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Josh Gordon, the Cleveland Browns' All-Pro receiver who was officially suspended for a year by the NFL Wednesday for violating the league's substance-abuse policy by testing positive for marijuana, appears to have been shot down in his attempt to come to the CFL. Gordon expressed interest in trying the CFL during his suspension, and several of the league's teams reportedly wanted him, but NFL.com's Albert Breer reportedThursday that the Calgary Stampeders were able to acquire his negotiation list rights and were working with Gordon and agent Drew Rosenhaus to get him to Canada. While former commissioner Tom Wright's infamous "Ricky Williams Rule" prevents CFL teams from signing under-contract NFL players suspended by that league, league spokesman Jamie Dysktra clarified to 55-Yard Line that the rule doesn't apply if the player's released by the NFL, so Gordon could come north if the Browns let him go. According to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com, though, that's not going to happen:
As Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer said during Thursday’s PFT Live, the Browns won’t give Gordon permission to play in Canada. A league source tells PFT that the Browns already have informed Gordon that he won’t be permitted to take his talents to Saskatoon. Or anywhere else in Canada.
That should end it.
Even though it would give Gordon a better support structure and despite the fact that it seems unfair to prevent a guy whose contract has been tolled from playing football due to his suspension, Gordon won’t be playing in the CFL this year.
While it's unfortunate for Gordon and the Stampeders that the Browns won't let him go to the CFL, their position's understandable under the current rules. If they released him outright, which they'd have to do to let him join the CFL, they'd lose his NFL rights, and he could sign with anyone once his suspension ended. This perhaps makes the case for differentiating NFL and CFL rights again, something that used to be the case with the CFL's option-year deals. When Andy Fantuz came back from the NFL in 2011, the Roughriders still held his CFL rights, so there was no Dressler-esque free agent frenzy. If there was a reverse version of that, the Browns could let Gordon play in Canada to stay in shape without losing his NFL rights (and perhaps have him take out an insurance policy to reimburse them in case of injury). At the moment, though, that's not possible.
It is notable that adding a player to the negotiation list doesn't require being able to sign that player, so the Stampeders may hang on to Gordon's CFL rights in case something changes. League spokesman Jamie Dykstra told 55-Yard Line Thursday that "You can place a player on your neg list even if he is under contract, but they can't sign him unless he's a free agent." This is an important element of the way the CFL's negotiation lists work; they often include players who are still in the NFL or even the NCAA and have no chance of coming north any time soon, such as Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel and Braxton Miller. A team adding them to its 35-man negotiation list is a gamble to establish future priority in case the player does try the CFL, and it certainly can pay off; last year, Montreal brought in former Heisman winner Troy Smith after reportedly having him on their negotiation list for 10 years. We'll see if the Stampeders hang on to Gordon's rights for that long, but keeping him for a while may not be a bad gamble; if his issues with the NFL wind up knocking him out of that league more permanently, having his CFL rights may prove a great asset.