Both Adam Schefter of ESPN (via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer) and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reported on Monday that the Cleveland Browns have fielded trade calls from the San Francisco 49ers for their star receiver Josh Gordon.
The reports state that the Browns would have liked a second-round draft pick in a trade for Gordon, a condition the Niners chose not to meet now that Mario Manningham is about to come off of the physically unable to perform list and and Michael Crabtree is set to return in November.
The rumor only fuels the belief that the Browns are trying to shop their best players in order to rebuild the offensive side of the ball next season—something even Rapoport has admitted is not the case. However, it's telling that the Browns chose not to make a deal with the Niners.
It is also worth noting that the timing of the phone calls is not known; the Browns were rumored to have been open to offers for Gordon on September 22, but whether the talks with San Francisco were before or after that date is unclear.
Though the window has likely shut for Gordon to head to San Francisco, there still remains a chance the team moves him before the October 29 trade deadline. If they do pursue trading Gordon, it would be a huge mistake.
Despite missing the first two games of the season on a suspension from the league, Gordon hasn't looked rusty. He is currently the team's second-leading receiver, with 34 targets and 18 receptions for 303 yards and three touchdowns. He's had five receptions of 20 or more yards, 90 yards after the catch, 14 first downs and is averaging a staggering 16.8 yards per reception.
He was invaluable to quarterback Brian Hoyer and should matter even more now that Hoyer's season is over with a torn ACL and Brandon Weeden has to take over. Weeden needs all the help he can get to move the ball, and no Browns player save tight end Jordan Cameron has proven capable of doing so on a regular basis.
Greg Little already has four dropped passes this year and only 149 yards to show for his 14 receptions. The last thing the Browns want to do is have Little more involved in the passing game. As a starter in Weeks 1 and 2 while Gordon was suspended, he caught just eight of the 18 passes thrown to him. Little is not an adequate replacement for Gordon—he's a liability when given an expanded role.
The din over potential Gordon trades could have died down with the Niners not giving up a second-round draft pick for him. However, Jay Glazer of FOX Sports has reported the Atlanta Falcons may have lost receiver Julio Jones for the year to a foot injury, which should only further stoke the fires of Gordon again being on the trade block.
Desperation could result in the Falcons giving up the second-round pick the Browns would apparently accept in a trade for Gordon. However, the Browns must examine whether the pick helps them more in both the short and long terms than keeping Gordon.
Yes, Gordon is one strike away from a year-long suspension, and the Browns could find themselves without their star wideout and an additional high-round 2014 draft pick if he slips up. It's a gamble to assume Gordon will remain on the straight-and-narrow, but it's also a gamble to assume they can find another receiver who can make as immediate an impact as Gordon has should they opt to trade him away.
Gordon did the seemingly impossible in 2012—he joined the Browns as a supplemental draft pick, missing much of training camp after not playing college football at all in 2011, and became a full-time starter by Week 7.
Even traditionally-drafted rookie receivers often struggle in their first season in the NFL. But Gordon went on to be the Browns' leading receiver, with 50 catches for 805 yards and five touchdowns, 312 yards after the catch and a team-best 40 first downs.
His off-the-field issues aside, he is a rare talent, one the Browns should hang onto and cultivate rather than trade, no matter how enticing an additional second-round 2014 draft pick seems today.
Whether it's Weeden, Hoyer or some as-yet unknown "quarterback of the future," Gordon's presence in Cleveland helps them all. It's one thing to trade running back Trent Richardson for a first-round pick—running backs, after all, are easier to come by, and it's clear as of now that Richardson is not the second coming of Adrian Peterson that he was touted to be prior to the 2012 draft.
But Gordon is a true singular talent, one who makes the Browns offense better and one who fits in perfectly with what head coach Rob Chudzinski and coordinator Norv Turner are trying to do on that side of the ball.
Further, the Browns have a 3-2 record and are in a three-way tie for the top spot in the AFC North. Trading Gordon would jeopardize all of the gains the team has made so far this season. No matter who comes calling, the Browns should cease entertaining offers for Gordon.