BEREA — As All-Pro receiver Josh Gordon sat in a New York office as lawyers tried to save his season — and possibly career — undrafted rookie Willie Snead and journeyman Marlon Moore took snaps at wideout with the starting offense.
Gordon and the Browns continued to wait Friday for resolution to the saga that could sabotage the season. Gordon’s appeal of an indefinite drug suspension was stopped at 7 p.m. and will continue Monday afternoon, according to a league source. There’s no timetable for a decision from the league.
Commissioner Roger Goodell was in Canton for Hall of Fame weekend, and Harold Henderson presided over the appeal hearing. Gordon’s lawyers disputed the validity of the result that qualified as a failed test in the NFL’s substance abuse policy and argued the low level of marijuana in his system was evidence it was from second-hand smoke.
Goodell was asked about extenuating circumstances in Gordon’s case.
“Well, there’s a process that he’s going through right now,” Goodell told reporters. “They’ll make a decision based on the information that is exchanged today.
“I am not a part of that process. At some point in time, I may have an opportunity to be involved. When I am, I look forward to meeting with him.”
If Gordon loses the appeal, he would be suspended indefinitely and not permitted to apply for reinstatement for a year. A win would erase the suspension. A settlement could also be reached, resulting in a suspension for part of the season.
“I’m an optimistic guy,” receiver Nate Burleson said. “I’m a glass-half-full guy, so I’m always hoping and expecting a best-case scenario.
“I’ve only known him a little bit, but he’s a good young man. He has a ton of talent. He’s a funny dude. Guys like that you want to see good things happen to. The way I look at it, sometimes you’ve got to fumble in order to learn ball security. So I’m pretty sure he’ll hold onto the rock a little bit tighter after this situation plays out.”
Gordon hired attorney Maurice Suh to represent him in the appeal. Suh helped Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman win an appeal of a suspension in 2012 for the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Suh planned to present evidence that Gordon has passed at least 70 drug tests, and that the one in question generated a positive result by a slim margin and included inconsistencies and a level of randomness.
According to reports, urine samples are split into two bottles. If the “A” bottle yields a positive result, the “B” bottle is tested. The “B” bottle doesn’t need to show a violation, just evidence of the substance shown in the “A” bottle.
Gordon’s “A” bottle had 16 nanograms of THC per milliliter. The “B” sample tested at 13.6. The limit under the league’s policy is 15 nanograms per milliliter.
A Profootballtalk report said if the bottles had been flipped, a positive test wouldn’t have been recorded and Gordon wouldn’t face a suspension. Gordon’s side planned to call into question the inconsistent results from the same specimen.
The NFL’s response: A player is responsible for what’s in his body.
Goodell came under fire when he recently suspended Ravens running back Ray Rice for two games after a domestic violence charge involving his now-wife. Critics thought the punishment was way too light and contrasted it to the possible yearlong suspension for Gordon for having marijuana in his system.
“You have to deal with the facts,” Goodell said Friday. “We have a drug program that is collectively bargained and it has a step process. It takes four incidents before you actually reach a (one-year) suspension in a drug-related case.
“You have to respond to facts here. You have a lot of people voicing their opinions, but what you have to understand is that this is a young man (Rice) who made a terrible mistake — it’s inconsistent with what we’re all about. We have dealt with it in a serious manner, and we’re very confident that this young man understands where he is and what he needs to do going forward.”
As they wait, the Browns continue to prepare for a season that starts Sept. 7 in Pittsburgh. Without Gordon, who led the NFL with 1,646 receiving yards last year, the receiving corps becomes the biggest area of concern.
Miles Austin is a former Pro Bowler and Burleson has 457 career catches, but they’re over 30 with long injury histories. Andrew Hawkins is intriguing, but has started only two games and is 5-foot-7, 180 pounds. Charles Johnson is big and fast but has never played an NFL snap and is recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Travis Benjamin is also coming off an ACL.
“If you look at it on paper, it may not seem the best receiving corps, obviously,” said Anthony Armstrong, who’s 31 and was out of football last year. “But you have an ex-Pro Bowler, guys who have been in the game for a long time, guys who have had success in the NFL. So those guys are trying to knock the rust off and play at that high level.
“Then you have young, hungry guys that are trying to come in and play well also. It’s not so much unsettling. I think we’ll be able to put some good plays on tape and have a good receiving corps.”
The no-star, receiver-by-committee approach can be scary, but the Browns are keeping a stiff upper lip.
“You have a lot of guys competing,” coach Mike Pettine said. “You’re hoping that you have some guys rise to the top. I think Miles Austin is proving that he can very quickly get back to his old form. We’re very pleased with Hawkins in the slot. Then you have a bunch of those other jobs where you’ve got some young guys, some veteran guys that are competing.”
“We’ve got more than enough talent to make plays,” Burleson said. “And on top of that, we’ve got great motivating factors — everybody. There’s not any complacent receiver on this team. And I think that’s something that’s going to benefit the team.
“Once everything shakes out, whatever decisions need to be made upstairs, the guys that are left on the field, the guys that are left in practice, that’s going to be the hungriest individuals, and we’re going to go out to prove that we’re one of the best receiver corps in the nation.”
Pettine didn’t know if Gordon would return to Cleveland in time for today’s Family Day scrimmage in Akron.
WHAT: Family Day
TIME: 11:30 a.m.-2:10 p.m.
WHERE: InfoCision Stadium, University of Akron
NOTE: No tickets are available. More than 25,000 were registered for online.