Josh Gordon was the silver lining at the end of our tough Hard Knocks preseason. He was the returning superstar, the comeback story, the struggling-youngster-made-good. A few weeks ago against Pittsburgh, he was a key touchdown catch on a well-covered pass play late in the game. Now, he’s another former Brown.
Gordon has been a major source of drama for the Cleveland Browns for six years. He has played a role in some of their highest highs and their lowest lows. He missed four games after testing positive for banned substances, and then he led the whole NFL in receiving yards. (I just heard that his receiving-yards-per-game average that season is still among the top ten highest averages in the history of the NFL.) He came back last year and played a role in a few close games, but he wasn’t enough to help the Browns win and deserves some blame for their winless season.
Now, Josh Gordon is a member of the New England Patriots.
Perhaps it could be worse. He could be catching passes from Ben Roethlisberger, or Andy Dalton, or that purple team. But with one notable exception, and one notable entire team, the Browns don’t usually have an issue with playing former teammates. The bitterness comes from watching a player – or maybe a coach – leave your team, after years of losing, and become a winner. The Baltimore Ravens did that. That’s a big part of the bitterness. If they had left and then become more like the current Browns, it wouldn’t have been a problem. The difficult, frustrating part was watching the former Browns team win a Super Bowl. True, only two or three Browns players remained on the roster. But it was still hard.
Bill Belichick, on the other hand, wasn’t a very good coach in Cleveland. He had one good season, but was otherwise forgettable. He has done a little better in New England. It’s unlikely that he could have achieved that kind of success in Cleveland with Art Modell, but it still hurts watching an old Browns coach win his way into the “greatest coach of all time” conversation (along with Paul Brown, of course).
I think everyone in the NFL can agree that Gordon is a tremendous waste of talent. He brags sometimes about being Hall-of-Fame caliber, and many pundits actually agree. He has missed years of play because of suspensions, and people are still willing to say these things about him. Now, he’s going to be catching passes from a future Hall of Fame quarterback, playing for a future Hall of Fame coach, and working within one of the most successful franchises in NFL history.
Surprisingly, I’m not bitter. They’re losing. I’m watching Tom Brady and Belichick getting beat up by the Detroit Lions on national television right now. The Patriots need help, and maybe Gordon is the help they need. Maybe the story will change if/when they start winning. Gordon is watching from the bench with a hamstring injury, suffered under questionable circumstances, and perhaps the same injury that caused his departure from the Browns in the first place. Or perhaps he re-injured it during practice.
I think Browns fans will miss Gordon a bit. I know that I will. He represented hope. He was an elite player in a sea of struggle. Then he was a struggling elite player in a sea of struggle. Now, he’s a lottery ticket. I think someone will eventually win that lottery. Perhaps it will be the Patriots. We Browns fans no longer need him as desperately, though. We have a new, potentially-elite player, who just carried his team to victory against a respectable New York Jets team on a Thursday night. For one weekend, early in the season, the Browns can afford to be generous with their stars.
Ben Kuhlman is a Cleveland Browns writer for Full Press Coverage. So follow him on twitter @bkuhl2you.