Josh Gordon won’t wear 0-16 as an anchor. He prefers the visual of a trampoline.
He’s been through too much in his life and career to be sunk by one season, no matter how historically bad.
“I’m still not worried about it. For me, it’s just motivation,” the receiver said Sunday in the minutes after the 28-24 loss to the Steelers in the finale. “The adversity that I’ve already lived through, many of these guys have already lived through, this just is another testament to that and how we bounce back and keep showing what we are made of. More than anything, it’s just like a steppingstone to get to the next point.
“Everybody will look back on this and remember. It’s going to remind me the rest of my life. So I don’t look at it as a negative thing. I look at it as something to build upon.”
Gordon talked to reporters for more than 10 minutes in the visitors locker room at Heinz Field, unusual for him following games, and was introspective and expansive. He had just caught four passes for 115 yards in his best game of the five since he returned from a nearly three-year drug suspension.
He said the time away made him appreciate the game and the Browns, even if they are only the second team in NFL history to go 0-16.
“I just know what it’s like being without it, that it just fuels me so much more now having the opportunity to come back and be a part of something like this,” he said.
Gordon, 26, said despite the 1-31 record over the last two seasons, he believes the Browns are close to a turnaround.
“It’s right there. Building that culture here is something that we can do,” he said. “We can’t say we don’t have the talent. We have the talent.”
Cornerback Jason McCourty and running back Duke Johnson agreed the talent was better than the record. Unlike his teammates, Gordon didn’t suggest coach Hue Jackson was the problem.
“Huge credit to him for being a coach and being able to come back and have the opportunity to really show what he can do,” he said of Jackson, who will return for a third season. “I’ve got full, 100 percent trust and support in Coach Jackson. He knows what he’s doing. I’m not going to doubt anything he says or does.”
In the midst of all the losing, Jackson was giddy to get Gordon back a year after saying he was done with him. They spent two months together to end the season, and although Gordon didn’t have the expected impact — 18 catches in 42 targets, 335 yards, a touchdown — Jackson said he earned his trust.
Gordon won’t be a restricted free agent until after the 2018 season, and Jackson believes he can be counted on for the future.
“He has worked extremely hard on the field. He has worked extremely hard off the field,” Jackson said. “He is a very talented player.
“Here comes the next phase for him so he needs to go handle that the right way once he leaves here. I do expect Josh Gordon to be a contributing member of this football team, come back and get ready for the offseason and the season.”
Gordon’s missteps have been well-chronicled. He had missed 44 straight games due to suspension before returning.
He’ll be on his own for the next few months, which could test his relatively new sobriety.
“I don’t see it as tough,” he said. “I see it as a challenge, it’s something I’m looking forward to, to help push me to go to another level in the offseason. I want to get faster, I want to do more for the team, I want to be like wide open every play — in my mind. So that’s what I want to train for.
“I want to train to go five, six quarters, for the playoffs, for the Super Bowl. So going into the offseason, I know stuff like this is what’s going to push me over the hump when I’m dog-tired in the spring and summertime, training camp, to get back to these moments, because there’s only so many of them.”
If Gordon fulfills his potential, he’ll become a Pro Bowler like he was in 2013, when he set a franchise record and led the league with 1,646 receiving yards in 14 games. He wants his role to be even larger.
“So me being older now, the oldest guy in the receiving room, I want to be that guy who can lead by example and tell them this is the NFL, this is tough,” he said. “This is a tough scenario, probably a historic scenario, but it’ll never be like this ever again. But what it’s really going to take to go through a full offseason and to make sure it never happens again, it starts today, it starts now.
“I’ve got to lead by example on and off the field in everything I do. I’ve got to show responsibility, I’ve got to show resiliency, I’ve got to show grit, determination and effort at all times. I can’t afford to have my guard down, just knowing how many people rely on me, are dependent on me. I’ve really got to step up and play the role. Being a leader on your team, I can’t expect anything less from myself.”
The season ended with Gordon as the senior member of a receiving corps filled with second-year players. He remembers well his difficult transition to the NFL.
“It was hell,” he said. “Because there wasn’t any older guy to really try to bring me up at that point in time. It was kinda just Joe Haden and Joe Thomas were the only guys you could really look towards on the team.”
Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer never got on the same page as Gordon on Sundays and plans to work with him in the offseason.
“His work ethic and his mindset was awesome, he will become the leader that we need him to be in that room,” Kizer said. “We are going to have to rely on him to continue to develop some of the other guys and make sure that he holds them to the same standards that he holds himself.”