An NFL team’s fortunes can rest largely on how closely its roster ends up resembling what was envisioned during offseason construction. With offseason injuries and suspensions however, the roster attrition can begin even before training camp opens. That has been the case once again this offseason, with several teams already losing key players that figured to have significant impact on how those clubs fare during the upcoming 2014 season.
Here’s a look at some of the injuries and suspensions that promise to be felt the most by the affected teams:
Josh Gordon: The Cleveland Browns wide receiver was arrested last weekend in Raleigh, N.C., and charged with driving while impaired. Gordon already was facing a potential season-long suspension by the NFL after it was reported in May that he’d failed a drug test. He was suspended for two games last season and lost two additional game checks because of a violation of the league’s drug policies — he said then that he’d used a cough medication containing codeine, a substance banned by the sport — and he reportedly failed a series of drug tests in college at Baylor and Utah.
Gordon could be one of the sport’s ascending stars. He had 1,646 receiving yards in 14 games last year for the Browns in only his second NFL season. It was the 10th-best single-season receiving yards total in NFL history. It also projected to 1,881 yards over 16 games, which would have been the second-highest single-season figure in league history, behind only the 1,964 yards Calvin Johnson posted for the Detroit Lions in 2012. Even Jerry Rice never had a season with more than 1,848 receiving yards. That’s how good Gordon is.
In the short term, Gordon’s potential season-long absence from the lineup greatly hinders the Browns’ chances of showing immediate improvement under their first-year coach, Mike Pettine. If and when rookie Johnny Manziel takes over as the starter, he is likely to be without the one receiver on Cleveland’s roster who could make the biggest difference in the young quarterback’s development. But the implications go far beyond that.
Gordon is a dynamic player with the ability to be a perennial Pro Bowler, potentially a Hall of Famer. Now the question is whether he can get his life in order and avoid wasting his considerable on-field talent. Former Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson issued a plea on Twitter over the weekend for those close to Gordon to “please help this kid” because it’s not about football at this point but “about picking up the pieces of his life.” He’s right.
Kiko Alonso: The Buffalo Bills linebacker is expected to miss the entire season after the team announced last week he’d suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee while working out in Oregon. Alonso was one of the league’s top rookies last season while playing middle linebacker for the Bills. He had 159 tackles and four interceptions and finished second to the New York Jets’ Sheldon Richardson in a close vote for the NFL’s defensive rookie of the year.
The Bills had been making plans to move Alonso to outside linebacker this season after adding veteran Brandon Spikes as a free agent to take over at middle linebacker. Instead, Buffalo will need to find a new defensive leader. It’s not exactly a welcome task at a time when the franchise is grappling with even bigger issues, such as its long-term future in Buffalo.
Sean Lee: The Dallas Cowboys placed Lee on the injured reserve list last week after the linebacker underwent surgery on his left knee in June to have tears of his ACL and meniscus repaired. Lee was hurt during an offseason practice in late May. He had 99 tackles in 11 games last season and was to be one of the leaders of a defense from which linebacker DeMarcus Ware and lineman Jason Hatcher departed in the offseason.
The Cowboys traded with the Baltimore Ravens last week for formerly retired linebacker Rolando McClain. That perhaps signals just how desperate Dallas’s situation is. McClain had 173 tackles in three seasons with the Oakland Raiders. But he last played in the NFL in 2012 and he never played a game for the Ravens after opting to walk away from the sport. Now, at 24, he’s back. And the Cowboys need him, thanks to Lee’s injury, every bit as much as he needs them.
Sean Weatherspoon: The linebacker is to miss the entire season after suffering a ruptured Achilles’ tendon during a workout at the Atlanta Falcons’ training facility in June. Weatherspoon had a relatively modest 38 tackles in seven games for Atlanta last season, but he had 115 tackles in 2011 — the only season in which he played a full 16 games. He perhaps is not a game-changing player for a defense such as Alonso or Lee. But he was to be an important player for the Falcons, and they needed all the help they could get as they attempt to return to contender status after going 4-12 last season to qualify as one of the league’s biggest disappointments of 2013.