December 20, 2014

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Brian Dulik: Euphoria never lasts long in Browns Town

The Browns knew the risks involved when they drafted Josh Gordon in the 2012 NFL supplemental draft.

Gordon also understood what was at stake, but if reports are true he apparently didn’t care.

Those reports from ESPN and NFL Network say the Pro Bowl wide receiver is facing suspension, possibly for the entire season, after failing at least his second drug test as a professional. If that’s true, he will have to re-apply to the league office in order to resume his playing career in 2015.

Drew Rosenhaus — Gordon’s agent — declined comment to The Chronicle-Telegram, while the Browns directed all inquiries on the subject to the NFL office.

“I know there’s been a lot of shocking supposedly news regarding Josh Gordon, but we’re not going to comment on any of it,” Cleveland general manager Ray Farmer said in a late night news conference. “Until we gain clarity from the league on what we can say and cannot stay, we’re going to stay silent.

“Whenever we do have clarity, we will express it then.”

In the meantime, Browns fans have been left on their own to deal with the enormous buzz kill.

News of Gordon’s possible suspension was a sucker punch, slap in the face and kick to the gut — all in one — breaking mere hours after Cleveland formally introduced Johnny Manziel and fellow first-round pick Justin Gilbert at its training facility.

Instead of basking in the afterglow, Northeast Ohio was rocked back to reality by the initial item on ESPN’s “Outside The Lines.”

Reportedly among the shocked parties was Browns coach Mike Pettine, who waxed poetically about Gordon’s maturity last week at minicamp. As per NFL policy, Cleveland’s upper management cannot reveal drug policy offenses to anyone until the league makes them official.

“In regard to any player’s status — their contract or their health — we consider it a private matter,” Farmer said.

Unfortunately for the rookie GM, he is now in a very public business, whether he likes it or not.

Despite his best efforts to manage the message on the dais, Farmer’s responses reflected his inexperience — if not naivety — in thinking he could make the story go away by not talking about it.

Illustrating just how poorly Farmer handled his initial crisis in Cleveland, he sounded a lot like ex-Cavaliers general manager Chris Grant in dancing around a sensitive issue.

Second-round draft pick Joel Bitonio and third-round selection Christian Kirksey even came across more forthright on the subject, with Bitonio making a point about not jumping to conclusions.

“It’s not my place to talk about it because I don’t know any of the details,” the Nevada tackle said. “Hopefully, it works out for us and isn’t as serious as some people say it is.”

That appears highly unlikely, though, given that Gordon was thrown off the college football teams at Baylor and Utah for rule violations. The immature 23-year-old Texan also was suspended for the Browns’ first two games last season after failing to adhere to the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

“I’m not concerned about my depth at wide receiver because we play games in September,” Farmer said. “There is still time for us to acquire players.”
With that said, Gordon’s possible loss creates an impossible-to-fill hole in the Browns’ offense.

In 2013, Gordon amassed a franchise-record — and league-leading — 1,646 receiving yards with a team-high 87 catches in 14 games. He accounted for 38 percent of Cleveland’s receiving yards and led the squad with nine touchdowns.

It was exactly what the Browns didn’t need as they usher in a new era, which now looks a whole lot like their previous attempts to wipe the slate clean.

“We’re going to build this team around character and toughness,” Pettine said sternly. “That’s football, a tough sport for tough people. That’s the direction we’re going.”

If that is truly the case, they’ll be going in that direction without their best player in Gordon.

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