If the Cleveland Browns had a genuine interest in trading wide receiver Josh Gordon, they’ve done a disservice to themselves and any teams that might be interested in making a deal.
A three-game winning streak has lifted the Browns from the bottom of the AFC North to a three-way tie for first with the Ravens and Bengals. All are 3-2.
The Browns’ revival has transformed their image from a team that might be positioning itself for the future to one that’s competing for its first playoff berth in 11 years.
There is little doubt that the Browns will take winning over trading any day, but reports persist that Gordon is on the trading block.
It’s a coincidence that the Lions, the Browns’ opponent Sunday, have been mentioned prominently as a trading partner because of their need to add a play-making receiver.
What has made the Browns’ surge more remarkable is that they’ve had to deal with injuries that forced them to change quarterbacks twice – from Brandon Weeden to Brian Hoyer and back to Weeden. Hoyer started all three games in the winning streak but went out early in Game 5 against Buffalo with a season-ending knee injury.
Whether trade winds blow hot or cold, the irony of the Browns’ situation is they won three straight games since trading running back Trent Richardson in a move that was interpreted as the start of management’s plan to acquire draft picks to rebuild the team. It triggered speculation that Gordon would be next in line to be dealt elsewhere.
Whatever was happening at the management level, first-year Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski did not see it filtering down to the players in terms of any perception that the franchise was giving up on this season to build for the future.
"The main thing was that it didn’t change any of our expectations.," Chudzinski said in a conference call with the Detroit media. "We felt comfortable and confident with the guys in our locker room, that we had guys that would be able to step up and make plays and do what we needed to do to win.
"There was no difference in what we expected and in what we had planned and our goals for the season."
The buzz around the Browns now is that until the winning streak, they were willing to deal Gordon for a high pick in next year’s draft as part of the plan to build the team that fit the model of the new management team – CEO Joe Banner, General Manager Mike Lombardi and Chudzinski.
However, the word now is that trading Gordon, the team’s most dynamic offensive player, would demoralize a core of players who have gotten a taste of winning after suffering through six straight seasons in which the Browns have not won more than five games.
The Richardson trade was made with no advance warning. In retrospect, it was understandable.
Richardson was drafted third overall in 2012 by Mike Holmgren, then president of the Browns. The new hierarchy apparently never regarded Richardson’s talent level as worthy of being drafted high in the first round and considered him more of a grinder than the big-play back they prefer.
He has averaged 3.5 yards on 349 carries in two seasons with the Browns and Colts. Richardson fits what Indy wanted for its offense.
Josh Gordon file: He is a talented but troubled athlete who began his college career at Baylor but transferred to Utah in 2011 after his sophomore season. He was not eligible to play at Utah and applied for the 2012 Supplemental Draft. Cleveland took him with a second-round pick.
At 6-3 and 225 pounds, Gordon is a powerful athlete with good hands and speed.
"He’s a big, young guy with great upside, with good hands and a good route-runner," said Lions cornerback
The Browns took Gordon in the second round of the 2012 Supplemental Draft. He had 50 catches for 805 yards and five TDs as a rookie. The NFL suspended him for the first two games of this season for violating the league’s drug policy.
QB shuffle: Brian Hoyer appeared to have found a home as a starting quarterback in Cleveland after bouncing around to three teams in three seasons, only to see the journey end with a trip to the injured reserve list in a 37-24 victory over Buffalo in Cleveland’s last game.
Hoyer was injured on an awkward slide after scrambling for an 11-yard gain on Cleveland’s second possession.
Hoyer, who played at Michigan State, spent three seasons as Tom Brady’s backup in New England before going to Arizona in 2012 and to Cleveland this year.
The Buffalo game was Hoyer’s third straight start after Weeden went out with a thumb injury.
Hoyer gave the Browns the quickness and leadership that were lacking in Weeden, a first-round draft pick in 2012. Hoyer led the Browns to wins at Minnesota and home against the Bengals before the injury.
The difference between the two quarterbacks in striking. Hoyer is quicker to react. He attempted 96 passes with six sacks. Weeden was sacked 16 times with 110 attempts.
However, Weeden played all but the first possession and part of the second against Buffalo.
"We have to approach it with ‘it’s next man up,’" Chudzinski. "That’s the way we have handled the other situations that have come up, whether it’s quarterback or other positions.
"I think Brandon did a heck of a job for us coming in the situation as a backup, mentally being ready and making some big plays that helped us win that game last week."
How the Browns got to 3-2: They scored one TD in losing the first two games – 23-10 at home to the Dolphins and 14-6 at Baltimore.
Hoyer put life in the offense the next two games to beat the Vikings and Bengals, and Weeden finished off the Buffalo game.
Cleveland averaged 20 first downs a game in the three wins and 16.5 in the two losses. Rookie linebacker Barkevious Mingo did not play the first game because of a lung injury sustained in the preseason. He’s had three sacks in the last four games.
Passing: Brandon Weeden 60-110 (54.5 pct.), 713 yds., 2 TD, 3 Int., 16 sacks, 69.2 passer rating; Brian Hoyer 57-96 (59.4 pct.), 615 yds., 5 TD, 3 Int., 6 sacks, 82.6 passer rating.
Receptions: Jordan Cameron 33-396 yds., 112.0 avg., 5 TD; Davone Bess, 21-202 yds., 9.6 avg., 2 TD; Josh Gordon, 18-303 yds., 16.8 avg., 2 TD; Greg Little, 14-149 yds., 10.6 yds., 90 TD; Chris Ogbonnaya, 13-92 yds., 7.1 avg., 1 TD.
Rushing: Willis McGahee 49-127 yds., 2.6 avg., 1 TD; Trent Richardson (traded), 31-105 yds., 3.4 avg., 0 TD; Bobby Rainey 12-34 yds., 2.8 avg., 0 TD.
Defense (3-4 base scheme)
Tackles: D’Qwell Jackson, 49, 1 FF, 1 FR; Craig Robertson 32, 1 TFL, 1 FF, 1 FR; Buster Skrine 28, 1 TFL; Tashaun Gipson, 27; T.J. Ward 25, 1 TFL; Joe Haden 20.
Sacks (18 total): Desmond Bryant 3.5, Barkevious Mingo 3, Jabaal Sheard, 1.5.
Int. (4 total): T.J. Ward 2.
Pass breakups: Skrine 9, Haden 6, Gipson 5.
Punting: Spencer Lanning 44.3 gross, 39.4 net, 11 inside 20, 2 touchbacks.
Field goals: Billy Cundiff, 8-10.
KO returns: Bobby Rainey 6, 24.5 avg., 33 long; Greg Little 6, 21.7 avg., 39 long.
Punt returns: Travis Benjamin 17, 15.1 avg., 79 long, 1 TD, 1 fair catch.
Opponent returns: 22.1 avg. on kickoffs, 8.4 on punts.