CLEVELAND (AP) — Josh Gordon kept his word and “humbly” returned to the Cleveland Browns.
All they can do is hope he stays clean.
The former Pro Bowl wide receiver, who has battled drug and alcohol dependence for much of his life, Saturday ended an extended absence from training camp to deal with his health and returned to the team.
Gordon has missed most of the past four seasons because of numerous violations of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, derailing a promising career.
He’s back, but the Browns can’t guarantee it will last.
“I’m confident that he’s here and I think that’s the most important part,” coach Hue Jackson said Saturday. “How long he stays, only Josh knows that, but I think he’s in a much better place. … I never lost trust in him.”
Gordon stepped away to focus on his health just before camp opened last month. He remained in contact with Jackson and a few teammates and promised to come back when he felt ready.
The 27-year-old posted a statement on Twitter addressed to “Cleveland Browns and NFL family,” saying it was time.
“I took the time needed to ensure my overall mental and physical health,” Gordon said. “This has by no means been an easy road and I’m extremely grateful to have all of you in my life. As I humbly return to being a member of this team with an opportunity to get back to playing this game I love, I realize in order for me to reach my full potential my primary focus must remain on my sobriety and mental well-being.
“Let’s get to work! Much love, JG.”
Gordon, who has missed 54 of Cleveland’s past 64 games, is not facing another suspension but he’s limited during the initial stages of his return.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said Gordon can participate in meetings and conditioning.
“He cannot practice but may watch,” he said in an email to The Associated Press. “No timetable on next steps.”
Upon his return, Gordon had a lengthy meeting with Jackson at the team’s facility in Berea, Ohio, and he took part in meetings and worked out. Jackson doesn’t know when Gordon will be allowed to practice and said “there’s a chance” he will be able to play in the Sept. 9 season opener against Pittsburgh.
For now, the Browns are taking things slowly with Gordon, who has to earn back trust — and his starting job.
“He understands that he has to earn the right to be back out there, nothing is going to be given,” Jackson said.
“He doesn’t walk right back out there and become the starting ‘X’ (receiver) on our team. He’s going to have to earn that. But at some point in time when we think it’s right, when I think it’s right for him to be back in that mode, then we’ll stick him back out there. But not before then.”
The Browns have remained supportive of Gordon, who in his second season led the NFL with 1,646 yards receiving and scored nine touchdowns in 2013. However, he was suspended for the first 10 games in 2014 and missed all of 2015 and 2016.
Gordon was conditionally reinstated by Commissioner Roger Goodell after sitting out 11 games last season. He played in Cleveland’s final five games, catching 18 passes for 335 yards.
Gordon has insisted he’s matured since becoming a father and with counseling can remain drug-free and active. He has been subjected to random testing since being reinstated.
Despite being let down by him numerous times, the Browns have continued to give Gordon chances. Jackson was asked if that sends a mixed message to players who are implored to be accountable to each other and the organization.
“I don’t think this is behavioral, though,” Jackson said. “I think this is a little different. I think our players know that there is a line here and we try to make sure that we are very accountable to that line. I think Josh wanted to put himself into a better position so that he didn’t cross that line.
“I don’t think the players or myself see it that way. I think they see a guy who was dealing with something that’s been something that’s been in his life that he wanted to make sure when he was back that it would not re-occur.”
With Gordon, the Browns could have one of the league’s most talented receiving groups. They signed three-time Pro Bowler Jarvis Landry, drafted Florida speedster Antonio Callaway and are excited about the progress Rashard Higgins has made this season.
Cleveland also has interest in receiver Dez Bryant. The former Dallas star visited the team this week, and the sides remain in discussions about a possible contract.
Jackson has allowed himself to consider the team’s offensive firepower.
However, because of Gordon’s history he’s not counting on him yet.
“I’ll be even more excited once that really happens, once he’s out there playing and he’s earned the trust of his teammates, coaches, and he’s out there contributing to our football team, then I’ll feel really good about it,” he said. “There’s still some steps to go.”
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