Josh Gordon's Optics Problem and Why His Reinstatement Has Yet to Be Ruled Upon (Updated)

Reports have surfaced that indefinitely-suspended Browns receiver Josh Gordon is currently living with former Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel. With Gordon trying to be reinstated into the league, this latest development is a negative one, at least from an optics perspective.

Over the weekend, former Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel ran into the TMZ camera crew—who are never far behind when Manziel is out and about—in Los Angeles and said that he was now currently living with former Texas A&M teammate and current Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller. This was quickly dispelled by Mike Klis of 9News in Denver, who noted that Manziel and Miller are both living in Los Angeles, just not together.

No, according to ESPN sources, Manziel is living with another football player—or “football” in quotes, because his roommate is apparently suspended Browns receiver Josh Gordon. And with Gordon in the midst of trying to make his return to the NFL, this couldn’t be a worse decision. While there has been no evidence that Gordon spending time with Manziel has led to the receiver returning to his old, partying ways and keeping him out of the league for a second straight season, the development is not a good one for Gordon.

Gordon was suspended indefinitely by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in February 2015 for repeated violations of the league’s substance abuse policy. He was eligible to apply for reinstatement one year later, but the league has been dragging its feet about ruling on Gordon’s fate, with an NFL spokesman saying in March that, “there is no requirement that a reinstatement decision be made in 60 days. We endeavor to develop the necessary information to make a decision in that time frame, but the actual decisions are made when appropriate.” 

Goodell, meanwhile has said that the evaluation of Gordon is thus: “The process is that we’ll go back and we’ll look at how he’s conducted himself over the last several months, what he’s done to make sure it’s consistent with the terms of his suspension. And at some stage, we’ll have a report on that, and I will engage with our people to understand where he is, where he’s been, but most importantly, it’s where he’s going. When these things happen, it’s about trying to avoid them in the future. Our No. 1 issue here is to prevent these things from happening.”

Gordon has made clear his support of Manziel throughout the 2015 NFL season in numerous tweets—since deleted—including a November plea to the Browns to #starttheguy. The pair were also seen together in Las Vegas at UFC 196 in early March. And now the two are roommates, apparently sharing an apartment near Los Angeles’ Sunset Boulevard. And while Manziel is the one who has been seen out partying over the last several days, and not Gordon, Goodell’s desire to know “where [Gordon’s] going,” combined with these latest Manziel-related developments, are likely assisting in the slow process. Manziel himself is staring down league discipline related to domestic violence allegations brought against him earlier this year by his ex-girlfriend. Gordon’s time spent with Manziel may not have him up to no good, but the optics are certainly not in his favor, especially if getting back to the business of football is a top priority for him this year.

It’s hard to tell what Gordon is thinking. On the one hand, he may simply be living with someone he likes and who he’s been friends or friendly with for quite some time and staying personally on the straight and narrow, no matter what Manziel himself does with his spare time and thus finds the roommate situation to be an innocent one. On the other, it could be a calculated way to negatively get under the skin of new Browns head coach Hue Jackson and the front office staff and to find a way out of Cleveland in a trade and play with a new team. But that’s a plan that can easily backfire—the more time spent with Manziel, the more the league will be looking into whether he’s actually earned the right to reinstatement and the longer Goodell will be comfortable with waiting. “Indefinite,” means just that, and Gordon is not doing much on the surface to compel Goodell to act quickly or in his favor.

Gordon is an adult, and he can do what he wants, hang out with who he wants to and live wherever he chooses. But he also needs to be aware of what can help and hurt his bid to earn reinstatement to the NFL. Aligning himself with Manziel at this late stage of the process now means we must all continue to hurry up and wait on Goodell’s ruling, whatever it may be, whenever it may come, and whatever it ultimately means for both the Browns and for the continuing of Gordon’s career.

UPDATED: Fox Sports' Mike Garafolo's report on Monday might shed more light into why Goodell has not ruled on Gordon's suspension: Gordon reportedly failed another drug test in March. According to Garafolo:

"Gordon's sample, which was collected in early March, tested positive for marijuana and dilute, according to a source informed of the results of the test. The source added that both the "A" and "B" samples collected were positive for marijuana and dilute. Though the level of marijuana was below the 35 nanograms per milliliter required for a positive test, the diluted sample is considered a positive test."

Garafolo notes that the latest failed drug test doesn't necessarily mean that his ban will continue for another year or longer, but it certainly does not help, especially with the revelation coming on the heels of the Manziel roommate report. It absolutely adds another wrinkle into Gordon's bid for reinstatement and also helps explain why the ruling has yet to come down. It's also another sign that Gordon's past is not entirely behind him. Again, Gordon is standing in his own way when it comes to getting his NFL career back on track.


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