BEREA — Josh Gordon said he’s clean and sober and looking forward to playing that way. He’s excited and thankful for the chance to resume a career that’s been on hold for nearly three years.
He feels like he’s been given a clean slate by the Browns organization, which appeared done with him when he walked away last season on the verge of returning to the field. He feels supported by coach Hue Jackson and is glad to be working with him.
“Grateful for the opportunity, more than anything,” Gordon said Wednesday. “Just real optimistic and everything. I’m in a good spot.”
Gordon was conditionally reinstated by Commissioner Roger Goodell last week and returned to Browns headquarters Tuesday. He worked with the strength and conditioning staff, attended meetings and went over a script of plays by himself Wednesday.
Gordon last played a regular-season game Dec. 21, 2014. He missed the last two seasons on indefinite suspension after multiple violations of the league’s substance abuse policy.
He told GQ Magazine last week that he’s had alcohol and smoked marijuana before every game of his college and NFL careers. If he meets the conditions set forth by Goodell, he’ll be allowed to practice Nov. 20 and play Dec. 3 against the Los Angeles Chargers. He said he’s excited about playing without being under the influence.
“I’m clean and sober and I’m looking forward to that and I think the ceiling is very high,” he said.
How high? Despite missing the last 41 Browns games and 51 of 56 because of suspensions, he still strives to be the greatest receiver ever.
“The most I could possibly hope for is being the best wide receiver I could be, the best version of myself I could be, in the greatest shape possibly and giving 100 percent,” said Gordon, speaking in a corner of the media room in front of a picture of Hall of Fame receiver Dante Lavelli. “Ultimately my goal is to be the best wide receiver of all time. For me, that’s always been my goal, and I think it’s just been reaffirmed for me time and time again. And now being back in the situation to do it, I plan on seeing it through.”
Gordon, 26, led the NFL in 2013 with a franchise-record 1,646 receiving yards in 14 games. He’s the only player in league history with back-to-back 200-yard games.
He said he doesn’t regret wasting three years of his prime on suspension and in and out of rehab.
“No regret. I think that whole experience was definitely fundamental in my growth,” he said. “I needed that.”
Gordon’s roller-coaster NFL journey, with way more valleys than peaks, has come entirely with the Browns. He wouldn’t say he wants to stay in Cleveland.
“I’m here to help the team win, that’s my first priority, just being the best football player I can be,” he said when asked if he wants to be here. “That comes first and foremost, anything after that I have no control over. I’m here to help this team win and do that the best way I know how and that’s being the best wide receiver.”
Gordon seemed unhappy when he returned from suspension for five games at the end of 2014. He told GQ he moved from Cleveland to Gainesville, Fla., last year after being harassed by fans. He said Cleveland “could be a nightmare,” and that people threw pennies at his car and one jumped on the hood.
“That was just my experience,” he said Wednesday. “I’m not saying that’s what it is for everybody. That was just my experience and me telling the story. That was my truth, but what was doesn’t have to be.”
The Browns hold Gordon’s contractual rights through the 2018 season, after which he would be scheduled to become a restricted free agent. Head of football operations Sashi Brown and Jackson welcomed him back, and Jackson said he’s become “very comfortable” in the belief Gordon isn’t trying to talk himself out of town.
“Very comfortable, very comfortable,” Jackson said. “I don’t think that is the case at all. I am even more secure in saying that to you all.”
The organization and Gordon have adopted new attitudes since he left last season just days before he was to be reinstated. Jackson said at the time the team was moving on.
“Myself, the franchise, the fans, everybody was frustrated at that point in time, so I understand it,” Gordon said. “I believe me and Coach Jackson and Sashi Brown and the front office have moved on. They obviously welcomed me back into the organization, so that’s in the past and we’re looking forward to this year.”
He raved about his meeting with Jackson on Tuesday, saying they shared a “bunch of laughs” and Jackson understands football and players and has been supportive of him. Jackson also came away impressed.
“It was different than the time a year ago when he was back during the summer,” Jackson said. “I saw a young man who was a lot more mature, who understood exactly where he is and what he was trying to accomplish and do. I was very pleased with where Josh was. He looks in tremendous shape, and there is a different look in his eye.”
After numerous lies and instances letting down the team, Gordon must earn the trust of the organization and his teammates.
“You earn it every day, but I think we have to give him the opportunity to earn it, too,” Jackson said. “It is a two-way street. We also have to earn his trust and him sharing with us the things he has been through. We are going to support him and we are going to give him every opportunity to do the things that he needs to do to be a part of this football team.”
Gordon was decked out in logos as he talked to reporters, with his “Flash” lightning rod on his baseball hat and a lightning bolt on his sweat jacket between the letters J and G. He said he hasn’t entered into a business relationship with Cavaliers superstar LeBron James and friend and associate Maverick Carter but has received their counsel.
“They have been instrumental as far as just helping putting things into play and giving advice and some mentorship,” Gordon said.
He also expressed appreciation for Goodell and the players’ union for getting him another chance. He said the daily battle for sobriety gets easier every day.
“My life is just in a conducive space where I need to be for me psychologically, physically. It’s all come together,” he said. “I’m feeling well, I’m feeling great.”
Gordon said he opened up to GQ because he wants to be “transparent” and “honest” and control the narrative. Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer was impressed.
“I think he is going to be an awesome teammate because of that,” he said. “A guy who is strong enough to be as candid as he is about his situation is something that I think is an awesome value for a guy that I want in my locker room. We all have a lot of respect for what he has been through.”