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Gordon Suspension Has Browns Feeling Deja Vu

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Josh Gordon will be the second key player in as many years to miss time due to violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images
Josh Gordon will be the second key player in as many years to miss time due to violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

For the second time in as many years, a key member of the Cleveland Browns will miss time early in the regular season because of an NFL-imposed suspension.

Last year it was shutdown CB Joe Haden sitting out four games in Weeks 2-5 for use of a banned substance. This time it will be go-to WR Josh Gordon, who will miss the first two contests of 2013 and fined two additional game checks for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

The news was announced Friday, about 28 hours after the team had completed its full-squad minicamp, and cast a real pall over what had been a good feeling as the Browns completed their offseason work and got ready for some well-deserved rest and relaxation before training camp begins July 26.

Gordon had drug problems in college at both Baylor and Utah, but Cleveland still though enough of him to select him in the second round of the 2012 NFL Supplemental Draft, thus surrendering its second-round pick in this year’s college draft. He said he would validate the Browns’ faith in him by staying clean and playing well.

He kept half of his promise, finishing third on the team with 50 receptions and leading it with five touchdown catches. All of this occurred despite the fact he missed all of the offseason work after not arriving in Cleveland until just several weeks before the start of training camp.He was impressive in the offseason work and looked ready to take a quantum leap this season.

Gordon has taken a quantum leap – backward -- by getting into substance abuse trouble for yet a third time, leaving the well-intentioned Browns with egg on their face.

He released the following statement to explain what happened:

“In February, I was diagnosed with strep throat for which a doctor prescribed antibiotics and cough medicine. Apparently, the medicine I took contained codeine, which is prohibited by the NFL policy. The policy terms are strict about unintentional ingestion, but the NFL has not imposed the maximum punishment in light of the facts of my case. Therefore, I have chosen to be immediately accountable for the situation. I sincerely apologize for the impact on my team, coaches and Browns fans. I look forward to working hard in training camp and preseason and contributing immediately when I return in Week 3.”

We’ve heard all this before, so Gordon’s alibi – crafted by someone in the team’s public relations department -- doesn’t fly. All the players in the NFL are well aware of what they can, and can’t, put into their bodies. And if they still have any questions, there are countless people in a variety of areas they can contact.

But Gordon refused to contact anyone, just as he refused to adhere to the substance-abuse education he has received in the last 11 months since coming to Cleveland. It does no good, though, to spend any more time looking back on what happened with Gordon, only to realize that his decisions were ignorant, selfish and potentially quite damaging to the Browns. In fact, the club can only hope that the severity of the damage does not get to the level that it did with the Haden situation last year.

With Haden out of the lineup, the Cleveland secondary was torched by the likes of Andy Dalton of Cincinnati, Joe Flacco of Baltimore and Eli Manning of the New York Giants. Dalton led the Bengals to the playoffs for the second straight year, Flacco led the Ravens to the Super Bowl championship and was named the game’s MVP and Manning was coming off a season in which he had done the same.

So the Browns desperately needed Haden for those games. Without him there, they had no chance to win. Even the Buffalo Bills’ Ryan Fitzpatrick – with three touchdown passes – looked like a Pro Bowler against Cleveland during that stretch.

Beleaguered Browns coach Pat Shurmur went into the season needing to get off to a good start to have any hope at all of saving his job. Haden’s absence was the key reason that Cleveland lost its first five games. Shurmur knew he was done not even a third of the way into the season, and he had Haden – and his irresponsibility – to thank for it.

Shurmur’s successor, Rob Chudzinski, is also hoping to get out of the gate quickly so as to impress his new bosses – Browns owner Jimmy Haslan, President Joe Banner and GM Mike Lombardi. He wouldn’t lose his job with a poor start, but he would be digging himself a hole that could eventually cave in on him as soon as 2014 if things failed to improve.

There is much more at stake right now for QB Brandon Weeden. In fact, it is a make-or-break season for him. If he can’t demonstrate he’s the franchise passer, then the team will part ways with him and look elsewhere, probably in the draft.

But with no Gordon for Weeden to throw to – and no Gordon for Chudzinski to coach – the tasks for both men has become much, much harder than they already were..

The Browns, who are 1-13 in openers in the expansion era, begin the season against the Miami Dolphins at home, then visit Flacco and Baltimore. Gordon will be eligible to return for the Sept. 22 road game against the Minnesota Vikings.

In Gordon’s absence, expect Davone Bess – signed in free agency from the Dolphins – to play with Greg Little in Cleveland’s two-wide receiver sets. Bess had 321 receptions in five seasons with Miami, but at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, he’s not the target that the 6-3, 225-pound Gordon is. He’s more suited to playing the slot.

Norv Turner is a fine outstanding offensive coordinator, but without Gordon at his disposal, it will test his expertise to figure out a way to make the Browns’ downfield passing game click.

In his statement, Gordon apologized for the impact his absence will have on the team. He also said he’s looking forward to making an immediate contribution when he returns in Week 3. By then, it could be too late. The damage may already be done.

One has to wonder if Gordon grasps that – what he has done to his teammates and coaches as well as himself.