Gordon was one of the brightest lights for a team that has some blossoming talent in key areas. Haden and left tackle Joe Thomas are two of the best players at their positions in the league, and Cleveland's defense could thrive with a few more difference-makers added to the mix. Before losing their final seven games of last season, this was a team that intrigued people with its potential. Given the way new general manager Ray Farmer handled the first day of this year's draft -- by deftly orchestrating trades that led to the selections of Gilbert and Manziel -- it felt like this franchise was finally learning the tricky art of ascension in the NFL.
The reason Gordon's probable suspension will sting so much is that he's the franchise's only game-changer. He's the player who would make life easier for quarterback Brian Hoyer early and Manziel later, once the Browns' quarterback of the future officially stepped under center. Remember, this is a team that had no semblance of a running game last fall -- Willis McGahee led the Browns with all of 377 yards -- and hardly any other wide receivers who could scare defenses. If not for rising star tight end Jordan Cameron, Gordon would've been torching opposing secondaries with hardly anybody else to take the pressure off him.
That is the makeup of a special player, and anybody in football knows those don't come around often. In fact, Gordon's entire story should make you wonder how he produced such feats at the highest level of football. He was suspended from Baylor during his sophomore year in 2010 after police found him and a teammate asleep in a car with marijuana. He was suspended indefinitely 10 months later for a failed drug test. Two months after that, Gordon had transferred to Utah, where he sat out that season before entering the 2012 supplemental draft and becoming the Browns' second-round pick.
So what we have is a player who caught all of 43 passes in college and still managed to become a first-team All-Pro performer by his second season in the league. You might think that kind of success would breed more brilliance in the long run. The Browns had to be thinking about those possibilities when Gordon was torching cornerbacks last season. The idea of what Gordon could do with more talent at quarterback had to be even more thrilling.
Now, we're hearing stories that the Browns front office knew about Gordon's issues as early as two weeks ago. There's also speculation that the team's decision-makers didn't panic when the news broke Friday, fully believing they had a plan to answer whatever issues could result from Gordon's likely absence. That's often the first thing competitors do when faced with an unexpected punch in the gut: They try to make the entire world believe, while resisting the desire to wince and cringe, that they aren't really hurting as badly as one might think.
The Browns can play that game all they want. They can even hope the narrative that 10 new rookies in Cleveland -- along with a well-executed trade with the Buffalo Bills that landed them additional first- and fourth-round picks next year -- will keep fans giddy about the team's future.
The truth is that only the most misguided of loyalists would cling to that bit of folly in light of what just happened. Thanks to Josh Gordon, the Browns' dream draft weekend just turned into a nightmare, one that will sting even more once this coming season finally kicks off.