Reported Looming Josh Gordon Suspension Makes WR Position Browns' No. 1 Priority

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistJanuary 26, 2015

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Wide receiver Josh Gordon's time with the Cleveland Browns has almost assuredly reached its end.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Gordon is reportedly facing another year-long ban for a violation of the league's substance abuse policy.

Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk corroborated Schefter's report, adding that the former Pro Bowler reportedly tested positive for alcohol. Gordon is subject to alcohol testing because he was arrested last July on suspicion of driving while impaired in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The reports of this latest impending ban are likely the last straw for the Browns.

This is a team that stood by the former Baylor standout and supplemental draft selection through separate league-imposed suspensions of two and 10 games, only to hand down a team-imposed suspension for the final game of the 2014 season.

Gordon's latest reported transgression could be a virtual slap in the face to the Browns franchise, and it doesn't sound like his superstar potential would be enough to keep him around.

"We want to take care of our own, but at the same time, we're gonna hold our guys accountable," Browns head coach Mike Pettine said after the 2014 season, per Marc Sessler of NFL.com. "At some point, you get tired of using the word potential. So this offseason for him puts him squarely at a crossroads for us."

The bottom line is that Gordon was one of the league's most productive receivers in 2013 (he led the league with 1,646 receiving yards). In the calendar year since, he has been nothing but a knucklehead that either couldn't understand or didn't care what it meant for the Browns organization to grant him multiple chances.

If the latest reports are confirmed, at the very least Gordon could miss another 16 games because of his off-field decisions. And if he ever plays in the NFL again, it probably won't be with Cleveland.

The potential loss of Gordon magnifies an issue that the Browns already face heading into the offseason: They need talent at the wide receiver position.

Browns Pass-Catchers in 2014
RecYdsYds/RecTD
Andrew Hawkins6382413.12
Miles Austin*5756812.12
Taylor Gabriel3662117.31
Jordan Cameron*2442417.72
Josh Gordon*2430312.60
Travis Benjamin1831417.43
Jim Dray1724214.21
*not scheduled to return/suspended in 2015

Free-agent addition Andrew Hawkins (63 receptions, 824 yards) and undrafted rookie Taylor Gabriel (36 catches, 621 yards) proved to be pleasant surprises last season and will be around for 2014. Travis Benjamin (18 catches for 314 yards in 2014) has also proved serviceable at times in his three-year Cleveland career and has one year remaining on his contract.

However, wideout Miles Austin (47 receptions in 2014) and former Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Cameron (24 receptions) are both scheduled to hit the free-agent market. Not only does this leave the Browns lacking in productive pass-catchers, it also leaves the team short in size.

At 5'10", Benjamin will be the tallest returning receiver. Hawkins and Gabriel measure in at 5'7" and 5'8", respectively. In a league where size is extremely important on the sideline edges and in the end zone, this is a major problem. Though Hawkins, Benjamin and Gabriel do bring plenty of speed, none is a true No. 1 receiver.

If the Browns are going to give a fighting chance to their quarterback in 2015—be it Johnny Manziel, a re-signed Brian Hoyer or a player to be determined—the team cannot emerge from the offseason without serious additions to the returning group.

We'll forget, for a moment, that the Browns quarterback situation is its own mess.

The loss of Gordon would likely prompt the Browns to put a lot more thought into re-signing Cameron, who can be that tight end mismatch NFL teams covet when healthy. However, Cleveland would still need to focus on the receiver position in both free agency and in the draft.

The 2015 draft probably won't produce the kind of receiver talent that Cleveland passed on a year ago. However, guys like Alabama's Amari Cooper and West Virginia's Kevin White are certainly worth a look in the first round. Grabbing a pass-catcher or two at the top of the draft (the Browns currently own six picks in the first four rounds) is a must.

In fact, the Browns need to focus on the wide receiver position long before the draft. Receivers like Jeremy Maclin, Michael Crabtree, Demaryius Thomas, Torrey Smith and Dez Bryant are scheduled for free agency.

Grabbing one of them would help fill the No. 1 or No. 2 receiver position, leaving the other to be addressed in the draft. This would leave Hawkins free to man the slot with Gabriel as the No. 4 wideout. Re-signing Austin should also remain an option.

Whichever direction Cleveland decides to take, there's no getting around the fact that the current outlook at receiver isn't good. The unit was lacking even before Gordon's latest reported failed drug test. With him out of the picture, the Browns would have no choice left but to make receiver a top priority.

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