Former Houston Lamar, Baylor and Utah Receiver Josh Gordon Ready to Return to Football After Near 3-Year Absence

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Photo: Jerome Mirron/USA TODAY Sports

BEREA, Ohio — For Josh Gordon, the fourth time may be the charm.

Gordon, who received back-to-back suspensions from the NFL in 2015 and 2016, returned to Cleveland Browns’ practice session Wednesday for the first time since December 26, 2014.

Gordon’s talent has never really been in question.

At Houston Lamar High School, he caught 45 passes for 894 yards and 13 touchdowns in his final two prep seasons. As a senior, he was named first-team All-District 20-5A. In 13 games as a sophomore at Baylor, he had 42 receptions for 714 yards (17 yards per reception) and seven touchdowns.

The question if teams would accept him back if the NFL approved his reinstatement, though, loomed in the not so distant future after league officials approved his reinstatement after an initial denial.

“I was [done with Josh Gordon]. I want you to know that. I was,” Browns’ Head Coach Hue Jackson said after Gordon’s first in-season practice in a Wednesday Cleveland.com report. “And for the football team a year ago, I thought it was really important to really establish a culture here that was right and strong and if somebody wasn’t going to be here, then I need to move on beyond that. And we did. So I was [done] based on what the situation was at that time.”

His off the field issues, though, overplayed his talent in college. During his sophomore year in 2010, police found marijuana in teammate Willie Jefferson after he and Gordon were found asleep in a Waco area Taco Bell drive-through lane. While Jefferson, the driver, was kicked off the team due to it being his second violation of Baylor athletics policy, but Gordon received a suspension.

Photo courtesy Steven Leija/Southcreek Global

A year later, Gordon was suspended indefinitely by then-Head Coach Art Briles, for later failing a drug test and testing positive for marijuana, forcing a transfer to the University of Utah, where he sat out the 2011 season. He entered the 2012 NFL Supplemental Draft, after applying for the 2011 Supplemental Draft too late.

Non-football related issues also drove a wedge between NFL franchise ownership, coaches, and former teammates. He was suspended for the first two games of the 2013 season due to violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy — a season he had 237 receiving yards and in Week 13 and 261 receiving yards in Week 14, the first time in NFL history a wide receiver had back-to-back games with at least 200 receiving yards. He led the league in receiving yards with 1,646 and was voted to his first Pro Bowl.

Eight months later, the NFL suspended him for 10 games for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy and the Browns suspended him from the final game of the 2014 season due to a violation of team rules. Gordon missed the entire 2015 season violating the league’s substance abuse policy for the second time.

He did not play football in 2016 despite the NFL approving his reinstatement and allowing him to participate in training camp. Gordon received a suspension for the first four games of the 2016 regular season — his third —and stepped away from football for the remainder of the season.

“We’re moving on,” he said at the time, per Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot. “We need to close that chapter right now.”

Though Gordon was eligible for activation on Monday at the team’s discretion, the Browns are not obligated to activate him from the commissioner’s exempt list until Dec. 4. The team could release the 26-year-old veteran at any time.

The first game Gordon is eligible to suit up for will be Dec. 3 in Los Angeles against the Chargers, making him able to play the final five games of the season. Because he can only play five games, the Browns will retain his rights through the 2018 season.

If the NFL had reinstated Gordon for six games, he could have qualified for an accrued professional season and been eligible for restricted free agency during the 2018 offseason.

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