To understand why Josh Gordon's appeal was denied (per Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports 1), and why he will sit out one full calendar year, you first have to understand the man who ostensibly made the Gordon decision: Harold Henderson.
I've known Henderson since he came into the NFL decades ago. I broke the story of Henderson joining the league when I was working at The Washington Post. I know him well and respect him a great deal. I knew Gordon's appeal would be rejected because I know Henderson.
Not because Henderson is unfair—he's the opposite. Henderson is easily one of the most decent, intelligent and fair men I've ever known. He's a graduate of Harvard Law School and has been a part of every aspect of NFL life. He's dealt with the union, players, coaches, owners—everyone. There isn't a part of NFL existence over the past 25 years that Henderson hasn't touched and, mostly, made better.
But I knew Gordon's appeal was doomed because Henderson isn't a man who believes in excuses. The A-sample, B-sample stuff doesn't fly with someone like Henderson. You must also remember that Henderson was instrumental in negotiating with the union many aspects of the modern drug policy. Henderson knows the policy, the rules—all of it—better than almost anyone.
This is what I think Henderson saw: a guy who broke the rules, a guy who's been busted smoking pot going back to college, several times, and got caught again.
I also believe, knowing Henderson, that a part of him believed Josh Gordon needed to be disciplined this way, because he needed saving.
It's just pot. I get that. And I get that pot is nothing compared to the Toradol players inject into their bodies and that Ray Rice got two games for knocking his then-fiancee unconscious. Yet while the appearance of a guy beating up a woman and getting two measly games while Gordon smokes weed and gets a year is bad, those are the rules. The drug punishments are automatic triggers. This is the way of the NFL. Adapt or get busted.
But I also think Gordon was heading down a potentially dangerous path. Gordon knew that if he smoked weed, he was gone, yet weed was in his system. You can believe the secondhand smoke excuse all you want, but Gordon's track record with pot is long. As one league official explained to me: Gordon doesn't get the benefit of the doubt.
And what's also lost in all of this is that Gordon recently was arrested for driving under the influence. That part of Gordon's history is conveniently forgotten by his supporters.
Cleveland fans are blaming the NFL, yet the Browns made a series of mistakes with Gordon. They knew that Gordon faced suspension but failed to draft a wide receiver in anticipation of probable discipline. Then they let Gordon take practice reps away from others, again knowing there was a good chance Gordon was gone.
Pages 24-25 of the substance abuse policy outline the procedures for an appeal. It's extremely complex stuff and very time-consuming. The Browns have known for months Gordon was suspended pending appeal, yet they did nothing to prepare for this possibility. That's not the NFL's fault.
It also seems as if Gordon was unable to stop smoking pot despite knowing that smoking it would lead to the temporary termination of his career. Throw in the alleged DWI, and it's not insane to say that Henderson may have saved more than Gordon's football life. He may have saved his career, and he may have saved much more.
Gordon still doesn't seem to get it. "I'd like to apologize to my teammates, coaches, the Cleveland Browns organization and our fans," he said in a statement released through the union. "I am very disappointed that the NFL and its hearing office didn't exercise better discretion and judgment in my case."
He's still blaming others for him having pot in his system.
Insider Buzz: Shanahan May Cede Control of Roster to GM; 2 Lead Candidates Emerge
Insider Buzz: Raiders Face Hurdles in Vegas Move; Owners Want Them in Oakland
New England Patriots Have NFL's Ultimate Postseason Home-Field Advantage
Can Home-Field Advantage Help Falcons Close Georgia Dome with NFC Championship?
