It’s been three years since we last saw Josh Gordon play in the NFL. Matthew Berry says he can’t imagine starting the wide receiver in fantasy this week. (1:18)
It makes sense, given Gordon has taken the Browns on quite a journey since he was a supplemental draft pick in 2012.
Gordon led the NFL in receiving yards in 2013, but since that season his talent has been nothing but a tantalizing tease as he has served suspension after suspension.
Now that he’s reinstated, the desperate, 0-11 Browns are depending on him like never before. That’s the ultimate irony, because the one thing he has been since 2013 is undependable.
That hasn’t stopped the Browns from gushing about his return. While head coach Hue Jackson said he didn’t want to make too big a deal of Gordon’s return, he also has talked of “big plans” and feeling like it’s Christmas to have him back.
The reality of the risk is evident in Gordon’s own words, to different outlets.
When speaking with the local media, Gordon has been the same soft-spoken guy he always has been. Gordon doesn’t talk with histrionics, doesn’t overdo anything. He is a supremely talented receiver with substance abuse issues who said he wants his story to be one of hope and rebirth.
There’s not much wrong with that — if it stays true to that path.
But when Gordon is away from the team, things change. That’s illustrated by his decision to accept national interviews, and to film and publish his own video that includes him talking about his issues by a babbling brook in the woods.
In those interviews, Gordon has chosen to expand his story to the extremes. He has talked of using drugs or drinking before every game. Of drinking regularly, and shrugging off a missed walk-through on the final week of 2014 as an opportunity to go party.
In early 2015, he initially said his suspension for the upcoming season was for a couple of drinks on a plane full of teammates en route to a Vegas fight. In the magazine GQ and in his video, he rattled off a lengthy list of drugs he has used.
Locally, he didn’t want to go back over the GQ interview that took place in New York the day before he met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to state his case for reinstatement.
He also gave an interview to Sports Illustrated that related his past associations with gangs, with drugs, with selling drugs and with carrying and using a gun in high school, though never shooting it “maliciously” — his word.
Gordon said he had no regrets about anything in his past. But when it was pointed out to him it would be tough to reconcile hurting someone with a gun with no regrets, he blanched at the question and said it didn’t deal with football.
Eventually he more or less blamed the Sports Illustrated writer for the way the story was written, and he agreed that the notion of not using a gun maliciously sounded odd. Then he said he’d have to check out the article more fully.
All the while, Gordon and the people around him have developed an apparel line that features his initials “JG” and a lightning bolt for his nickname “Flash.” Gordon has advertised it on his Instagram account and sported the duds in the team facility — before he has played a down.
The Browns have said all that has happened is in the past, but when it comes to substance abuse the past is always present because the struggle for sobriety and to stay clean takes place on a daily basis.
The Browns have made a point — over and over — of saying they will not put up with nonsense anymore, but they are so desperate to win a game they are gushing over a player who has led them through trials and tribulation for three years.
Healthy and at his best, Gordon is one of the best players in the league — and certainly one of the best at his position. Nobody knows if he’s close to his best, though 60 percent of Gordon is probably better than any receiver on the Browns roster.
Gordon is young enough to complete a remarkable transformation and a comeback that defies most odds. Players believe he won’t be affected whatsoever by his three-year absence, and he insists he’s a different person from the one who submarined Brian Hoyer and the final few games of what had been a promising 2014 season.
But Gordon is a walking contradiction, between privacy and telling his story “in the right context.” Between talent and the inability to stay on the field. Between saying he’s a new man but allying himself with an adviser who pleaded guilty and was put on probation for his role in North Carolina recruiting scandals that involved his friend, ex-Browns and ex-Bengals receiver Greg Little. Between being soft-spoken and inspirational locally and putting his past on blast nationally.
Gordon is a young man trying to handle his life and his challenges, while those around him handle him.
How the story ends is in Gordon’s hands.
Right now, so is the football.