By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
The Morning Kickoff …
The savior?: The definition of an optimist is one who thinks everything will change with the Browns’ offense when Josh Gordon returns this week from his NFL suspension.
How realistic is that hope? And what does it say about the team, and this season, when so much is being put on the shoulders of a 22-year-old habitual drug offender who was kicked out of two university football programs and is one violation away from being banished from the NFL?
“Josh will help, but we need to improve in other areas as well,” coach Rob Chudzinski said Monday. “Really, that’s my focal point -- making sure we’re improving in those other areas. I know that our offensive staff is working on that, as well.”
At the same time, I would not underestimate the impact of Gordon’s return.
Gordon’s elite size, deceptive speed, supple stride and soft hands are the best combination I’ve seen in a Browns receiver, well, ever. I mean, no Browns receiver in the last 30 years has had Gordon’s physical skills.
Further, his work ethic is much better than reported. When I talked to a Browns coach shortly after Gordon’s two-game suspension was announced in June, the coach was enthusiastic about what he had seen from Gordon in the offseason program. The same coach continued to say positive things about Gordon during training camp.
No, the problem with Gordon isn’t on the field. It’s off the field when the season ends and Gordon associates with the wrong people. He “discovered” South Beach after his promising rookie season. The temptations there were too great to resist.
“I think he’s a kid that really wants to change, but then there are people around him, who all they care about is making money off him,” said a person knowledgeable of the situation. “They don’t care about him. At some point, you have to be responsible for your own actions.”
Will he change?: On Monday, Gordon said almost all the right things.
He talked about how sitting out two games gave him a new appreciation for the opportunity to play football for a living. He talked about needing to earn back the trust of his teammates and organization. He talked about this being his last chance.
“I believe there’s not too many chances left out there, no room for mistakes for me. It’s either get it right or that’s it,” Gordon said.
“I feel it’s a last chance opportunity for (me in) the league. Nobody wants a problematic type of person in their organization because of how it’s perceived to be. I definitely want to stay away from any controversy as long as I can, forever. That’s definitely my No. 1 priority.”
Gordon said similar things when former GM Tom Heckert rescued him from two college expulsions – from Baylor and, yes, Utah – and pledged a second-round draft pick in 2013 to select Gordon in the 2012 summer supplemental draft. Heckert then placed an even bigger bet on Gordon by giving him a four-year contract for $5.3 million and guaranteeing $3.7 million of it.
Gordon, who had not played in almost two years, had no leverage to receive such a lucrative deal. And some believe Heckert merely was enabling an immature kid with a drug problem by padding his wallet with millions before he earned it.
In order for Gordon to receive a suspension, he would have had to have failed a drug test in his rookie season. A source said he, in fact, did. And even after testing positive for codeine in February – to treat a strep throat, he maintained in a statement in June – Gordon proceeded to run afoul of the law and twice was ticketed for speeding, once for driving 98 mph.
“It’s something I have to deal with, a mistake I made that I definitely shouldn’t ever do again,” Gordon said.
So how does that happen? How do you willingly drive 98 mph? he was asked.
“It’s a little hard to gauge your speed,” Gordon answered lamely. “It might jump from 70 to 80 to 90 sometimes when you’re driving a fast car.”
What now?: In my years of covering the Browns, I have seen no better example of a player turning his life around than Kevin Mack. The Bernie Kosar-era running back was sentenced to 33 days in prison in 1989 for cocaine possession after getting picked up near a crack house on Cleveland’s seedy drug district.
Mack repaid the Browns’ support of him through those difficult times by returning late in the season and literally carrying the team with a heroic effort in a playoff-clinching win in the Houston Astrodome.
That was only the beginning of Mack’s comeback, not the end. His life changed for the better. He has worked in the Browns’ alumni relations department for several years.
I would hope by now that Mack would have pulled Gordon aside and told him his story of redemption.
Gordon has a tremendous opportunity to repay the Browns and atone for his transgressions. I believe his talent is so great that he can have a profound impact on the Browns’ offense.
Call me an optimist, but I think Gordon – potentially – can be the best player on the Browns. But, unlike Heckert, I wouldn’t guarantee it.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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There are no games scheduled for today.