Gordon will enter the 2018 league year as an exclusive rights free agent as opposed to a restricted free agent, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported per a source informed of the situation.
In effect, Gordon isn't free at all. The Browns maintain exclusive rights, which means the former Baylor star cannot negotiate with other teams. Once Cleveland tenders a qualifying offer, Gordon's options are limited to signing the tender or sitting out yet another season.
Because players accrue credit toward free agency only for seasons in which they remain on the roster or the injured reserve list for at least six games, Gordon is no closer to reaching the open market than he was four years ago. Since the end of his second NFL season in 2013, Gordon managed just five games in 2014, missed the entirety of the 2015 and 2016 seasons and was reinstated in time to play a mere five games again in 2017.
Due to Gordon's suspensions for violation of the league's substance-abuse policy, he's not slated to reach unrestricted free agency until after the 2020 season -- doubling the customary four-year waiting period for second-round draft picks.
After losing out on the services of one of the NFL's most talented receivers for the better part of a half-decade, the Browns will have Gordon under contract at a bargain rate for 2018 with the opportunity to match all offers in 2019.