The Cleveland Browns franchise can't seem to catch a break & now star receiver Josh Gordon is looking at a suspension. How does that affect Browns NFL futures at sportsbooks?
2014 Season Recap
Browns fans were full of promise for the 2014 season after the team appeared to have a very good draft, trading around and landing Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert with the No. 8 overall pick and quarterback and former Heisman winner Johnny Manziel with the No. 22 pick. Pretty much every expert lauded those picks, and Manziel brought an excitement to Cleveland that had been lacking for years. The franchise has been looking for a franchise quarterback since the days of Bernie Kosar, and the Cleveland faithful thought Manziel was it. His jersey immediately became the No. 1 seller in the NFL.
Alas, the Browns finished 7-9, their seventh straight losing season and 12th in a row missing the playoffs. Things started off well as Cleveland was a surprising 6-3 and in first place in the AFC North following a shocking 24-3 win at Cincinnati in Week 10. All that success was due to Brian Hoyer, who beat out Manziel for the starting QB job in camp. Johnny Football almost never saw the field.
However, after that 6-3 start Hoyer started struggling mightily. Manziel played decently in relief of Hoyer in a Week 13 loss at Buffalo, but Coach Mike Pettine didn't give Manziel his first start until Week 15 at home vs. the Bengals. It was a disaster. Manziel was just 10-for-18 for 80 yards with two interceptions. That's a putrid rating of 27.3. He only rushed for 13 yards on five carries and looked overmatched. Manziel wasn't much better the next week in a loss at Carolina and his season would end with a hamstring injury in the first half. The Browns closed the year losing five straight and six of seven.
An ESPN report after the season, attributed to some 20 Browns players and officials, was not flattering to Manziel, who has been known to be a social butterfly. It painted Manziel has having a year-long pattern that showed a lack of commitment and preparation and that he remained a party animal at night. Remember, Manziel was nowhere to be found the morning before the season finale, with the Browns sending team security to track him down at his house, where Manziel reportedly was still quite drunk from a party he threw the night before.
Meanwhile, Gilbert was about equally a bust. His work habits and commitment also were questioned. Gilbert eventually fell behind undrafted rookie K'Waun Williams and was deactivated for the regular-season finale after being late for some meetings. Fellow defensive back Donte Whitner told Gilbert publicly to "grow up."
That 2014 draft wasn't all bad. Second-round offensive lineman Joel Bitonio, third-round running back Terrance West (673 yards rushing, four TDs) and undrafted free agent Isaiah Crowell all look like keepers (607 yards rushing, eight TDs).
Cleveland has the No. 12 and No. 19 overall picks in the 2015 draft. That latter pick is courtesy of a 2014 draft-day trade with Buffalo.
Gordon Just Doesn't Learn
Expect the Browns to take a receiver with at least one of those first-round picks because of the latest off-field troubles of Gordon. He recently tested positive for alcohol and barring a successful appeal will miss the 2015 season. Gordon also was suspended the first two games of the 2013 season for violating the league's drug policy and would have been suspended for all of 2014 were it not for a new drug testing and punishment policy the NFL implemented during the season. That shortened Gordon's suspension to the first 10 games. He was also suspended by the team the final regular-season game, reportedly because he was at Manziel's party. Gordon caught 24 passes for 303 yards in five games overall after a monster 2013 season where he led the NFL with 1,646 yards.
So subtract Gordon and the Browns have this group of receivers on the roster currently: Miles Austin (free agent), Phil Bates, Travis Benjamin, Kevin Cone, Taylor Gabriel, Andrew Hawkins, Marlon Moore and Rodney Smith. Hawkins is decent, but that's the worst group in the NFL. The team has to be kicking itself for not taking a receiver in last year's draft as it was arguably the best class of rookie pass-catchers ever. The Browns could have taken likely NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Odell Beckham Jr. (Giants) at No. 8 instead of Gilbert. They could have had Kelvin Benjamin (Panthers) at No. 22 instead of Manziel. Expect Cleveland to target Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant or the Packers' Randall Cobb in free agency, although Bryant might be franchised by Dallas.
Might the Browns also take a quarterback with an early-round pick? Hoyer is a free agent and not likely to return. Team owner Jimmy Haslam and new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo have said they aren't sure if the team's 2015 starter is "in their building right now." It's hard to imagine the Browns taking a QB with a first-round pick again but maybe in Round 2 or 3.
Cleveland is currently +3000 to win the AFC title next season on NFL odds and +7000 to win the Super Bowl at sportsbooks.
NFL Free Picks
Certainly you have to project the Browns to finish under .500 and last again in the very tough AFC North. The team will enter 2015 with Manziel as the starter, but he will have a very short leash and a veteran-type backup as competition. When making NFL picks on this team, expect that Gordon will never play for Cleveland again.