Bill Polian, the six-time NFL Executive of the Year, said something on ESPN this week that was one of the more staggering comments I've ever heard an NFL executive make publicly about a player. It's stunning that the quote didn't receive more attention. Quite simply, people of Polian's stature rarely speak like this on the record.
Polian was discussing Cleveland wide receiver Josh Gordon, saying, "Players like this rarely succeed. I can think of only one, in my 35 years in the National Football League, that got in the kind of fix he's in right now and ever came back and succeeded.
"This is a serious personal problem for him. It does not belong in the Browns locker room, and he doesn't belong on the field."
Polian didn't say who that one player was, but it seems like it was Cris Carter, who had a debilitating drug problem early in his career, was cut by the Philadelphia Eagles and used the experience to resuscitate his career and life. Carter's in the Hall of Fame now, and it was Carter who recently said the Browns should cut Gordon.
Carter later said on ESPN, when asked about Polian's comments:
From the beginning, I got a lot of heat because I said the Browns should cut him. Because I just know that works. I know that Josh has a problem that needs to be dealt with. You can't deal with that and play football. So I believe there hasn't been enough time for him to deal with his issues.
I believe he can't be the player he's capable of being right now (because) his career is in flux. You can see his body language (in the preseason). He wasn't the same player he was last year.
Gordon has been nonexistent in preseason. On Monday night against Washington, he basically quit. This prompted a sharp rebuke from coach Mike Pettine, who told reporters, via NFL.com's Marc Sessler: "There were a couple plays where I think that we would definitely want...that we would have wanted better effort."
|Josh Gordon Career Stats|
What Polian is basically saying (and to some degree what Carter is echoing) is this: The odds, the overwhelming odds, are that Gordon will be a failure. That drugs will destroy his football career. And not only destroy his career, but drag the Browns down with him.
This is a brutal assessment, but I think it's also accurate—and surveying a handful of team executives and players across the sport, their feelings are the same. If the Browns keep Gordon, they will regret it. One way or another, he will burn them.
Gordon being away from the team for an extended period will help because he can focus on treatment. Yet it doesn't seem as if Gordon wants to be treated. If Gordon knows he has a soft landing with the Browns post-suspension, why should he care about treatment?
After all, this is a guy who has shown he will put drug use before his professional career. Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer outlined Gordon's record after his most recent failed drug test, which may cost him the entire 2014 season:
Because Gordon is already believed to be in stage three of the NFL's substance-abuse policy, he faces banishment from the NFL for a minimum of one calendar year. After that, he'd have to apply for re-instatement with Commissioner Roger Goodell. Gordon was suspended for the first two games of last season and docked two other game checks for failing a drug test.
Specifically, he said he tested positive for codeine, which was in his prescribed cough syrup. League insiders wondered if he had gotten caught up in the Purple Drank craze, a concoction that includes cough syrup and dissolved candy.
It was at least his second violation of the substance-abuse policy, and at least his fifth failed drug test since 2010, including three for marijuana in college.
The Browns releasing Gordon might be one of the only things that can shake him out of his issues with the league's substance-abuse policy.
I've written this before: Gordon has to take responsibility for his actions, though the league's marijuana penalties are also too harsh and don't reflect society's changing attitudes about the drug. The league ignores its scientifically proven healing powers and the benefits of marijuana use as opposed to painkillers.
"It's not, let's go smoke a joint," former defensive lineman Marvin Washington told The Associated Press, via USA Today. "It's, what if you could take something that helps you heal faster from a concussion, that prevents your equilibrium from being off for two weeks and your eyesight for being off for four weeks?"
Everything in sports—and in the country as a whole—is changing when it comes to marijuana.
There are legitimate reasons why the NFL should allow its players medical exceptions to use the drug, but Gordon probably wouldn't be part of that discussion. That is why people like Polian and Carter—two totally opposite personalities—are united in their views about Gordon.
Do you get how rare it is for a current or former general manager and a current or former player to agree? On anything? That's cats and dogs living together.
I'm fairly certain the Browns don't trust Gordon, either. You can talk about A sample versus B sample and strange results and Borg nanoprobes all you want, but fact is, this isn't Gordon's first failed-test rodeo. He's been here before. Many times before.
These are not your old Browns. This is a smart, competent regime running things now. The future is bright.
If the Browns are as smart as I think they are, they would cut ties with Gordon as soon as allowed by the collective bargaining agreement, because Polian is right. Unless Gordon is cut by the team, he won't change.
And he'll drag the Browns down with him.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.