By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
The Morning Kickoff …
The Gordon dilemma: I am all over the board on Josh Gordon.
The moment he stepped on the practice field in July of 2012 he looked like the best player on the team. He was 21 and hadn’t played in a football game in 18 months. Far and away, he was the most imposing talent I’d ever seen at the receiver position in a Browns uniform.
He was kicked off the team at Baylor and Utah for marijuana usage. After Tom Heckert rescued his career, if not his life, by drafting him and then giving him guaranteed millions in his first contract, Gordon talked so convincingly of repaying the Browns’ trust in him.
He was out of shape and green as the manicured grass of the Browns’ practice fields. Yet Gordon played all 16 games as the third-youngest player in the NFL as a rookie and led the team in receiving yards and touchdowns.
He was the smoothest, most graceful receiver I’d ever seen. Oldtimers, imagine Paul Warfield being three inches taller and 40 pounds heavier.
That first year, Gordon hardly talked to anyone unless spoken to first. In the open locker room periods, I don’t recall ever seeing the two players who dressed on either side of Gordon’s locker speak to him. I am not exaggerating.
Yet when you interviewed Gordon, he was obviously bright and thoughtful and never, ever, dodged a question. I was so impressed when he took ownership of a game-deciding dropped pass in Indianapolis and answered every question that day.
I thought, what a fascinating talent and character we’ve got here.
The second year: After his banner rookie season, Gordon dumped his original agent -- a fellow Houstonian who took a chance on him and helped steer him to the Browns – for Drew Rosenhaus. A source predicted to me that this association was not ideal for such an impressionable kid as Gordon.
Gordon spent much of the offseason on South Beach in South Florida, living the good life, glomming on to the LeBron James victory train. Soon enough, Gordon tested positive for codeine in the offseason and was notified of a two-game suspension in June. Somebody crafted a statement in which Gordon blamed the positive test on cough medicine. Whatever.
When Gordon arrived at the 2013 training camp, he was determined – again – to repay the Browns for his transgression. Except for one notable day, at which coaches had a problem with Gordon’s effort, he had a tremendous training camp.
At one point, I asked then-coordinator Norv Turner if he saw a little bit of -- oh, I don’t know -- Randy Moss in Gordon. Turner laughed it off and said something about it being only training camp. Gordon proceeded to post 1,646 receiving yards in 14 games, exceeding Moss’ career high of 1,632 in two fewer games.
During the first half of his incredible second season, Gordon was constantly the subject of trade rumors. Another misstep by Gordon meant a minimum one-year NFL suspension, and neither CEO Joe Banner nor GM Mike Lombardi had faith in Gordon staying clean.
I had heard that Gordon was requiring more maintenance behind the scenes. But on the field, he was turning into an absolute beast. Banner wanted to trade him, but Gordon was putting up monster numbers. In the end, Banner realized trading Gordon for anything less than a No. 1 draft choice would kill his credibility in the locker room and with the fans.
I was relieved that neither San Francisco nor New England offered a No. 1. Either team would have made it to the Super Bowl with Gordon, I believe. The highlight of the season, to me, was Gordon carving up New England cornerback Aqib Talib for 151 yards and an 80-yard catch-and-run touchdown right on Bill Belichick’s home field. Talib submitted on the 80-yard play – just flat out quit after getting beat.
I thought, how nice to have an offensive talent so good that not even Belichick could defend him.
After the season, Gordon enjoyed the spoils of his All-Pro year. He swiftly became accepted in that small circle of elite players in the NFL. He went to the Pro Bowl, then to the Super Bowl to attend that galaxy-of-stars TV awards show. Each step of the way, Rosenhaus was at his side.
Out of his shell: After his second season, Gordon started appearing on the ESPN interview shows on a regular basis. He generated some headlines with his thoughts about the Browns’ draft plans.
As a result of his history and his placement in the NFL drug program, Gordon was subjected to up to 10 drug tests a month. Little did anyone know that Gordon was still appearing on the ESPN shows after being informed he failed a drug test, reportedly for marijuana.
According to an ESPN report released on the second day of the draft, Gordon was informed in April that a second sample yielded a positive test, warranting a one-year suspension, pending his appeal.
On Monday, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam was the speaker at the monthly Pro Football Hall of Fame luncheon in Canton.
Haslam said to the sold-out crowd of about 500, “Josh is learning and growing and improving as a person. He's learning how to work hard. He's learning how to be a professional. Josh is a smart young man. All of us have made mistakes when we were that age. We're counting on Josh being a good football player for the Browns for a long time to come.
"We spend a lot of time with all of our core players and Josh is obviously one of those. We have all spent a lot of time talking to Josh and I'm not going to comment on the situation but I'll say this, but I've been very pleased with his professional growth over the last year and the way he handles himself.''
I know that’s hard for fans to believe. They want Gordon banished immediately. They don’t believe the Browns should ever trust Gordon again.
Gordon isn’t a thug or a bad guy. He has a problem. I would ride it out, help him. For selfish reasons. I have never seen a receiver like him in a Browns uniform. I already miss him.
|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. Use the hashtage #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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