After Josh Gordon‘s much-anticipated return to the Browns yesterday, Cleveland head coach Hue Jackson expressed his hope that Gordon will be ready to go when the team opens up the regular season against the division-rival Steelers on September 9. Jackson said, per Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com, “There’s a chance. Obviously, we’re just going to take it one step at a time. His focus is going to be on meetings and conditioning, and then we’ll just kind of go from there. Hopefully, we can get him up and running by the first game.”
As we learned yesterday, Gordon was placed on the active/non-football injury list, which means that he can start practicing as soon as the Browns’ medical team gives him the green light. Until that happens, he can attend meetings and conditioning sessions, but if he is going to play in Week 1, he obviously needs to return to the practice field as soon as possible (though Jackson expressed his belief that Gordon developed sufficient chemistry and understanding of the offense in OTAs and minicamp).
Interestingly, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk believes that the league has plenty of say as to when Gordon will make a full return. He writes that, while many reporters have “parroted” the notion that the process has been controlled by a proactive Gordon, this tweet from Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network, which quotes NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy, suggests otherwise. The tweet says that, since Gordon is still in the league’s substance abuse program, he needs to meet certain conditions before playing, and then it quotes McCarthy as saying, “this [is} part of the process. Can attend meeting, do conditioning. Can go to practice, but not participate. No timetable on next step.”
Florio says it’s clear that Gordon’s ability to practice and to play will be subject to league approval, which means that something happened during Gordon’s treatment plan that triggered his absence in the first place. If Gordon truly did keep himself out of training camp, Florio says he would have been instantly reinstated with no restrictions of any kind upon his return.
The way this situation has played out not only suggests that the league has been directly involved, per Florio, but that the NFL is also realizing that overly-aggressive application of its substance abuse policy is not helpful to either the player or the league. Instead, it appears that the NFL has opted to work with Gordon in this case instead of running him out of the league — another misstep on Gordon’s part would result in at least another year-long suspension — which jibes with a piece from Tony Grossi of ESPN 850 WKNR, who says that commissioner Roger Goodell has been sympathetic to Gordon since the two men had a face-to-face meeting last November.
Grossi also opines that, since the Browns have finally upgraded their receiving corps, Gordon may need the team more than the team needs him for the first time in their tumultuous history together, which may be the motivation he needs to stay on the right track.
Jackson, though, made no guarantees that Gordon is back for good. He said, “I’m confident that he’s here. That’s the most important part. How long he stays, only Josh knows that, but he’s in a much better place. I think all those things, as you guys know, are always fluid. That’s always a concern, but at the same time, we’re here to support, help and try to create the right environments for Josh.”
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.