Josh Gordon’s tumultuous Browns tenure comes to an abrupt end


The Cleveland Browns were patient with wide receiver Josh Gordon for as long as they could be, and were seemingly rewarded with his promising return. But that came undone at the beginning of the 2018 season and Gordon was surprisingly released a day before Week 2.

Gordon was ruled out of the team’s second game of the year with a hamstring injury and then Brown general manager John Dorsey announced his release Saturday.

The move raises questions about the circumstances of his release and why this time was the moment the Browns gave up on Gordon.

Why was Gordon released?

Gordon, 27, missed the first 10 games of the 2014 season for violation of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy and the last game of the year for violation of Browns team rules. He missed the entire subsequent season for another violation of the substance-abuse policy.

The receiver was set to be reinstated by the NFL and make his season debut in Week 5 of the 2016 season, but announced his intention to enter a in-patient rehab facility.

“We wish him well,” Browns head coach Hue Jackson told reporters at the time. “We need to close that chapter right now. We’re moving on.”

Gordon never returned in 2016, but his recovery and eventual return during the 2017 season was an inspiring and uplifting story of redemption. He appeared in five games and caught 18 passes for 335 yards and one touchdown.

The receiver took off most of August to handle his sobriety, but returned in time for Week 1 and started against the Steelers. He caught just one pass for 17 yards.

While his difficulty with substance abuse has been the reason for his previous struggles, a failed test doesn’t appear to be the reason for his release.

According to Mark Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, the Browns were concerned about the fact that Gordon was “not himself” when he showed up Saturday.

Team doctors examined Gordon, and in addition to a hamstring issue, there was concern that perhaps he had relapsed and was struggling with his substance use again.

He was told to stay home from the team’s trip to New Orleans for tomorrow’s game against the Saints, and one source said he was mad at himself for letting the team down.

Is this the end of the road for Gordon?

If the circumstances of Gordon’s release didn’t have to do with another failed test, it almost definitely won’t be.

As a rookie, Gordon hauled in 50 receptions for 805 yards with five touchdowns and upped those marks to 87 catches, 1,646 yards, and nine touchdowns in 2013. His league-leading receiving yards are even more impressive considering it was for a 4-12 team quarterbacked by Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden, and Brian Hoyer.

At his best, he’s one of the most dangerous, explosive receivers in the NFL and there’s a reason Cleveland gave him as many chances as they did. There is an inherent risk in taking on Gordon, because one more failed test will likely mean he never sees the field again.

But if substance abuse isn’t the reason for his release, there will likely be a long list of teams willing to roll the dice on Gordon. The Browns don’t plan to make the Gordon until Monday, and that leaves time for other teams to make a move to skip the order with a trade.

If no deal happens, he’s a vested veteran who isn’t subject to the waiver wire and will be free to sign anywhere next week.

The Browns are through waiting for Gordon to reach his potential, but the receiver’s story likely isn’t over.

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