Cleveland Browns  

 

Josh Gordon's possible ban dims Cleveland Browns' optimism

NEW YORK -- Johnny Manziel barely had time to shed his draft night angst at a late-night party before he received a good look at what he was in for at his new home, at the extreme expectation and staggering burden he will bear as the latest designated savior for the Cleveland Browns.

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The season ticket sales had spiked by the thousands in the hours after he was selected with the 22nd overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. After a year in which the head coach, the general manager and the president of the organization were all fired -- with the owner himself still under scrutiny for his non-football business dealings -- prosperity and stability finally looked to be within the Browns' grasp with Manziel. It seemed fitting for a team that hasn't had much good news since Jim Brown retired, that has spawned a new nickname -- the Factory of Sadness -- that their hopes would be housed in the slight, but dazzling quarterback. Good fortune for Cleveland, even in these last 24 hours, is fragile.

And so, in the space of just a few hours, Cleveland was so giddy that Manziel was asked about his ability to lure his friend LeBron James -- who donned one of Manziel's new jerseys Friday -- back to town. And then it was whipsawed by the news that Manziel might have to scramble far more than anyone wants him to, because his best receiver might be lost for the season.

The news that receiver Josh Gordon, who emerged as one of the league's best wideouts last season, could face a lengthy suspension for another violation of the league's drug policy, pulled the clouds that had briefly parted over Cleveland back together, shrouding the franchise again in gloom. Later, it was followed by the revelation that receiver Nate Burleson broke his arm in a recent OTA workout, an injury the Browns had kept secret until now. His agent wrote on Twitter that Burleson had a minor surgery.

And Manziel thought his green room wait was nerve wracking?

Anyone in the Browns' organization who knew about Gordon's situation on Friday was not spurred by it or Burleson's injury to immediately seek one of the receivers from this deep class. The Gordon news broke just before the draft resumed Friday night, and with their second-round pick (No. 35 overall), the Browns eschewed the receivers and instead went with a mauling offensive lineman, Joel Bitonio. They followed up that pick in the third round with linebacker Christian Kirksey (No. 71) and running back Terrance West (No. 94). The Gordon situation had so completely eclipsed the Browns that Bitonio was asked if he was surprised the team didn't draft a receiver instead of him and was queried about his thoughts on Gordon's situation.

"Regarding the other incident, it's not my place to really talk about that," he told reporters. "I really don't know any of the details or anything like that, so I'm not sure what exactly happened with that situation, but hopefully it works out for us, and hopefully, it's not as serious as people say it is."

After the third round concluded, both general manager Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine declined to discuss Gordon or Burleson.

Historically, it's almost always as serious as it seems for the Browns. Few fan bases are more loyal and more deserving of victory. But even by the tumultuous standards of the franchise, the last 24 hours have carved new peaks and valleys. After making three trades in the first round Thursday, and coming away with defensive back Justin Gilbert -- remember him -- and then Manziel, Browns fans were reveling in a rare few hours of unalloyed optimism -- or at least the ones who hadn't yet learned about Gordon's possible suspension. Perhaps the Browns were foolish to have much confidence that Gordon would be a reliable receiver. Even as Gordon blossomed into an 87-catch player last season, the Browns were concerned. Former team president Joe Banner had tried to trade him last year.

Now Gordon is the problem of the Browns' new regime and, by extension, Manziel. Depending on the outcome of an expected appeal, Gordon's career with the Browns could be over. While Burleson is expected back for training camp -- his agent said he would be 100 percent -- Farmer, who earned plaudits for how he worked the draft order Thursday to get the players the Browns wanted, curiously ignored wide receivers Friday.

Manziel was long done with his day by that time, but he should have been watching closely. He is being counted on not only to compete with veteran Brian Hoyer to be the starter, but to be the face of a franchise that has all too often been defined by a grimace. The football gods gave Cleveland 24 hours to feel good about the Browns. Now they face their first real test of what is to be a new era, and Gordon may have already failed them.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.

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