You would understand if Josh Gordon said he has a lot on his mind. The Cleveland Browns wideout is facing a year-long ban from the NFL, ready to file an appeal the minute the NFL finally makes its determination. In the meantime, he has to worry about his long-term future in the league.
Hot-takers are recommending that the wide receiver be cut from the team coming off a season in which he led the NFL in receiving yards despite missing two games due to suspension. Earlier this month, Cris Carter criticized Gordon, saying that using marijuana is "more important to him than anything else." Deposed CEO Joe Banner recently admitted that he tried to trade Gordon last season to no avail.
The reason a deal didn't get done -- the Browns were reportedly offered a second-round pick and balked -- is because Gordon is really, really good. Few players in the NFL can be given such a long leash -- the Browns have stuck with Gordon despite an arrest and suspension due to marijuana at Baylor, three substance abuse violations in the NFL, and a speeding ticket last month -- solely on talent. And now you can add loafing to the list of grievances.
New head coach Mike Pettine said Tuesday that Gordon is not hustling as hard as he could be during OTAs, via Mary Kay Cabot at The Cleveland Plain Dealer:
"It is something we've talked about and from what I understand he's made some improvement, but it is a work in progress," Pettine said. "I'm a big believer in quality of reps versus quantity of reps. If I'm a player and I know that I'm going to be out there for 40 full-speed team snaps I may have a tendency to pace myself.
"There still needs to be improvement there but we're aware of it."
Banner reportedly wanted Gordon gone, but was rebuffed by others in the front office. It's unclear who were Gordon's biggest advocates, but there's a good chance a few more are gone now after the Browns cleaned house in the offseason, leaving a new regime to figure what the hell to do. For Pettine and Co., that's proving difficult, especially because it's unclear if their best offensive weapon will actually play this season:
"There's certainly a level of frustration because we've known the news for so long," Pettine said. "It's just a holding pattern and I understand that the league has a process that they have to go through and there's other things that they're dealing with and we respect that. But at the same time it is difficult because it really will affect our preparation for the season.''
The situation is so ... awkward. The Browns are acting against football's platitudes of "grit" and "character" and "toughness" by abiding Gordon, who is, meanwhile, doing seemingly everything to serve himself up to NFL media hungry for easy narratives.
And yet: 87 receptions for 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns at 18.9 yards per catch. How can a team dare to give that up, and declare (Earl Bennett? Miles Austin? Nate Burleson?) someone else a No. 1 target for its rookie quarterback?
For now, the Browns are standing aside of the issue until the NFL decides the fate of one of its budding superstars. Gordon will apparently go through the motions as well, knowing full well he's too good to cut, yet too mercurial to tolerate.