Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon has been suspended without pay for the first two regular-season games of 2013 and fined two additional game checks for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, a league spokesperson announced in a statement Friday afternoon.
The NFL will not reveal how Gordon violated its policy because of an agreement it has in place with the NFL Players Association.
Gordon failed three marijuana tests in college, two at Baylor University and another at the University of Utah, and a rumor about a Browns player facing a suspension because of a failed drug test had recently been circulating online and on local sports-talk radio shows.
But in a statement released by the Browns on Friday after news of the suspension broke, Gordon blamed his failed drug test on prescribed antibiotics and cough medicine containing codeine.
“In February, I was diagnosed with strep throat for which a doctor prescribed antibiotics and cough medicine,” Gordon said in the statement. “Apparently, the medicine I took contained codeine, which is prohibited by the NFL policy. The policy terms are strict about unintentional ingestion, but the NFL has not imposed the maximum punishment in light of the facts of my case. Therefore, I have chosen to be immediately accountable for the situation. I sincerely apologize for the impact on my team, coaches, and Browns fans. I look forward to working hard in training camp and preseason, and contributing immediately when I return in Week 3.”
The Browns will be without Gordon, the team’s No. 1 receiver, for their regular-season opener Sept. 8 at home against the Miami Dolphins and their Week 2 game Sept. 15 on the road against the Baltimore Ravens. Gordon will be eligible to return to the Browns’ active roster Sept. 16 and make his 2013 regular-season debut Sept. 22 on the road against the Minnesota Vikings.
Gordon, 22, will be docked $148,894, which is four-seventeenths of his $632,802 base salary.
Gordon, a second-round pick in last year’s supplemental draft, is eligible to participate in all preseason practices and games. The Browns are scheduled to hold their first full-squad practice of training camp July 25.
In the wake of his suspension, Gordon is off to a rough start under the Browns’ new regime.
“Obviously we are all disappointed in this news,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said in a statement. “In our short time with Josh, he has done everything that we’ve asked him to do and he has exhibited substantial improvement. We believe that he will continue to work diligently through training camp and the preseason. I am confident that others will step up in his absence.”
When asked Tuesday whether he had received word about one of his players possibly being suspended, Chudzinski said, “I don’t know anything about that.”
The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Gordon did not speak to reporters this week during the Browns’ three-day mandatory minicamp in Berea. When approached by the Beacon Journal following practice Wednesday, Gordon declined to be interviewed and headed for the locker room, which is closed to the media this time of year.
Gordon and Greg Little are penciled in as the Browns’ starting wide receivers. Davone Bess and David Nelson, both of whom were acquired this offseason, and Travis Benjamin will likely receive more playing time while Gordon serves his suspension.
Former Browns General Manager Tom Heckert used a second-round pick to nab Gordon July 12 in the supplemental draft despite his history of failed drug tests. When training camp opened last year, Gordon told reporters he failed a marijuana test at Utah after failing two previous marijuana tests at Baylor. He was suspended indefinitely by Baylor after the second failed test in the summer of 2011, forcing his transfer to Utah.
Many members of the national media criticized Heckert’s selection of Gordon. Browns General Manager Mike Lombardi, an analyst for NFL Network at the time, was one of them.
But Gordon silenced his critics by tallying 50 receptions for a team-high 805 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie. His 16.1 yards per catch ranked eighth in the NFL among players with at least 32 receptions.
Still, Browns CEO Joe Banner has repeatedly said it’s too early to know whether spending a second-round pick on Gordon was a good idea.
“I think Josh has a lot of potential, and we are excited about what he can do,” Banner said April 27 during the team’s draft wrap-up news conference. “We’re all going to see how he develops and what he can turn into. In the end, that question will answer itself, I think. We’re certainly rooting for him to prove that was a great decision.”
This is the second consecutive year a prominent Browns player has been suspended. Cornerback Joe Haden, arguably the team’s best defensive player, served a four-game suspension in Weeks 2-5 last season for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Haden said he failed a drug test after taking Adderall, which is typically prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Owner Jimmy Haslam and Banner fired Heckert and coach Pat Shurmur a day after the Browns finished this past season with a record of 5-11. They went 0-5 without Haden — he missed four games because of the suspension and one because of an injury — and 5-6 with him.
Gordon’s absence could cost the Browns, too. He’s expected to serve as the top deep threat in the vertical, downfield passing game installed by Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner.
“He’s a guy that has the ability to be a top-three receiver in this league,” Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden said Thursday. “He has big-play capabilities. He can run by guys. He can do so many different things. He’s got a ton of ability. I’m glad he’s on our side.”
Unfortunately for the Browns, they won’t have Gordon for all 16 games this year.