On August 25th, the Cleveland Browns officially activated wide receiver Josh Gordon. In 2013, Gordon put together one of the greatest statistical seasons of any wide receiver, amassing 1,646 yards and 9 touchdowns in just 14 games.
Since that year, however, it’s been a tough road for Gordon. In 2014, the league suspended him for 11 total games, then for all of 2015 and 2016. But since then, he’s it all around.
When Gordon realized it was time to make a change, he took a stand and entered himself into an inpatient rehab program. But despite successfully completing the program, he was still denied reinstatement from the league.
However, after another six months of positive progress, and speaking to commissioner Roger Goodell personally, Gordon was ultimately re-instated to return to the league in Week 13.
Now it seems as if he’s here to stay. Anyone who watches HBO’s Hard Knocks will tell you. The 6’3″ 225-pound “Flash” appears poised for a productive 2018 season with the newly rebuilt Cleveland Browns.
But…what about Justin Blackmon?
This is a name you probably haven’t heard in a long, long time. Selected 5th overall in the 2012 NFL Draft, Blackmon came off the board ahead of eventual Pro Bowlers Luke Kuechly and Fletcher Cox.
But his career has been almost synonymous with Gordon in terms of legal troubles and suspensions from the NFL.
Blackmon enjoyed an impressive rookie season, a rare bright spot on the worst Jaguars team in franchise history. Blackmon gained 865 yards and caught 5 touchdowns for Jacksonville that season.
While it was not as astonishing as Gordon’s sophomore campaign, Blackmon certainly made an impression. At the time, he was viewed alongside Gordon as one of several young receivers poised to take over the league.
There are many parallels in their stories. Both were arrested for driving under the influence and both were denied reinstatement by the league office on numerous occasions. Both faced probation and have an extensive criminal history.
Gordon admitted to committing armed robberies and grand theft auto in his high school and college years. Blackmon pleaded guilty to driving under the influence (including one as a 20-year-old at Oklahoma State) and no contest to marijuana possession.
A Look To The Future
So what separates the two? And could Blackmon perhaps follow in the footsteps of Gordon?
One major difference is that Gordon never gave up, even after numerous hiccups in the process. He realized that his career was too important to lose, and he took action by successfully completing rehab. He then continued pushing himself to stay on the right path, until his eventual reinstatement last season.
Blackmon successfully completed his terms of probation with the law in 2017 but has since disappeared. There have been zero news articles regarding him in 13 months, which suggests that he’s hung up the cleats for good. His last tweet was in 2013 and he has a private Instagram account (I tried following him, but no action was taken).
Another major difference between the two is the contract gap. Fortunately for Gordon, he was still under contract with the Browns for the 2017 season upon his reinstatement. Then, the Browns re-signed him to a one-year deal for 2018.
On the other hand, Blackmon’s situation is quite mysterious. Wikipedia says that he’s still on the Jags roster, while Spotrac says that after 2016, he became a free agent. Upon suspension, a player’s contract becomes deferred until his next active season.
In this case, the Jags would owe Blackmon about $10MM. In the best interest of the team, Jacksonville would likely prefer to keep that money rather than spending it on an unknown commodity.
Back in 2015, the Jaguars believed that Blackmon would never play for them again, and that seems very likely at this point –unless he’s been holding secret workout sessions with zero media coverage. Sadly, it appears that the sports world has all but forgotten about the former two-time Biletnikoff Award winner.
It’s been an amazing story for Gordon, who can hopefully continue his path of success. But it could be even more amazing for Justin Blackmon to make his return to the NFL.
A man can dream, right?
Who’s the biggest wasted talent you’ve seen in professional sports? Comment below.
Want More Underdog Stories?
Subscribe to our free weekly newsletter for a bite-sized rundown of the best underdog stories in sports!Subscribe Now