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Josh Gordon is worth the risk for the Seahawks to sign him cheap

A premier performer when not suspended, the Browns wideout will be a free agent at his lowest value. He also may never play again.

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Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on February 24, but on March 1, Gordon officially applied for reinstatement. Here is the message from his business manager Michael Johnson: "Josh is living with me and is in the best place mentally that he has been in dating back years before entering the NFL. He has taken the proper steps to treat his issues and has followed a very strict protocol that the league and our team here has laid out for him. He's also in the best shape of his life and feels even better than he did when he had his breakout year in 2013. This will be a special year for Josh and we are all very proud of the way he has taken the necessary steps to turn his life around."

You probably forgot about Josh Gordon. After all, Percy Harvin has more than 200 more receiving yards than Gordon over the last two years. Gordon has played in 35 professional football games in his five-year career and been suspended for 45 other games for violating the league’s drug program. He came into the league in the program because of repeated marijuana-related suspensions at Baylor, for which he missed the entire 2011 college season.

But unlike Harvin, Gordon is still only 25 (he’ll turn 26 before the draft). Gordon was the best receiver in football in 2013 (nearly 20 yards per catch on 87 receptions) after a Tyler Lockettish rookie season (50 catches for 800 yards). And despite the long layoff, Gordon has in the past shown continued dedication to maintaining himself physically for football during his repeated estrangements from competition. Last August, for example, Gordon hauled in 44- and 43-yard strikes in his preseason debut more than 21 months after he had last worn a Cleveland Browns uniform (but less than one month before his next visit to rehab).

For now, Gordon remains on the league’s exempt list but will presumably seek reinstatement sometime later this year. Recently Gordon tweeted hinting his confidence in getting a second, or what is it? a fourth or a fifth chance? Either way, reports insist the Browns are done with him, so the restricted free agent should become available to bidders this spring even if he’s not eligible to play yet. Someone is going to take a chance on Josh Gordon. Should it be the Seattle Seahawks?

I don’t think Gordon is a priority for Seattle or anything like that. The receivers already in house are fine, assuming Lockett comes back fully, and free agency has never been a good source for wideouts at least since Pete Carroll and John Schneider started drafting and developing players. But since I expect the Seahawks to once again mostly lay low during free agency and not get too splashy it’s fun to envision longshots who will be undervalued rather than a white whale like Adrian Peterson or some other expensive nonsense.

In 2014, when Gordon first faced a year-long suspension, USA Today’s Maggie Hendricks supposed Gordon would become “the league’s most sought-after free agent” when he eventually reached the market, commanding a deal between 10-20 million dollars a year (although the comparisons mentioned, Harvin, Mike Wallace and Andre Johnson all look pretty sad less than three years later). But Because of Gordon’s history of bad decisions—and whatever you think of the NFL’s drug policies, Gordon’s infractions have been bad for his business—his offers might instead be not much greater than his rookie deal ($1.3 million APY). And he’ll be looking for something short term to build value anyway. Something comparable to what Terrelle Pryor signed for last year (one year, $1.7 million with nothing guaranteed), which is kind of incredible when you consider the contrasting resumes of those players at receiver earlier than last season—and how Pryor is now certain to command much more than Gordon next month.

Shucks Michael Floyd will probably get paid more than Josh Gordon, because Gordon’s lifetime “jacket” makes him the bigger risk. Even if he is cleared to play, he’s surely down to his last strike with the NFL. And yet, from a fan-acceptance standpoint, whose jersey would you rather wear? Gordon ultimately never hurt anyone but himself. Floyd was drunk asleep in a car at an intersection. (Although, to be fair, Gordon did reportedly fall asleep in line for tacos while in college, because ... you know—but he was a passenger.) Gordon may make a fool of himself yet, but it wouldn’t be like cheering for Joe Mixon.

I think Gordon will be cheap enough, and his character flaws forgivable enough, to extend an offer to resuscitate his career in Seattle. It even seems like the kind of gambit Schneider and Carroll used to make, trying to find second acts for Harvin and Mike Williams and Marshawn Lynch, but without the emotional ambiguity of Frank Clark, for example.

I don’t expect the Seahawks to go that way, most likely, but at what price does the value become irresistible for Schneider?