Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Josh Gordon and the NFL's Pot Predicament

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterMay 14, 2014

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1. Why risk everything?

It is a question that has been asked repeatedly over the past few days. Asked by everyone. Asked by players in the NFL. Coaches as well. Same with owners, fans and media. The question is this: How does a man potentially throw away a career, tens of millions of dollars and all he has worked for his entire life...to smoke weed? 

Josh Gordon faces a yearlong suspension for allegedly failing multiple drug tests over an NFL career that is barely two years old. He allegedly tested positive for marijuana.

Given Gordon's history with marijuana—he was suspended from Baylor following a marijuana-related arrest—it's difficult to give Gordon the benefit of the doubt. Even if the suspension is reduced, that isn't the point. The point is: Why would he risk this in the first place?

In interviews with a number of veteran players—one, in particular, known as one of the league's good citizens and mentors—it was made clear that marijuana use in the NFL is not unusual. It isn't rampant, but estimates by this group of players are that approximately 25 percent of the league smokes dope regularly. That's not a small number, but it's also not grandiose. There are approximately 1,800 players in the sport, so that means some 400 players use.

Players not in the drug program aren't tested during the season. They are only randomly tested four months in the offseason. Players in the drug program are randomly tested year-round. 

There are a handful of players who use marijuana as a sort of crutch, I'm told. It's not an addiction, these players say, but there is still heavy use. Pot is more of a comfort blanket than a necessity.

It helps them cope with not just the brutality of the sport but the every day stress it presents: dealing with coaches, the media, the pressure of winning, the pain of losing.

John Raoux/Associated Press

This is not an excuse for players like Gordon or the Jaguars' Justin Blackmon, who might not get back into the league again. There are soldiers, cops, single moms and leaders of countries who face far harsher realities but still don't light up.

The pot rules could be relaxed (slightly). ESPN reported this week that a new pot threshold could be reached with a new drug agreement between the union and league. That won't mean players can start smoking, and it's not clear whether the new rules would have helped Gordon. Probably not. The NFL that I know will never, ever allow players to smoke pot freely.

Again, this is not an excuse, just an explanation for why someone would do something so apparently self-destructive. To some players, marijuana is a trusted companion. In some ways, more trusted than a teammate.

And that's why you see a player like Gordon—who could be on his way out of the league for a long, long time—possibly throw away everything for some weed.

2. Manziel a backup?

Why? Just why? Why would the Browns' owner declare that Johnny Manziel would be a backup? Why not say nothing, or say there's going to be an open competition? Is this some sort of psychological game by Jimmy Haslam?

Let's just say this: The last five quarterbacks to be drafted in the first round were their teams' opening day starters. There's a good chance, despite this proclamation, that Manziel will be added to that list.

3. The likely end of a career

I think this is the end of football for Vince Young.

He may sign with another team on a short-term basis, but I'm not even sure that will happen. Not sure if we'll see Young play in an NFL game ever again.

It's hard to see now, but there was a time Young was seen as one of the top quarterbacks in the sport. He was the first player in Division I-A history to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in the same season. He was a Pro Bowler his rookie year as well as AP Offensive Rookie of the Year. He was a knucklehead at times, but when in Tennessee, there were moments—just a few—when he was as good as any of his contemporaries. Now, he's probably gone from football.

4. Bengals' rare trade

A draft stat I found fascinating: According to Bengals.com, that team traded up in NFL draft (doing so in the fourth round) for just the third time in franchise history. The team was established in 1968. That may be the lowest number of trades upward in the modern history of the sport, and it reflects the highly conservative approach to the draft the franchise has long taken.

5. Windfall

If you want to know what it looks like to completely dominate a trade, this is what it looks like. The 49ers let Alex Smith, a player they didn't want, go to Kansas City and turned the picks they got from the Chiefs into more picks and valuable players—and still went to a Super Bowl with Smith's replacement.

Paul Sakuma/Associated Press

"Mixed emotions," 49ers general manager Trent Baalke told MMBQ's Peter King of the trade. "I have so much respect for Alex Smith and his family, and great regard for him as a player. He’s the epitome of a good man and teammate and a good player. I know the Kansas City Chiefs staff, and they are thrilled to have him. We’ll see how it works out for us. It’s still early."

Translation: I'm not going to brag, but we kicked the Chiefs' ass.

6. Teams watching the Graham case

Jimmy Graham wants to be paid as a wide receiver since he, well, played a lot of wide receiver—taking the majority of his snaps in the slot or out wide.

The Saints want to save cash and franchise tag Graham as a tight end. The move would mean New Orleans would pay Graham about $5 million less.

Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

It's possible the Saints and Graham reach some sort of compromise that would lead to a long-term deal, but teams are watching this case because several, still, are strongly considering signing Graham to an offer sheet, according to several team sources. It's unclear which teams, but there are some in the weeds, waiting, just in case the Saints and Graham can't make peace.

7. The NFL's social-media policy for players

After the Dolphins suspended one of their players for his ignorant tweets about Michael Sam, I wanted to know what the league's social-media policy entailed. I got a smart response from league spokesman Greg Aiello:

"The use of social media or networking sites (including Twitter, Facebook and similar vehicles) by coaches, players, and other club football operations personnel is prohibited on game day, including halftime, beginning 90 minutes before kickoff until after the postgame locker room is open to the media and players have first fulfilled their obligation to be available to the news media who are at the game.

"As far as comments on social media, players and all NFL personnel are accountable for what they say, same as we are when being interviewed by a member of the media."

In other words, while there may be no specific social-media policy, players can be held responsible for their tweeted words as they are for their spoken ones.

8. Bridgewater talks smack

I think Teddy Bridgewater said this because he was simply fed up with the uber-analysis of everything about his life, including how many times a day he makes poopy. It got ridiculous, and his comments now are simply his way of venting. Can't blame him.

9. No way this happened

No team would do this. Not a single one. Not even close. This story is as much science fiction as the new Godzilla movie.

10. More NFL players to come out of closet?

It won't happen immediately, and even when it does there will not be a large number of players coming out. It may be years before another player does. Here's why: Players considering it will watch what happens with Michael Sam—how he's treated in the locker room, by the media and by fans. The closeted players watching will be cautious. Can't blame them.

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.


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