Josh Gordon in 2017 after a lengthy absence. He played in five games for the Browns, catching 18 passes for 335 yards and a touchdown. He made a couple incredible plays, but did not necessarily have a massive impact.
Still, we have seen the heights Gordon can reach and know that he has massive potential if utilized to his full abilities. He led the NFL in receiving yards back in 2013 despite the fact that he missed two games due to suspension. He'll turn 27 years old this season, putting him on the cusp of his physical prime. If he were to hit free agency, he would likely be highly sought-after, with the caveat that any team would likely want much of his salary to be incentive-based due to his past unreliability off the field.
But that won't happen. According to ESPN's Dan Graziano, Gordon will not be a restricted free agent, but an exclusive rights free agent. That means if the Browns tender him a qualifying offer, he will not be eligible to negotiate a contract with any team other than the Browns.
I asked the NFLPA for clarification on Josh Gordon's status. He may not be a restricted free agent, after all.— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) February 21, 2018
Josh Gordon will be an "exclusive rights free agent." He didn't have enough games in 2017 for an accrued season. ERFAs are not allowed to negotiate with other teams. I don't understand why they're called "free agents" at all, since they're not. https://t.co/xjy13xpMe8— Dan Graziano (@DanGrazianoESPN) February 21, 2018
Gordon could theoretically have been a free agent after the 2014 season, but his various suspensions meant that he did not have enough service time to reach the open market.
Gordon was suspended for two games in 2013 and 11 games in 2014 (10 games by the NFL and one by the Browns). Gordon was also given a year-long suspension in February 2015. He had a chance to get reinstated in March of 2016, but that fell through when he turned in a diluted sample on a drug test, which is the same as a failed test in the eyes of the NFL.
He has since been open about his struggles with drugs and alcohol, including the fact that. If Gordon is tendered an offer by the Browns and returns to Cleveland for another season, he could become a free agent at the end of the year. If the Browns elect not to tender him an offer (which seems unlikely since they only have to put forth a minimum contract), he will be free to sign with any team.