unprecedented problem.

Gordon's troubles seem particularly galling mostly because they are happening right now. If you followed the NFL during Stallworth's arrest or Vick's troubles, you probably remember similarly dire warnings. This isn't to say there haven't been genuine washouts. The tragic story of Chris Henry comes to mind. But history tells us that Josh Gordon will get every chance, and then some, to resume his NFL career.


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