Last Wednesday, the Cleveland Browns traded running back Trent Richardson, arguably their most talented offensive weapon, to the Indianapolis Colts for a first round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Now, seven days and one win over the Minnesota Vikings later, fans in Cleveland and around the league are still talking about Browns offensive playmakers on the trading block.
This time wide receiver Josh Gordon is the subject of the rumors. On Sunday, just three hours before the Browns kicked off in Minneapolis, ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweeted that the Browns were “fielding offers for and open to trading WRs Josh Gordon and Greg Little. At least one team has made a quality offer for Gordon.”
Ignore the news about Little’s availability – I’m not sure exactly what Browns fan would be sad to see him go if Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi could get even a reasonable asset in return. While the front office’s questions about Gordon’s value to the organization are well documented due to his previous issues with drugs and the possibility that another positive test could result in a full season suspension, it is still a momentous announcement that the Browns have gone public with their attempts to move the second-year receiver out of Baylor.
Gordon had at least two incidents involving marijuana while in college at Baylor and Utah. Combine that with the suspension that kept him out of the Browns’ first two games this season, and Banner and Lombardi’s concerns are easy to understand. This is a 22-year-old who has shown obvious sign of immaturity thus far in his short career. However, he also provides the Cleveland offense with something that no other player on the roster can – a legitimate downfield threat on the perimeter.
Gordon is supremely talented. Among the rest of the players on the Browns roster, that phrase could apply to just a few other players. Joe Haden and Joe Thomas have certainly proven that they deserve the label and rookie Barkevious Mingo has shown flashes that he may also fall into the category, but Gordon is the only offensive skill player who can make a legitimate claim to that descriptor.
On Sunday against the Vikings, Gordon made his first appearance of the season. In spite of his two weeks of rust, a nonexistent running game, and third-string quarterback Brian Hoyer taking the snaps, the second-round pick in the 2012 Supplementary Draft put up a line of 10 catches for 146 yards and a touchdown. The last time a Browns receiver matched those numbers? Mohammad Massaquoi’s eight catches for 148 yards in week four of 2009 against the Bengals. Before that it was Braylon Edwards tallying 154 yards in week six of 2008.
That is why Banner and company can’t afford to trade Gordon to the New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers, Detroit Lions, or any other team with a depleted receiving corps. Josh Gordon gives the Browns a sense of excitement that they haven’t had since before Braylon Edwards caught a bad case of the drops after his impressive 2007 campaign on the shore of Lake Erie. With no more Trent Richardson, Gordon and Josh Cameron are the last players on the Cleveland offense with the ability to make the big plays to excite the hometown crowd.
Those fans have already undergone 15 years of disappointment. The first two weeks of this season, coupled with the unexpected Richardson trade, added even more fuel to the fire in which Browns fans were ready to burn the new regime.
But now, with one win against a weak Minnesota team, the Browns narrative has shifted yet again. After just three games, fans are allowing for a twinkle of the optimism that all Clevelanders possess in the days before the season begins. That optimism could be quickly wiped away next week against a strong Cincinnati Bengals team, but the front office and other officials owe it to the fans to at least give the appearance that they are trying to put a competitive and exciting product on the field.
Shipping Josh Gordon out of town would be a clear indication that the Browns will not be an interesting or competitive product. The beaten down fans in Cleveland have proven their resiliency over and over, but the Trent Richardson trade was almost unprecedented in NFL history. If the front office rips the rug out from under fans’ feet again by trading Gordon – who has been more productive than Richardson in his short career – then the organization may finally see a palpable dip in the fervent support it has so long enjoyed.