On Josh Gordon, the CFL, and what could have been

Josh Gordon needs structure. He needs guidance, and he needs some semblance of routine in his life.

So far, getting any of those things on his own hasn’t exactly worked well. And since the NFL banned him from even being around the Cleveland Browns facilities during his season-long suspension (when we learned the league doesn’t really care about Josh Gordon), he can’t get that structure from his team. The same team that has a lot invested in his future, monetarily and otherwise.

Head north then, young man, and take your footballing to the great nation of Canada, a land that just introduced the Buffalo Crunch donut to the world.

The possibility of Gordon playing in the CFL for the remainder of the league’s season was floated earlier today, first by ESPN’s Chris Mortensen and then many others. Including Albert Breer, who also reported the Calgary Stampeders just acquired Gordon’s rights after his suspension was upheld. Yet another wheel was speeding in motion when Drew Rosenhaus, Gordon’s agent, was working with all three parties involved (the two leagues, and the Browns) to get his client on a frosty Canadian field.

Then a dream was derailed. Partly because of the “Ricky Williams” rule, but mostly because the Browns prefer the risk of Gordon staying away from football and getting arrested again, over the risk of injury. Football commodities aren’t cheap, you know.

Some background on the Ricky Williams rule, named after one of the league’s most delightful, smoke-cloud covered characters. In 2006 Williams was also banished from the NFL for his inability to resist various organically-grown substances. Not wanting to sit and vegetate for a full season, Williams took his running and juking to Toronto, where he played for the Argonauts and finished that season with 526 yards and two touchdowns, all while averaging 4.8 yards per carry. Then he merrily returned to the NFL for five more seasons.

But a player being able to flee his punishment in one league to play in another didn’t sit well with the NFL. Or the CFL, because even though it’s a competing league, those friendly Canadians don’t want to be a haven for deported football delinquents. That led to a measure prevent a suspended NFL player who’s still under contract with a team from heading north.

For that reason, Gordon getting into the CFL for the remainder of the league’s 2014 season would have been difficult, though still not impossible. If Gordon wanted to play up north (he does), and he’s wanted by a team there (he is), then the Browns would have to give him permission, and ask for an exemption to the Ricky Williams rule.

The CFL is a business that needs butts in seats and eyeballs on televisions. If everything else was aligned and just some measly league legislation had to be bent, it would be twisted quickly. Even if the league refused, Gordon could still pursue a legal route, because the Ricky Williams rule exposes the CFL to U.S. Antitrust liability.

It’s all quite convoluted and confusing, as is often the case with border jumping. And none of it matters.

The Browns stomped on whatever slim CFL hope Gordon had, denying him permission seek Canadian football asylum. Their motivation is obvious: if Gordon is going to rip or break something, he needs to be doing it while playing for the Browns.

This is when I remind you that football players can injured themselves while engaged in any form of physical activity. Each spring a handful of notable names crumble while participating in “non-contact” drills, and several years ago Terrell Suggs ruptured his Achilles during the offseason playing basketball. Gordon’s opportunity for injury increases in an actual game, but removed from that he’s still not going to sit, and just stay stagnant.

Or maybe he will, and he’ll rot for a year while falling into old habits, far away from any sort of productive social foundation. Right now, the risk of Gordon doing that and ending his NFL career forever is just as high as the possibility of injury while playing elsewhere.

About Sean Tomlinson

Hello there! This is starting out poorly because I already used an exclamation point. What would you like to know about me? I once worked at a mushroom farm, which is sort of different I guess (don't eat mushrooms). I'm pretty wild too, and at a New Year's Eve party years ago I double-dipped a chip. Oh, and I write about football here and in a few other places around the Internet, something I did previously as the NFL features writer and editor at The Score. Let's be friends.