Josh Gordon is back with the Browns, but it’s unclear when he’ll officially be back on the field. It’s also unclear whether and to what extent the league has a hand in Gordon’s ability to practice and play, but it’s obvious that the NFL has some degree of day over the situation — and that the Browns would prefer not to acknowledge that, for whatever reason.
“I am sure the league probably has to say something, but at the same time, I do not think. . . . You would have to find that out,” coach Hue Jackson told reporters on Sunday. “What is most important for me, I know I want to see him in meetings and see what kind of shape he is in before I ever make a decision about trotting him out there.”
That’s called deflection and evasiveness, kids.
“I just think that there are some things that we want to see him want to do before I stick him out there,” Jackson added. “We are to trying to just get him back with his teammates, acclimating him back to the facility with his team and get him in condition. I need to make sure that this young man is in shape before I ever stick him back out that. I think that I owe that to him, to the football team and to the organization. We will kind of go from there.”
But it’s not just the team’s call; that became obvious on Saturday, when a league spokesperson said that, as far as the league is concerned, this is “part of the process,” that Gordon can attend meetings and engage in conditioning, and that there’s no timetable on the next step.
That’s significant because if Gordon’s absence had nothing with the substance-abuse policy or his status in the substance-abuse program there would be no process, no timetable, no anything. He’d be able to return whenever he wanted to, with no involvement or approval of the league.
While on one hand it’s a distinction without a difference, on the other hand it shows a certain degree of flexibility and cooperation that has allowed Gordon to remain on track to continue his career without application of the hard-nosed approach toward players that has characterized much of the 12 years since Roger Goodell become the Commissioner. And it’s the right way to deal with players who have a history of using certain substances on their own time that are irrelevant to their employment.