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Josh Gordon Conditionally Reinstated by the NFL, Setting Up His Return to Football

The talented Browns receiver still has plenty of time to turn his potential into a career

Cleveland Browns v Detroit Lions

Josh Gordon, perhaps the most athletically gifted car salesman in American history, is set to return to professional football.

The perpetually suspended Browns receiver, who has been out of football since 2014, has been conditionally reinstated by the NFL. He is eligible to return to practice on November 20 and could play as soon as Week 13.

Gordon is one of the biggest “what ifs” in recent NFL history. Here’s the list of NFL players who have had back-to-back 200-yard receiving games:

  • Josh Gordon

That’s it. Drafted in the 2012 supplemental draft, Gordon set the NFL ablaze as a sophomore in 2013 when he led the league with 1,646 receiving yards on 87 catches and nine touchdowns, finishing as the second-highest scoring receiver in fantasy football. Gordon, nicknamed “Flash,” accomplished that in his age-22 season (!) across just 14 games (!!) while catching passes from Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden, and Brian Hoyer (*Brain dissolves into a puddle*). He was quickly compared to Randy Moss, not out of hyperbole, but because Moss is the only precedent for a receiver accomplishing so much so quickly.

But Gordon’s career seemed like it might be a flash in the pan. He entered the league with a history of marijuana-related incidents from college, and his seemingly endless series of failed drug tests at the pro level constantly threatened his playing status. Gordon said that a college coach helped him pass drug tests while he was in school.

“I’ve been enabled by coaches, teachers, professors—everybody pretty much gave me a second chance just because of my ability,” Gordon said in a documentary short released by Uninterrupted a few weeks ago.

While suspended from the Browns in 2014, he took a job selling cars at an Ohio dealership and sold a car a week. Once, while jet-skiing in Florida, he got a phone call that he had four hours to take a random drug test, one of the nearly 200 tests he took in his first two years in the league.

Gordon applied to be reinstated earlier this year but was denied in May. He entered a recovery program in June and ended treatment in late September, his fourth known stint in rehab, according to More than 34 months since his last NFL appearance, the league is giving him another chance.

“As emphasized at [Wednesday’s] meeting, everyone—including Josh’s teammates and coaches, the Browns’ ownership and organization, the Program professionals and all of us at the league office—want him to have every opportunity to resume his career and to be successful in the NFL,” said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. “Whether that happens, however, at the end of the day will depend on Josh. His commitment to sobriety and to reaching his goals in football and beyond will determine his success. It ultimately is up to Josh.”

Now Gordon is preparing for his second act, and the Browns desperately need him.

Cleveland, amid a Trust the Process™ rebuild that is quickly losing fans’ trust if not falling into satire, could use Gordon’s game-changing ability. Even more importantly, football fans want Gordon, and the league needs him, too. As the NFL seeks to compete with the NBA’s myriad marketable stars, the NFL’s shallow bench of young, fun faces has been apparent this season.

Gordon is still just 26 years old and has plenty of time to become the superstar he appeared to be in 2013. After years of “what ifs,” we’ll hopefully get to find out.