Is the NFL undermining its own authority?
Josh Gordon’s well-chronicled story took an interesting turn Tuesday as the 28 year-old receiver signed his one-year tender worth $2.025 million. Despite being drafted in the 2012 Supplemental Draft, Gordon has only three accrued NFL seasons. A player earns an accrued season by being on a team for six games; the practice squad does not count. This ties him to the New England Patriots for the upcoming season. The Patriots would love to have Gordon back. Last season he tallied 40 catches totaling 720 yards in only eleven games. He quickly became one of Brady’s go-to receivers and had seemingly put his troubled past behind him. Unfortunately, Gordon failed a drug test and was indefinitely suspended for the second time in his career. Before resuming his career, Gordon will need to be reinstated by Commissioner Goodell – no easy task for any player, let alone one who has already been reinstated once.
Setting aside Gordon’s potential reinstatement, this signing begs the question whether or not the NFL is undermining its own authority by letting a team sign a player who is indefinitely suspended and vice versa. In this situation, it seems hard to place any blame on the Patriots or Gordon. Of course Gordon shouldn’t have violated the terms of his reinstatement, but that’s beside the point. From the Patriots’ perspective it’s easy to see why they resigned Gordon. At $2 million there isn’t much risk, but the potential reward is a top tier receiver. If he is never reinstated, the Patriots lose nothing and can move on. Teams would also argue that signing a player like Gordon allows for their support staff to assist in the player’s recovery. For Gordon, this was essentially his only option. Not bad for being suspended indefinitely. Gordon was unable to become a unrestricted free agent. He could sign the tender or sit. The signing provides Gordon some security knowing that if reinstated he’ll have somewhere to play and support staff to assist in his recovery.
That leaves the NFL and particularly Commissioner Goodell in a quandry. What message does this signing send? Does it undermine the NFL’s authority to discipline players? At the very least, it does seem odd that a player now serving his second indefinite suspension can sign a new contract. Some may see that and wonder if the player has been punished at all. It is important to remember that Gordon is suspended without pay, so he won’t benefit financially unless reinstated. But, does that matter? It still seems like a win for him. These questions are especially important because the NFL has been notorious for botching punishments and suspensions. The League has vowed to learn from its past mistakes, specifically Roger Goodell personally. It’s fair to question whether Gordon should have ever been reinstated and if this is yet another lapse in judgment for an embattled Goodell.
It’s important to remember that Josh Gordon needs the help and support of the Patriots during his recovery. This signing facilitates that. It remains to be seen whether or not Gordon will ever reach a place in his recovery to apply for reinstatement again and there is no guarantee he’d be reinstated. The NFL should be clear about the message it wants to send. If they want to offer players like Josh Gordon and Randy Gregory special treatment in these cases and treat them as personal health issues, then they should clearly convey that. If the NFL wants to implement harsher punishments, then they should follow through. By choosing neither option the NFL justifies criticism and appears arbitrary – a position they find themselves in all too often.