By Tom Withers
AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND — Josh Gordon’s curious and complicated career has taken a new turn.
He’s getting yet another chance.
The talented but troubled wide receiver has been reinstated on a conditional basis by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who met face to face with Gordon last week and said he believes the 25-year-old can “make the right choices” going forward.
Gordon has been banned since February 2015 for multiple violations of the league’s drug policies. He will be suspended for the first four games of the 2016-17 season, but he’s allowed to join the team in its upcoming training camp and can participate in meetings and conditioning work. The league said once Gordon meets clinical requirements, he can take part in preseason activities, including practices and games. The Browns have their first practice of training camp Friday.
It’s a fresh start for Gordon, who emerged as one of the league’s rising stars in 2013 before several missteps led to his banishment.
As long as he stays clean, Gordon, who met with Goodell in New York on July 19, is eligible to return to the team on Oct. 3 and play in the Oct. 9 home game against New England. That’s also the game in which Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will return following his suspension for Deflategate.
During his four-game suspension, Gordon may participate in team meetings and other activities but can’t practice or play in games.
The Browns said in a statement that Gordon would be with the team for the start of training camp. “At that time, we will discuss directly with Josh the direction of our team, our expectations of our players and a plan to support him on and off the field,” the statement said.
Gordon was suspended 10 games in 2014 and the entire 2015 season for substance violations, a pattern that began during his college career at Baylor and Utah. He was denied reinstatement in April after failing a drug test because of samples that also tested positive for marijuana.
In a letter to Gordon, Goodell made it clear the onus is on the former Pro Bowler to stay clean.
“As we discussed at our (July 19) meeting, as Commissioner, I want nothing more than to see you turn your circumstances around and succeed,” Goodell said. “Countless others including your agent, teammates and coaches, (owner) Jimmy Haslam and the leadership of the organization, the Program professionals and Jim Brown also have pledged to provide you with every resource at their disposal. But as you acknowledged, ultimately, your future is your responsibility. I have every belief that you can make the right choices, but it will be up to you to do so.”
First-year coach Hue Jackson has mostly steered clear of discussing Gordon or the player’s future during his first months with Cleveland.
Brown, the Hall of Fame running back and current team special advisor, had a prominent role in helping Gordon get back in good standing with the league.
Gordon had a breakout season in 2013, when he led the league with 1,646 yards receiving, scored nine touchdowns and averaged 117.6 yards per game. However, he has missed 27 of 32 games since and his off-the-field shortcomings have threatened to end a promising future.
With his situation unclear, the Browns selected Baylor wide receiver Corey Coleman in the first round of this year’s draft. Gordon will also be reunited with former college teammate Robert Griffin III, who is expected to be Cleveland’s starting quarterback this season.
During his ban, Gordon has continued to receive support from Browns cornerback Joe Haden, who tweeted, “Welcome back!!” to his friend.