Simms' Hidden Truth: NE Can Slow Creative PIT Defense with Only 2 WRs on Field
Simms' Hidden Truth: PIT Must Unleash Top Pass-Rushers on NE's Interior Linemen
Insider Buzz: 49ers Expected to Target Kirk Cousins If Shanahan Named Head Coach
Insider Buzz: Packers in Danger of Missing 3 WRs in NFC Championship Game
Simms' Hidden Truth: Seahawks' Simple, Predictable Defense Must Evolve in 2017
Simms' Hidden Truth: Meet Falcons' Secret Stars Crucial to Slowing Aaron Rodgers
Insider Buzz: Kaepernick Era Will End with 49ers; Does Not Fit Shanahan's Offense
Insider Buzz: Kyle Shanahan Expected to Be 49ers' Next HC; Will Pick GM
Expect High-Scoring Showdown in Packers vs. Falcons NFC Title Game
Insider Buzz: McDaniels Could Wait on DET or TEN Jobs to Open Next Offseason
'Fame Can Change Things’: The Story Behind Aaron Rodgers' Family Feud
How Bell, Brown Have Shattered Records on Steelers Historic Playoff Run
Week 19 Episode of Gridiron Heights
Insider Buzz: Colts' Future Unclear After Irsay Meeting with Gruden and Manning
Miller in 60: Shanahan's Brilliant Game Plan Makes ATL Super Bowl Contender
Redemption or Repeat? Breaking Down the 4 Rematches of NFL Divisional Round
Gary Kubiak's Abrupt Departure Suddenly Makes Sense
NFL Draft Live Insider Buzz: Jon Allen and Dalvin Cook Could Slide in NFL Draft
Simms' Hidden Truth: Seahawks Must Dominate in Trenches for Shot at Beating ATL
Insider Buzz: Chargers Will Play at StubHub Center, Moving to Inglewood in 2019
Insider Buzz: Chargers Value Mike Smith's Experience, Impressed in Interview
Insider Buzz: McVay Front-Runner for Rams but Age, Experience Concerns Remain
Expect a Blowout in Houston Texans vs. New England Patriots Playoff Game
Simms' Hidden Truth: Packers Must Go Big to Stop Zeke Elliott, Cowboys Run Game
Can Cowboys' Defense Slow Down Aaron Rodgers and Packers' Offense?
Insider Buzz: Marcel Dareus Got DL Coach Fired; Future with Bills Up in Air
Insider Buzz: Bills Set to Hire Panthers' DC Sean McDermott as Next Head Coach
Former NFL Star Warrick Dunn Built Deshaun Watson's Childhood Home
How Rodgers and Cobb Connected for the Biggest Play of NFL Wild Card Weekend
Insider Buzz: Packers' Eliot Wolf Could Replace GM Ted Thompson This Offseason
Insider Buzz: Broncos and 49ers Top Landing Spots for Kyle Shanahan
Gridiron Heights, Ep. 18: Giants and Justin Beiber Are on a Boat
Historic Offensive Performance Led Steelers to Victory
Insider Buzz: Chargers Focus HC Search on Defense, Plan to Keep Whisenhunt
Insider Buzz: Vance Joseph Has 'Leg Up' on Denver Coaching Search
Odell Beckham and Giants' Boat Crew Didn't Show Up to the Party vs. Packers
Simms in 60: Nothing Is More Frustrating Than Inconsistent NFL Playoff Referees
Miller in 60: Seattle a Super Bowl Contender When Rawls Channels Beast Mode
2016 NFL Sack Leaders
Week 17 NFL Receiving Leaders
Match Ups to Watch in AFC Playoffs
3 Broncos Named First-Team All-Pro
Match Ups to Watch in NFC Playoffs
Time to Skip the Packers/Giants
Insider Buzz: HC Candidates Concerned Over Jaguars Commitment to Bortles
Insider Buzz: McDaniels Could Trade for Garoppolo If He Lands Head Coaching Job
Chris Simms' NFL Playoff Quarterback Power Rankings
Which Current Playoff Superstars Will End Up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
Simms' Hidden Truth: NYG Must Lose 'Big Nickel' Package, Feature DRC vs. Packers
Insider Buzz: Rodgers, Packers Will Test Giants Star Cornerbacks in Man Coverage
NFL Playoff Bracketology: Predicting Who Will Win Super Bowl LI
Insider Buzz: NFL Believes Raiders, Las Vegas Have Worked Out Acceptable Deal
Simms in 60: I'm Sorry for Disrespecting Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy
Simms' Hidden Truth: Oakland Raiders Better Starting Nate Allen Over Karl Joseph
Insider Buzz: McDaniels Is 49ers Top Target, Not a Lock to Accept Job If Offered
Insider Buzz: Bill O'Brien Could Be Fired If Texans Lose on Wild Card Weekend
Maybe the year away from football will allow Gordon to enter rehab and put things in perspective. Again, the NFL should revisit its marijuana policies—allowing players to use it for medicinal reasons—but I think Gordon had a problem, and his pot use, combined with a DWI, indicated something worse than a dude who just smoked a few blunts.
Henderson was strict when it came to some of the NFL's policies, but he was also compassionate. At one point he ran the rookie symposium, where current and former players speak to incoming rookies about the rigors and possible pitfalls of NFL life. What I remember about Henderson was that he wanted players to constantly learn: what it was like to be a better player, better man, better father.
I think Henderson's decision will help Gordon do just that—save Gordon from himself.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!