There aren’t many more disappointing NFL stories than that of Josh Gordon. The former Baylor receiver came into the NFL in 2012, after a year sitting out at Utah due to being dismissed from Baylor for off-field issues. He was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the second round off the 2012 Supplemental Draft and immediately paid dividends as one of the top producing rookies in the NFL (50 catches, 805 yards, five touchdowns).
Gordon stayed out of trouble in his first season in the NFL, but began the next season with a two-game suspension due to violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Regardless, he put up a Pro Bowl season with 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns on 87 receptions. He was clearly one of the NFL’s best up-and-coming receivers and a reason for Browns fans to be excited for the future. But, that was assuming he could avoid being suspended again.
That didn’t happen. Before the 2014 season, he was arrested for driving while impaired and suspended for the season as a result. His suspension was reduced to 10 games, although he was suspended by the Browns for the last game of the season due to violating team rules. He finished the season with 24 catches for 303 yards, which isn’t bad for having played in a total of five total games.
In 2015, Gordon missed the entire season due to testing positive for alcohol use. In most cases, the NFL doesn’t suspend players for drinking alcohol. But, in Gordon’s case, his 2014 arrest and subsequent commitment to the NFL’s substance abuse program prohibited him from any and all intoxicants, including alcohol. He failed another drug test before the 2016 season and was suspended for the first four games of the season, but missed the rest of the season when he chose to enter an inpatient rehabilitation facility.
For all of these reasons, the Browns are expected to release and move on from Gordon if he is reinstated again by the NFL before the 2017 season. He is one of the most talented wide receivers in the NFL and has proven that he can be productive against NFL competition, but a rebuilding team like the Browns doesn’t need that kind of distraction. That’s why Browns head coach Hue Jackson, as he explained to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com, is more than ready to cut ties with the embattled receiver.
What's best for our football team is that we move forward and move on. He's not going to be with us and we wish him well, but we're moving forward. We're going to move on.
Assuming the NFL does reinstate him, which is a point of debate in the first place, Gordon will likely be released and allowed to negotiate with and sign with any NFL team. Certain teams will keep their distance due to his history, but there is bound to be at least one team that is desperate enough for talent at wide receiver to take a chance on the success of his in-patient rehabilitation.
There are many Bengals fans out there who would argue that a player of Gordon’s talent would be a great pickup for the Bengals, especially at the relatively low price he will probably sign for. While that is true, if his presence in the locker room is toxic enough for the Browns to want to move on, that doesn’t bode well for his chances to mix with his next NFL team. The Browns are a team desperate for talent at virtually every position, so if he had any chance of being a serious contributor, the Browns would find a way to fit him into their long-term plans.
Furthermore, Gordon is a No. 1 receiver. If the Bengals were to sign him, there is no way he would vault over A.J. Green for the No. 1 spot. The Bengals might not even want him to get more playing time than either Brandon LaFell or Tyler Boyd for the second and third spots, due to their previously established roles with the team. In theory, he could easily vault past Alex Erickson and Cody Core on the depth chart, but that is where his potential with the Bengals ends. The Bengals are expected to look for another receiver to add speed to the position, but it would be a complete shock to see the Bengals re-adjust their wide receiver corps just to bring in a player with so much baggage.
Ultimately, Gordon could potentially bring a lot of talent to the Bengals for a relatively reasonable price. But, it is much more likely that he would continue to be a consistent distraction and waste of both money and a roster spot. This is one of those situations in which the Bengals would be much better off finding a competitive receiver in the draft, allowing Gordon to self-destruct with some other franchise.