Josh Gordon's Browns legacy: Wasted opportunity

Josh Gordon's tenure with the Cleveland Browns will be remembered as one of the greatest what-could-have-beens in team history.

Gordon had tremendous talent, displayed at its peak during the 2013 season, when he led the NFL with 1,646 receiving yards despite being suspended for the first two games.

But in his last act with the Browns, he showed up late to the team facility on Saturday, saying he had a hamstring problem and could not play the next day in New Orleans. Two days later, the Browns traded Gordon to New England for a fifth-round draft choice. To think that a talent like Gordon was worth a fifth-round pick sums up his years with the Browns, who deemed enough was finally enough.

It was time. A team can only live on hope so long, and the Browns stretched hope past its reasonable limits. Other teams, though, do not let go. They are enchanted by talent, dependability be damned.

To the Browns and the NFL, Gordon was and is height, weight, speed and hands. He is the guy the Patriots remember from 2013, who treated Aqib Talib as if he were a seventh-grader in a game where Gordon had 151 yards receiving. That game completed a trio of games where Gordon had 237, 261 and 151 yards, with four touchdowns.

When he's right, Gordon is spectacular.

But in a league that prizes availability and dependability, Gordon since that season was anything but. He would randomly show up late, and his routes lacked the precision his quarterbacks and the offense needed -- something Todd Haley pointed out only last week. As talented as Gordon was, and as many spectacular plays as he produced, he also caused on-field problems with poor routes and occasional half-hearted effort that on certain plays led to turnovers.

He was suspended in 2014, originally for the entire season, but when a new collective bargaining agreement was signed, Gordon's suspension was reduced to 10 games.

Gordon pounded his chest as he strode off the field after his first game back, when he had eight catches for 120 yards in Atlanta. He had 16 catches in the next four games combined, then showed up late for the team plane before the finale and was suspended by the Browns.

Last summer, Gordon admitted his drug use was the cause of that suspension.

In early February, the league announced he would be suspended for a year for violating his treatment plan.

That wiped out 2015.

In 2016, he spent training camp with the team, but just when it appeared he and Terrelle Pryor could form a potent tandem, Gordon left. He was suspended again, and for the second year in a row missed the entire season.

In 2017, he played the final five games -- and had 18 catches on 42 targets.

This season, he left the team just before the start of camp, returned prior to the third preseason game, had three targets and one catch in the opener, and showed up before Week 2 with the hamstring issue.

In college, he admitted failing drug tests at two schools, which thrust him into the supplemental draft. In the NFL, he has been suspended for part of every season from 2013 through 2017 -- five years in a row.

Yet for five years, the Browns bent over backward to try to help him. They were a victim of falling too much in love with the highlights from the year Gordon played so well. Even when it was illogical, the Browns stood behind Gordon. They waited for him through suspension after suspension after suspension and false start after false start.

What the Browns saw as support, others may have seen as enabling. Because no matter how many times or how badly Gordon let the Browns down, the team stood waiting for him again with open arms.

Since 2013, Gordon played in 11 games -- and have not won any of the last 10. The Browns' record with Gordon in those games: 1-9-1.

Gordon filmed promotional, documentary-style videos about his past issues, his drug use and his comebacks. He has marketed a "Flash" clothing line. And he has regularly posted buff photos of himself on social media.

It will be interesting to see how all that goes over in New England.

Joining the Patriots may actually be a reward for a player who held his first team hostage for years. He leaves this losing team he's been teasing for one that annually challenges for the Super Bowl, and for one that has a Hall of Fame quarterback still playing at a Hall of Fame level, with a Hall of Fame coach on the sideline.

If Gordon can't make it work there, he may not be able to make it work anywhere.

The problem: Gordon has barely worked since 2013.