BEREA — Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon steadfastly refused to take responsibility for his actions, even after being suspended indefinitely by the NFL.
The Pro Bowl pass catcher was formally banned from the league for the entire 2014 season on Wednesday, paying the price after violating the league’s substance abuse policy for the third time.
Gordon, who can apply for reinstatement next spring, subsequently issued a statement blaming the NFL and appeals officer Harold Henderson for enforcing the mandatory suspension.
“I am very disappointed that the NFL and its hearing office didn’t exercise better discretion and judgment in my case,” the third-year pro said. “I would like to apologize to my teammates, coaches, the Cleveland Browns organization, and our fans.
“I would like to sincerely thank the people who have been incredibly supporting of me during this challenging time, including my family, my agent, my union, my legal team, and the Cleveland Browns staff.”
Gordon, 23, was immediately barred from having any contact with the Browns organization, ending a soap opera that began on May 8 — the second day of the NFL Draft — when news of his test failure broke.
The 6-foot-3, 225-pounder and attorney Maurice Suh appealed the suspension, spending Aug. 1 and Aug. 4 in New York City in hearings with Henderson and league officials. They argued that he tested positive for marijuana because of second-hand smoke, not actually smoking the illegal drug.
Henderson spent more than three weeks considering their position before issuing his judgment. Under the league’s collective bargaining agreement, he could have forced Gordon to wait a calendar year before attempting to return, but opted for a 16-game period.
“We will continue to support Josh, and we understand that there is accountability for one’s actions,” Cleveland coach Mike Pettine said. “Our philosophy in building this team and the mentality we’re establishing is that we’re going to have to overcome challenges and situations throughout the course of the season.”
Gordon’s absence does irreparable harm to the Browns’ offense, which loses an All-NFL honoree who caught 87 passes for a franchise-record — and league-best — 1,646 yards last season. He also led the team with nine touchdowns, giving him 14 scores in just 30 professional contests.
Those numbers could be even higher if Gordon hadn’t served a two-game NFL suspension for testing positive for an illegal substance last summer. He claimed to have inadvertently taken codeine-laced cough medicine.
During his highly-checkered college career at Baylor and Utah, Gordon also failed at least three drug tests. He never played a game with the Utes before declaring for the 2012 NFL supplemental draft, when Cleveland forfeited a second-round pick in order to select him.
“While we may have strong feelings on the timing and the process of this decision, we have also consistently communicated that we will focus on what we can control in our day-to-day approach,” Browns general manager Ray Farmer said.
“Right now, that is preparing our team for the 2014 season and, at the same time, supporting Josh however we are able under NFL guidelines during his suspension.”
Instead of laying low while the process played out over the last 3 1/2 months, Gordon continued to get in trouble with the law. He was charged with speeding in Strongsville in May – one of his passengers was arrested for marijuana possession — then arrested for driving under the influence in Raleigh, N.C. in July.
The latter case has been delayed until Nov. 18, which would have been Gordon’s scheduled off-day after Cleveland’s Week 11 game against Houston.
“First and foremost, we care about our players and we want them to take care of themselves and make good decisions,” Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III said. “But at the same time, the players have to understand they’re accountable to themselves, to their teammates, to the front office, and to our fans.”
Cleveland signed veteran wide receivers Miles Austin, Andrew Hawkins, and Nate Burleson earlier in the summer to help fill the void, but none have close to Gordon’s combination of size and speed.
Austin and Burleson have battled injuries in recent years, while the diminutive Hawkins is not suited for every-down action, meaning Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Cameron will be forced into a much larger role.
Barring a near-miracle, though, Gordon’s suspension is not something the Browns can recover from in their first year under Pettine and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
“Man, we’re a better team with Josh Gordon, I’ll tell you that,” Cleveland wide receiver Charles Johnson said. “We want to look up to him, we want to do right by him, and we’re going to hope for the best for him.”
Contact Brian Dulik at firstname.lastname@example.org.