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What’s the story with Seahawks WR Josh Gordon?

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NFL: DEC 08 Seahawks at Rams

With the heart of the 2020 NFL free agency period now in the past, but still just over two weeks until the arrival of the draft, yet another of the deep lulls in the NFL offseason has arrived. That provides the opportunity to take a look at the situation of wide receiver Josh Gordon, who spent time with both the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks in 2019 prior to being suspended by the NFL in December.

Many fans of the Seahawks have asked what the situation with Gordon is, and whether the team could bring him back for the 2020 season to compete with the likes of David Moore and Phillip Dorsett for the third wide receiver role. Answering that question, of course, means looking into his status with the league regarding the indefinite suspension, along with the changes to the NFL policy on substance abuse.

The first key point to address is that the suspension Gordon was given in December was not for a single failed test. As Jay Glazer of FOX Sports reported following the suspension, Gordon failed two separate drug tests.

“Here’s the problem, there are two policies here,” FOX Sports Jay Glazer said Sunday morning. “First, he was facing a six-game suspension for a tainted sample in the steroid program. While they were waiting for the appeal, he actually failed another drug test in the substance-abuse program. He’s suspended indefinitely. It looks like it’s going to be an uphill battle for him to ever get back in the league.”

So, if Glazer’s report is true, it makes sense to evaluate the two tests in chronological order. The first failed test, as Glazer notes, carries a six game suspension under the performance enhancing drug program. This is of note because there are two different suspension lengths that can be handed down for a first violation of the league’s PED policy when it comes to a masking agent or diuretic. The suspension lengths are:

  • Two games following a positive test for a diuretic or masking agent or
  • Six games following a positive test for a diuretic or masking agent and the test result is positive for a positive substance.

That means that if Glazer is correct in stating Gordon faced a six game suspension for the first failed test, it means that Gordon’s test included both a banned substance and a masking agent. In any case, with the suspension being handed down after the Week 15 win over the Carolina Panthers, the six game suspension would include the following games:

  • Week 16 and Week 17 of the 2019 regular season,
  • The Wild Card win over the Philadelphia Eagles,
  • The Divisional Round loss to the Green Bay Packers and
  • Week 1 and Week 2 of the 2020 regular season.

The league’s policy on performance enhancing substances did not change under the new CBA, so there would be no change to that suspension. The next step is, obviously, to evaluate where things stand in terms of the second failed test. Coming back to Glazer’s report that the second test was for a failure of the league’s substance abuse policy, that policy did change under the new CBA.

While it has been widely reported that players will no longer face suspensions for failing substance abuse tests, suspensions still exist when failing to comply with the requirements for testing or league mandated care as required under the policy. The penalties for players in Stage Two of the policy are as follows:

Now, as for why Gordon would fall into the Stage Two punishments of a new policy, it’s because of his prior suspensions.

Procedures after Reinstatement: If a Player is reinstated, he will be returned to Stage Two for the remainder of his NFL career and will be subject to continued testing and immediate rescission of reinstatement for subsequent violations. A Player allowed to return to the NFL following banishment also must participate in continued treatment under this Intervention Program as required by the Medical Director.

That means that Gordon is, and will remain in, Stage Two for as long as his career continues. Thus, even if his suspension from the league for violating the PED policy is only six games as noted above, he’d likely still be subject to the testing and financial penalties of Stage Two the new substance abuse policy. That is important because, as seen in the above table, while he would still get to play, Stage Two means he’d be playing for free a lot of the time and he’d continue to be tested regularly. For NFL players in Stage Two of the substance abuse program, that means potentially facing a lot of drug tests.

Testing: All Players in Stage Two will be subject to unannounced testing subject to the terms of this Policy. At the sole discretion of the Medical Advisor, a Player may or may not be tested; however, if he is tested, he may not be tested more than ten (10) times during any calendar month. Such testing shall include testing only for the NFL Drug Panel, except that tests for alcohol and other Substances of Abuse will be conducted as set forth in Section 1.3 of the Policy and/or if the Player’s Treatment Plan requires abstention from and enumerates testing for such substances.

That’s up to 120 tests a year for a player who has failed multiple drug tests during his NFL career, including reportedly failing one during 2019 while awaiting the results of an appeal on a prior failed test. In short, if Glazer’s report is accurate, then there appears to be no reason why the NFL would not be able to reinstate Gordon for Week 3 of the 2020 season.

However, given the number of times Gordon has been suspended and the number of tests he has failed, the bigger question certainly appears to be whether any team will be willing to sign him. The calculations on that have certainly changed given the elimination of suspensions for failed drug tests from the substance abuse policy, so the question becomes whether the upside of keeping a 29 year old wide receiver around outweighs the downside of the potential distractions.