Browns coach Mike Pettine acknowledged the organization anticipates All-Pro wide receiver Josh Gordon to be suspended for at least part of the upcoming season, and the expectation contributed to Gordon not playing Saturday night in a 33-14 preseason loss to the St. Louis Rams.
"I wasn't sending a message," Pettine said Sunday afternoon during a conference call. "Knowing that the decision is looming, that we're fairly certain that we're not going to have him for at minimum some part of the year, we wanted to make sure that we were getting repetitions with the guys that were going to be out there early."
Gordon is awaiting a decision from the NFL regarding his appeal of a drug suspension. A repeat offender of the NFL's substance-abuse policy, Gordon could receive a minimum ban of at least a year.
An appeal hearing was held before hearing officer Harold Henderson Aug. 1 and Aug. 4 in New York. Gordon's defense team, including attorney Maurice Suh, reportedly planned to argue Gordon barely tested above the NFL’s threshold for marijuana because he was a victim of second-hand smoke.
Slot receiver Andrew Hawkins took Gordon's place in the starting lineup Saturday night.
Asked after the game why he benched Gordon, Pettine cited an abdominal injury the Pro Bowler has been dealing with for weeks. But then Pettine revealed Sunday the looming suspension was another reason Gordon remained on the sideline in full uniform.
"As the game went on, there was the opportunity for him to get in there," Pettine said. "[With] the minor [abdominal] injury that he's had, he wasn't loose. I consulted with [wide receivers] coach [Mike] McDaniel, and at that point we just didn't feel comfortable putting him in. It wasn't anything from a punishment standpoint or anything like that. It was just common sense."