Why Josh Gordon’s suspension could cost him millions
Josh Gordon has been suspended again, meaning he’ll likely lose millions in a potential free agent deal down the line.
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon was suspended by the team Saturday for reportedly missing a walkthrough, and will miss the final game of the regular season. It’s a sad end to Gordon’s year, given he already missed 10 games due to a league-mandated suspension for violating the substance-abuse policy, but it has far-reaching implications when it comes to Gordon’s earning potential and the scope of free agency following the 2015 season.
By suspending Gordon, the Browns have guaranteed that he’ll have appeared in just five games this year, when a player needs to appear in six games (or be on injured reserve/physically unable to perform for six games) to net an accrued season in the NFL. This is important because accrued seasons dictate how a player enters free agency when the player’s first contract is up.
So six games means one accrued season, and four accrued seasons — the typical length of a rookie contract — allows a player to hit unrestricted free agency. This means they’re free to sign as big a contract any team is willing to give him. With Gordon’s skillset, that contract could be sizable and there would be plenty of interested teams, suspensions and all.
Restricted free agency significantly limits a player’s ability to shop himself. A restricted free agent can sign an offer sheet with any team in the league, but his original team has a five-day period in which they can match the offer. If a team doesn’t match the offer sheet in that period, they can receive one or more draft picks from the player’s new team.
Gordon’s current contract with the Browns goes through the 2015 season, but he’s only accrued two full seasons to this point. With this year not counting, he can now only finish with three accrued seasons, meaning he will be a restricted free agent after next season.
Typically, restricted free agents don’t change teams. It’s even rarer that big-name players ever do it, either. This creates a ton of bargaining power for the Browns and a situation in which Gordon may be out a significant amount of money. It’s unclear what the market would look like for him given his suspensions, but he has enough talent to spark at least one bidding war that won’t happen due to his pending restricted status.
With reports suggesting that Gordon’s free agency status played a part in Cleveland’s decision to suspend him, it seems like a pretty under-handed move on behalf of the team, if true. If it’s a move they made, conscious of those implications and motivated by them, Gordon would have plenty of reason to be upset.
Then again, Gordon is a player who has been suspended by the league twice, missing two games in 2013 and 10 games this season (reduced from a full year suspension as per the league’s new drug policy, and who played in just five games this season before reportedly skipping practice, earning a suspension for the final game of the season. He consistently makes mistakes, and given the Browns were actually competitive in the AFC North for much of this season, those mistakes have certainly cost Cleveland.
This doesn’t guarantee Gordon will re-sign with the team as a restricted free agent, or that he’ll even be back next season. There are no rumors indicating either scenario, but restricted free agency gives the Browns the most leverage in this situation. They could simply be angling for a draft pick and Gordon could still get a sizable deal (he’ll lose millions regardless at this point, provided he has a future in the league at all) in the end.
There have also been situations in which players get tendered by their original teams and then traded. The possibilities are many, but in the end, it all comes down to the fact Cleveland has a lot more control over what they get out of Gordon in 2016.