I don’t think we’re looking to do [conduct any more trades]. I don’t think that is the plan… I think we feel good about where we’re at and moving forward now.” — Cleveland Browns CEO Joe Banner, September 18, 2013
With Just under five minutes left in the first quarter of Sunday’s contest against the Minnesota Vikings, Cleveland Browns wide receiver took roughly six strides down the left sideline before he was left all alone. The 6-foot-3-inch gazelle of a wide receiver, fresh off of his two-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, slowed up his stride, hauled in a pass from the right hand of Brian Hoyer, and left two would-be defenders in the dust. He dropped the ball into the visitor’s end zone, gestured as if he was parting the Red Sea, and immediately provided his team with the offensive play-maker it so direly needed.
As if not catching an in-game pass since December 30, 2012 was not enough of a point-proving moment, Gordon’s 47-yard touchdown provided the Browns with six crucial points roughly three hours after his name hit the trade-based headlines. Despite telling the local media, and in turn the fans of the Cleveland Browns, that the axis tilting trade of Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts would be the last shell shocking move—that the Browns’ new “foundation” would be the starting point for what was to come—rumors swirled that the team’s CEO was looking to part ways with Gordon as well as his positional peer Greg Little.
“He’s been on the trade block for several weeks,” said NFL reporter Adam Caplan. “Banner wants him out, very clear, source said.”
All Gordon would do after seeing that his new boss wanted him “out” would be career-high marks in receptions (10) as well as yards (146); he would add a 22-yard run for good measure. This afternoon marked Gordon’s second career 100-yard receiving game. His 10 catches tied him for the seventh-most by a Brown in a game and were the most by a any wide receiver wearing a logoless orange helmet since Kevin Johnson hauled in 11 passes against San Francisco on Sept. 21, 2003. Let that marinate for a second.
“It was made (known) to me,” Gordon would say of the pre-game reports. “But I just needed to go out and play. Whatever decision is made, that’s above me. If you go out there and not be focused, you might get your head knocked off.”
Instead, Gordon went out there and left Minnesota defenders’ heads spinning. Deep routes, intermediate routes, screen passes, crucial first-down conversions, Gordon was a part of it all—a big part. When discussing the promotion of Hoyter to starting quarterback earlier in the week, Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski stated that perhaps the St. Ignatius product was the “spark” the team needed to win their first game. While Hoyer threw for a respectable 320 yards, it is difficult to envision any success remotely similar without Gordon on the field.
“He’s a playmaker,” Pro Bowl offensive tackle Joe Thomas said of Gordon. “He can make any offense better and not only when he gets the ball.”
Gordon’s presence, as insinuated by Thomas, immediately led to other players on the Browns being open for Hoyer. Tight end Jordan Cameron was on the receiving end of three touchdowns, wide receiver Davone Bess hauled in seven of his 10 targets for nearly 70 yards and several first downs.
The risks involved with Gordon are well-documented—one more violation of the league’s policy on illegal substances and the übertalented glider of a receiver could not only be off of the team, but out of the NFL all together. He has an affliction for fast cars and amassing traffic violations. He has, at times, shown a lack of interest in elevated work during training camps and practices. If the team is merely looking to ignite a flame under Gordon by leaking rumors of a desired trade, the move undoubtedly worked. But if they’re looking to trade a 22-year-old play-maker, something that could not be said about any player on the Browns presently or in recent seasons—regardless of position, then we are talking about something completely different.
Forget that the CEO outright said that the Browns are not looking to make any additional moves less than one week ago, the likelihood that the team could receive anything worthy of the chasm in talent that would be created by trading Gordon is miniscule. With a player of Gordon’s risk, his value with his current team is always going to be higher than what could be had on the open market. But with a player of Gordon’s talent, the impact on his current team is equal, if not greater. Anquan Boldin was recently traded from the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens for a sixth-round draft pick; to expect anything greater than a third- or fourth-round selection for a player who was recently obtained for a second-round selection would be a pipe dream.
“I think Josh has a lot of potential and we are excited about what he can do,” Banner said following the 2013 NFL Draft. “We’re all going to see how he develops and what he can turn into.”
“There are young [wide receivers] who have ability and talent,” added head coach Rob Chudzinski. “We would like to give them the opportunity to develop them and work with them.”
There’s a running narrative that the current Browns regime only wants “their guys” and is attempting to “send messages” and establish a “culture.” Richardson, who was reportedly seen more in headphones and trainers tape than a helmet and thigh pads a season ago, was sent packing. Gordon, having his name in the headlines for his behind-the-wheel antics and a recent suspension could seemingly be next.
It’s easy to see how a player like Gordon may not have much in common with someone like Banner; the two men aren’t likely to hang out at the same establishments following a hard-faught contest. But it is the risk-reward factor in a player like Gordon—or Dez Bryant, or Marshawn Lynch, or Brandon Marshall, or…—that ultimately allows an offense to flourish. Every NFL team would undoubtedly prefer to have high-character individuals permeating the halls of their respective locker room, but if it were not for Gordon’s issues within the collegiate ranks, he wouldn’t even be a member of the Browns today.
For all intents and purposes, Gordon has reportedly learned from his mistakes. He has been apologetic for the incident which led to his suspension and has made sure to tell anyone who will listen that he’s aware of what another misstep would lead to. Certainly, he’s shown multiple signs of being immature with a splash of poor decision making. Trading a former first-round pick, a running back who failed to live up to immediate expectations, for a first-round pick is one thing. Trading your only legitimate wide receiving option, a 22-year-old, 6-foot-3-inch play-maker who creates separation in effortless fashion, in what is undoubtedly a passing league would be an immense mistake. A top-tier running back is a luxury in today’s NFL. A stretch-the-field play-maker who is yet to turn 23 is the type of player who puts you over the top. Just ask the Atlanta Falcons.
But fear not, Cleveland. Joe Banner gave you his word just a week ago—the team will no longer surprise you with a press release during dinner hours, stating that a member of the “foundation” had been sent packing. While we continue to wait to see just how much said word is worth, it appears that Gordon will continue to slither past defensive backs and pile up the numbers for a team that needs every positive offensive statistic it can get.
(Image via AP/Anne Heisenfelt)