NFL's decision on Josh Gordon gives Browns time to observe, learn

The NFL made a difficult decision for the Cleveland Browns a little more tolerable when it conditionally reinstated Josh Gordon on Monday.

Commissioner Roger Goodell allowed Gordon back, though the wide receiver will be suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season. The Browns now need to decide if Gordon is the kind of player and person they want to rely on going forward.

But when the league allowed Gordon to practice and play in the preseason, it gave the Browns an opportunity to spend six weeks observing and seeing just where Gordon is.

For the Browns, that alters the landscape. Instead of having to make a decision on Gordon without seeing him on the field, they can watch him play and practice, see how he interacts with teammates and coaches, and see how he goes about his business on and off the field.

The NFL also decided that Gordon can be with the team in meetings and activities during his four-game suspension, though he can't practice. Again, the Browns get more time with Gordon, even when he's suspended.

Gordon has a long climb ahead of him. He missed the entire 2015 season after being suspended for multiple violations of the NFL's substance abuse policies. In 2014, he missed the first 10 games to a league suspension and season finale to a team suspension.

Which means Gordon is trying to come back after being out for the better part of two years, after missing 27 of the Browns’ last 32 games.

That in itself is a tall order. Then add that Gordon has to show a new coaching staff and front office that the issues that led to the suspensions are behind him. Then add that he has to learn a new offense. It’s tough.

But Gordon is only 25, and the last time the Browns had him on the field for the better part of a season, he was nearly unstoppable. If he has gotten his off-field life together, there is no question about his ability .

What will the Browns do? The team has consistently said it would wait and see where Gordon is before making a decision on whether he’s a Brown in 2016. The fact that Goodell specifically mentioned Jim Brown as being one of the people who promised to help Gordon might indicate the team leans toward keeping Gordon. That thinking would be: Why involve Brown with a player if the team doesn’t plan to keep the player?

But the Browns have been steadfast in maintaining they would make a decision only after meeting with Gordon.

Goodell’s condition for Gordon taking part in the preseason is that arrangements for Gordon’s “clinical resources” must be in place before he can practice. But that is something the team presumably has been thinking about and planning for before this day.

The Browns have much to consider, starting with Gordon’s play, condition and mental ability to pick up the offense. Has missing better part of two years eroded any of his skills? Off the field, the issues are obvious. The Browns are building a new team with a new front office and staff. The team has to decide if a player who has been suspended for 27 of the last 32 games fits the culture it is trying to build. One other thing that may be on the Browns’ minds: whether Gordon’s continuing association with Johnny Manziel says anything.

The Browns, though, now have the advantage of time -- if they choose to use it.

The ability for the team to see, observe and analyze Gordon’s play and actions for six weeks should be a benefit to the Browns as a new regime makes one of its most important decisions.