CLEVELAND (AP) — The Browns are acting as if Josh Gordon is already gone.
With the status of their Pro Bowl wide receiver still unclear for next season, the team added two veteran free-agent wide receivers Thursday, agreeing to terms with Miles Austin and signing Earl Bennett.
Both players give the Browns insurance in case Gordon, the team’s top playmaker who led the NFL in yards receiving last season, is suspended for a year after reportedly failing another drug test.
Austin and Bennett have been available since March, but the Browns passed on them in favor of signing veteran Nate Burleson to challenge Greg Little for the No. 2 receiver’s spot. However, a report last week that Gordon is facing a one-year suspension forced the Browns to find some quality help and rookie general manager Ray Farmer added Miles and Bennett.
Despite being aware of Gordon’s situation, Farmer passed on drafting a wide receiver last week. At the time, Farmer’s inaction seemed peculiar, but the team obviously had other options in mind.
“We’re confident we have a plan,” coach Mike Pettine said at a golf outing earlier this week. “That the situation didn’t call for panic, that’s something we weren’t going to do. I agree with Ray 1,000 percent that we have to build this team so that no one player drives the ship, that we can be insulated. Losing players for extended periods of time potentially is part of the game.
“Successful franchises are the ones that have enough depth built and enough options that they have from scheme-wise, coaching-wise to account for it. Those are the ones that are successful.”
A two-time Pro Bowl player, Austin was released by Dallas in March in a salary-cap move. The 29-year-old played in just 11 games last season because of hamstring injuries.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Austin was signed by the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2006. He appeared in 106 games, recording 301 receptions for 4,481 yards and 34 touchdowns.
Miles had his best season in 2009, when he had 81 receptions for 1,320 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The 27-year-old Bennett has made 29 starts in six pro seasons – all with the Chicago Bears. He has 185 career receptions for 2,277 yards with 12 touchdowns. Last season, he had 32 receptions for 243 yards and four TDs in 15 games.
Only hours after the Browns introduced Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel last Friday, ESPN reported that the 22-year-old Gordon is facing a one-year ban for testing positive for marijuana dampened the enthusiasm created by Cleveland’s draft.
Citing unidentified sources, the report said Gordon was notified by a league physician that he failed the test. Gordon has failed two previous tests and was suspended for the first two games last season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
Despite playing just 14 games, Gordon, who also had substance abuse issues in college, led the league with 1,646 yards receiving.
The league has not commented on Gordon’s situation.
Agent Drew Rosenhaus has declined comment.
Faced with a substantial fine, Farmer was careful as he spoke about Gordon, but indicated the team was prepared to move on without him.
“It’s no different than if a player was going out during the offseason and broke an ankle or tore an ACL playing pickup hoops,” Farmer said. “We have to build a football team that can win regardless of who’s missing. I think that’s the charge that we have. That’s my job. That’s coach Pettine’s job. To prepare this football team to win games regardless of who’s missing.”
Along with Gordon’s fluid situation, the Browns may be without Burleson after he recently underwent minor surgery to fix a plate in the left arm he broke last year in a car accident. Farmer expects Burleson to be ready when training camp opens in July.
The Browns also signed undrafted free agent defensive lineman Elhadji Ndiaye.
Born in Senegal, the 6-4, 265-pound Ndiaye attended Nebraska-Kearney. He had six sacks in 2013.