What's Next for the Cleveland Browns and Josh Gordon?

With Josh Gordon suspended for the entire 2015 season, what can we expect from the Browns offense?

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon failed a drug test and is now likely subject to a one-year ban. Unfortunately, this suspension comes directly after a 2014 season mired with difficulties. He was suspended for the first 10 games of the year due to substance abuse, and once he returned, the Browns offense sputtered with poor play from Brian Hoyer and rookie Johnny Manziel at the helm. Gordon then ended his 2014 campaign suspended for violating team rules.

By all accounts, Josh Gordon has a ton of off the field issues that everyone knows about. But he will seemingly miss the entire 2015 season and will be 25 years old when he is eligible to return in 2016.

Keep in mind, Gordon led the league in receiving yards just two seasons ago in just 14 games. He is a tremendous talent who unfortunately has issues staying eligible to play. With his absence looming, what does this mean for the Browns on offense and Josh Gordon in the future?

No Firepower in the Dawg Pound

As previously mentioned, Josh Gordon was one of the budding young wide receiver talents after the 2013 season. Just two short years ago, Gordon finished second among all wide receivers in Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) and fourth in Target NEP. NEP is our signature metric that weighs player production based on field position and expectation from a league-average player. It indicates how far above or below expectation a player has performed.

Granted, Gordon only appeared in five games in the 2014 season, but his contribution on the field was not even close to his 2013 levels. Below are his per-game statistics accompanied by relevant NEP numbers. Overall rankings are in parenthesis. Note, overall rankings are among wide receivers with 25 or more targets on the season.

YearRec./GmYards/GmY/RTDs/GmRec. NEP/RTarget NEP
20136.2117.618.90.641.59 (12th of 118)70.43 (4th)
20144.860.612.600.86 (95th of 115)-4.41 (108th)

To be clear, Cleveland’s decension and ineptitude on offense last year had nothing to do with Gordon’s return from suspension. The Browns simply fell into a shell on offense over the last half of the season.

In the first eight games of the season, the Browns were not terrible on offense. They scored 23.1 points per game, slightly above the league’s average of 22.6 points per game and were 23rd in Adjusted NEP. Adjusted NEP indicates, in terms of total points, how far above or below expectation a team has performed compared to a league-average team would have in the same situations and is adjusted for schedule strength.

Over the last eight games, the Browns scored a paltry 14.3 points per game and were 29th in Adjusted NEP, ranked just below the Jaguars and above the Raiders, Titans, and the Buccaneers.

Without Josh Gordon, the Browns have next to zero weapons on offense entering the 2015 offseason. Jordan Cameron is a free agent, and reports indicate he will likely test the market.

That leaves the Browns with a pass catching core of Andrew Hawkins, Taylor Gabriel, and Travis Benjamin. Neither of those three wide receivers finished above the NFL average in Target NEP. Yikes.

The Browns will likely address wide receiver in this year’s free agent class and through the draft. But with no clear quarterback option -- Brian Hoyer is a free agent and Johnny Manziel finished last among quarterbacks in Passing NEP per drop back -- Cleveland’s lone offensive bright spots will be second-year running backs Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West. Let’s just hope Cleveland improves their running game this offseason because they finished dead last in Adjusted Rushing NEP despite being the 6th most run-heavy team in 2014.

What’s Next For Gordon?

Not only is the future murky for the Browns offense, but also it is even less transparent for Josh Gordon’s future. He has been suspended by Baylor, the Browns, or by the NFL a combined six times since 2010. He’s still young, but you have to wonder if his window of opportunity to play in the NFL stays open much longer.

If the Browns do not cut Gordon this offseason -- which they reserve the right to do -- he will then return for the 2016 season under contract with the team, and he will subsequently become a restricted free agent in 2017. Hopefully, Josh Gordon can return and have a long NFL career, but his outlook in the immediate future looks bleak.