The NFL has reinstated Josh Gordon, on a conditional basis.
It’s something the New England Patriots were holding out hope for, since placing a $2 million restricted free-agent tender on him back in March, after Gordon was suspended indefinitely last December for once again violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.
Gordon missed the final two games of the regular season and playoffs. The Patriots won a Super Bowl without him. Still, they decided to hold onto Gordon. And commissioner Roger Goodell’s decision to reinstate him last weekend was maybe the reason why Bill Belichick chose not to cut ties with the 28-year-old wide receiver just yet.
From the outside, at least, there was some surprise as to how quickly the NFL decided to let Gordon play football again, considering he’s been suspended multiple times for the same offense. And it’s an offense that nobody should be taking lightly. Unless, of course, the league is starting to change their stance on that offense.
Everybody knows what Gordon’s return means to the Patriots. He’s a 6-foot-3 wideout with a 225-pound build that makes for a matchup nightmare for opposing defensive backs. Last season, in the 11 games he played with the Patriots before being suspended in December, Gordon made 40 catches for 720 yards and three touchdowns. The Pats held onto him for a reason. His impact and importance in New England’s offense — especially without the recently-retired Rob Gronkowski — is obvious.
But Gordon’s reinstatement could speak to an even larger issue, one that goes well beyond what the Patriots’ offense looks like in 2019.
Just last week, the NFLPA sent its players a “work-stoppage guide,” just in case of a strike or lockout after the 2020 season. The current CBA doesn’t expire until March of 2021, and while both sides reportedly don’t believe a work stoppage is likely, the Players’ Association decided to get its NFL players prepared for the worst-case scenario.
The guide, which was obtained by ESPN, is ridiculous. Don’t believe me? Here’s one piece of advice to a multi-million dollar athlete: “Try cooking at home instead of eating out as much.”
I’m not joking. That’s actually what it says.
Obvious stuff. What’s also obvious is that both the Owners and Players will continue to negotiate. And in those negotiations, the legalization of marijuana in certain states over the last couple of years will most certainly come up.
Back in May, the NFL and NFLPA agreed to a requirement that every team must appoint a “pain management specialist” and a “behavioral health team clinician” to its staff, which will coincide with the league’s attempt to work with the Players’ Association to study the benefits of marijuana use as a pain-management tool for the players.
Players no longer want to be punished for marijuana use, especially if it’s being used for medicinal purposes. And so, with the steps that the league is currently taking to study its benefits in a society that is more openly accepting of marijuana than ever before, it would seem that we’re getting closer to the day in which the NFL would no longer suspend a player for it.
Was Gordon’s suspension last season triggered by marijuana and only marijuana? It’s probably dangerous to speculate, however, the fact that the Patriots held onto him, and the fact that the league decided to reinstate him so soon after another violation of the substance-abuse policy, both sides are clearly admitting that whatever Gordon was doing last season, it wasn’t serious enough to make an example out of him.
Or perhaps Goodell and the Owners are actually making an example out of him. Maybe it’s a sign that the league is softening its stance on marijuana use, and Gordon is their example.
With a new CBA looming, allowing Gordon to play so soon, rather than put the hammer down on him, could be Goodell’s way of getting closer to allowing the use of marijuana in the NFL. Which also means Goodell will eventually want something in return.
It’s the only way Gordon’s early reinstatement makes sense.
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