“It’ll be different this time.”
“I’ve learned from my mistakes.”
“I’m grateful for this second chance.”
If you’re a Cleveland Browns fan, you’ve heard some iteration of the aforementioned quotes a few times in the past couple years. One source was the starting-quarterback-turned-TMZ-poster-boy Johnny Manziel, who became a pro at telling the media he’d learned his lesson after numerous off-field issues.
Another player we’ve heard this from was wideout Josh Gordon. The Pro Bowl receiver hasn’t played a full season since 2012 thanks to a handful of suspensions. His entire 2015 season was wiped out due to a substance violation and, though he was just recently reinstated, he’s been suspended for the first four games of the 2016 campaign.
Facing the media for the first time since getting the green light to return to Cleveland, Gordon said all the right things.
“I definitely think I’m a different person,” Gordon said. “If you haven’t changed over a period of time, that’s a bad thing. I think me standing here is a testament to that.”
I’m grateful. I’m thankful to be here in Cleveland and I believe this is where I belong.”
Anyone who reads these quotes and proceeds to roll their eyes wouldn’t be in the wrong. The Browns have already given Gordon multiple chances, and the idea of this being the one which finally turned him into a different guy is difficult to buy.
That said, for his sake, he better mean it this time. His career depends on it.
There are obvious differences between Gordon and Manziel which explain why one is still in Cleveland’s locker room and the other is whereabouts unknown. Essentially, Gordon has proven he can excel in the NFL, while Manziel never truly did such a thing. On top of this, while Manziel followed up his apology press conferences by finding himself in the tabloids again, Gordon at least appeared to be focused on getting back on the field. The receiver spent much of his year-long banishment keeping in shape and preparing for another shot.
At the same time, the fact he failed another drug test – albeit just barely – this past April leaves doubt. By now, it shouldn’t matter how small a margin he failed by. If you’ve been suspended this many times in your short career, you shouldn’t be near anyone or anything which could lead to further punishment.
It’s because of this many people are a little hesitant when they hear Gordon talk about how much he’s learned, how he’s back on the straight and narrow and grateful the Browns gave him another opportunity. However, the hope is he realizes just how much is at stake here.
For one, based on the comments from various members of the Browns organization, Gordon has a lot of people in his corner. Players like Joe Haden, Josh McCown and former Baylor teammate Robert Griffin III have all come to bat for Gordon in their respective media sessions. The front office and coach Hue Jackson also noted that, while they won’t make it easy for the wideout, they want to support him as much as possible.
As a result, Gordon can’t just be putting on a front when saying he’s learned so much from his year-long absence. Many teammates and coaches are trying to help him any way they can, knowing full-well what he could do for Cleveland. Getting caught and subsequently suspended again would be a spit in the face of each of these people.
Also, it goes without saying another failed test despite all the talk of being a changed man could almost certainly end his career.
There’d be no way the Browns could justify keeping Gordon should he get suspended again. While it’d be unsurprising if another team took a flyer on him, at that point he’ll have been banned from the league for two years straight. That’s the kind of red flag which outweighs what Gordon can do on the field.
This brings us to what’s been so frustrating about the whole saga.
Gordon is so overwhelmingly talented, but is only getting paid a little over $1 million this year. The amount of money he could be making is astoundingly higher than that, yet he’s been throwing this away with every disciplinary run-in. For his sake, you truly hope he means it this time when talking about lessons learned, because so far he’s continued to short himself on a yearly basis.
The Browns know what Gordon can give them, otherwise they wouldn’t have extended him yet another olive branch. However, if he’s insincere in his insistence things will be different this time, it could likely be the last opportunity he gets in the NFL. Either he rewards Cleveland for not giving up on him, or he proves to be forever untrustworthy and blows a potentially incredible career.