The Cleveland Browns stole NFL headlines three weeks ago by making a high-profile trade, but trying to pull off another involving star wide receiver Josh Gordon would effectively throw away the 2013 season.
Any hope for the Browns to remain relevant after a shocking three-game winning streak and a first-place tie in the AFC North rests with Gordon.
Since trading away Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts for a 2014 first-round pick, the Browns are 3-0. That is looking like a marvelous move by CEO Joe Banner and general manager Mike Lombardi.
What wouldn't be marvelous for the Browns' immediate future would be doing the same with Gordon, a second-round supplemental draft pick from last year who is blossoming into a bona fide No. 1 receiver.
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, a trade is unlikely, but the fact that discussions are taking place with the San Francisco 49ers should scare Browns fans everywhere:
Browns-49ers have discussed trade for WR Josh Gordon. Deal unlikely with Mario Manningham coming off PUP, Crabtree slated to return in Nov.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 7, 2013
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reports that a second-round pick—the very value former GM Tom Heckert sacrificed to get Gordon in the first place—is the Cleveland regime's desired compensation:
Browns aren't shopping their stars. But they have talked to teams about Josh Gordon, including #49ers. They'd like a 2nd rounder in return— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 7, 2013
B/R expert Matt Miller would jump at the chance to do such a deal if he were in the shoes of Niners GM Trent Baalke:
#49ers could essentially trade Alex Smith (2nd Rd pick if KC makes playoffs) for Josh Gordon. I'd do that in a second.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) October 7, 2013
This would be a monumental decision for the Browns, and a foolish one.
Gordon, with all of his past troubles in failing three marijuana tests in college and being suspended two games to start this season, per the Akron Beacon Journal's Nate Ulrich, is well worth the risk to hold onto.
As much of a spark as Brian Hoyer provided at quarterback by getting the ball out quicker than incumbent starter Brandon Weeden, it is Gordon who has really opened up the Browns' offense.
Now that Hoyer is out for the year with a torn ACL, if Cleveland is going to stay competitive in 2013, points need to be scored to complement a playoff-caliber defense.
With the way Weeden stares down one receiver—and he does, just watch the game tape—he needs a stud like Gordon to get open even when defenders can see the QB locking onto him.
Gordon's speed and viability as a deep threat opens up budding star tight end Jordan Cameron to operate and gives him more favorable matchups. It also allows possession target Davone Bess to work well underneath.
Perhaps the foremost Browns voice, ESPNCleveland.com's Tony Grossi, wondered how the regime could sell the team on a Gordon trade, when his presence has been so important to the recent success:
#Browns are 3-0 w/ Josh Gordon playing. How do you sell a trade of him to the locker room now?— Tony Grossi (@TonyGrossi) October 7, 2013
Just when the team has seized so much momentum, there is a threat that it could all be deflated by Gordon's prospective departure.
The Browns have lacked a top receiver for years, and finally seem to have one in Gordon, whose explosiveness is undeniable:
After that 37-yard TD, @Browns WR Josh Gordon has 7 career touchdown grabs, all of which have been at least 20 yards or longer— Dan Murphy (@DMurph_BrownsPR) October 4, 2013
At 6'3" and 225 pounds, Gordon has incredible quickness and just went through his first NFL training camp. It would be a huge waste for the new Browns brass to clean out Gordon's locker.
Look no further than Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin's assessment:
"When he learns the [finer] points of the offense, he will be devastating. He has so much talent." - @michaelirvin88 on Browns' Josh Gordon— NFL Media PR (@InsideNFLMedia) October 4, 2013
What is Josh Gordon's trade value?
One could argue Gordon is already devastating, since he's had 303 yards and two touchdowns in three games this season and has averaged 16.3 yards per catch in his young career.
With an immense amount of room to improve beyond that, Banner and Lombardi would regret trading Gordon for years to come. There is no receiver in the 2014 draft that has the upside Gordon has, and he's already demonstrated an aptitude for being a productive and dynamic NFL player.
This deal doesn't seem likely if current media reports ring true, but it just shouldn't be a discussion in the first place.
Barring any more off-field incidents and health permitting, the 22-year-old Gordon is going to be a force to be reckoned with in this league for a long time.
Hopefully for Browns fans, it's in Cleveland as part of this year's continued, stunning turnaround—and beyond.