On Saturday it was revealed that the Cleveland Browns were releasing their much-maligned, former All-Pro wide receiver, Josh Gordon. Then on Sunday, it came out that if the Browns could trade Gordon, he preferred to be dealt to two teams, one of which is the San Francisco 49ers.
The timing of this news is far from ideal, in fact, it raises the proverbial eyebrow. Why, after all the Browns have endured during Gordon’s tumultuous tenure with the franchise, would they give up on him prior to Week 2?
Gordon arrived at Browns facilities on Saturday with a previously undisclosed hamstring injury he suffered during a promotional photoshoot. He was checked out by Browns doctors and later ruled inactive for Sunday’s game against the Saints. General Manager John Dorsey, in his first full season with the team, finally decided Gordon’s leash had been long enough and it was time to move on.
The 49ers make sense on paper. The depth at wide receiver includes a pair of rookies, two second-year players, an injured player, and a 32-year old veteran. But does Gordon, with his history of substance abuse, make sense in the 49er locker room?
After his breakout season in 2013, Gordon has only played in 11 games over the past four years, dealing with a myriad of off-field issues and suspensions. More recently, Gordon missed all of training camp and the preseason citing it was part of his “health and treatment plan.” The Browns supported this decision, but the most recent incident proved to be the final straw.
San Francisco general manager John Lynch was not bashful to the media about contacting the Browns regarding Gordon’s availability. Lynch didn’t exactly go into specifics but said the team would do its “due diligence.” Gordon is signed through this season with a base salary of $790,000. The 49ers could probably offer a contingent draft pick depending on the number of games Gordon suits up. Weighing risk and reward is why the Niners brought Lynch into their front office.
From the 49ers standpoint, the hesitation is real and it’s just not because of Gordon. The team similarly dealt with an oft-suspended substance abuser in Aldon Smith over the course of four-plus years. Furthermore, the organization also handled the Reuben Foster situation this offseason, who will be returning from his two-game suspension in Week 3 against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Ultimately, the decision perhaps lies with head coach Kyle Shanahan who probably knows Gordon best in the organization. Shanahan was the offensive coordinator in Cleveland during 2014 when Gordon was originally suspended by the NFL for the entire season.
Gordon had his suspension reduced to ten games and appeared in five that year. Shanahan saw firsthand what a talented player like Gordon is capable of. Shanahan also knows the potential consequences of bringing in a player like Gordon with his baggage in tow.
Assuming that Gordon isn’t facing another suspension, he will wear another uniform this season. It was reported Monday morning that as many as 10 teams have inquired about Gordon’s services. Some of those teams would prefer to remain anonymous, while the Niners were far from it. Gordon’s fate should be determined in a matter of hours but if that new jersey is red and gold remains to be seen.