Browns head coach Hue Jackson said Josh Gordon never lost his trust, but the wide receiver will need to meet the organization's expectations going forward.
Gordon, who continues to recover from a public struggle with addiction, returned to the team Saturday following a leave of absence to focus on his mental and physical well-being.
Jackson said he met with Gordon earlier in the day and believes the former Pro Bowler is in a "real solid place" after stepping away. Gordon announced July 23 he wouldn't be in Cleveland for the start of training camp.
"He was doing something to make himself better, put himself in a better place, which I think is very important. The health part for him is really important. I do get that and respect that," Jackson said on a conference call.
"At the same time, I think what's very important is that he continues to do the things that the organization has set forth and that the football team has set forth. I think that Josh understands that and I think that he's willing to do that. That'll happen over time. In time, I think that he'll show exactly where he is."
Gordon, who returned in December after a multi-year suspension for violations of the league's substance abuse policy, is expected to play a key role on a new-look Browns offense that added starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor and three-time Pro Bowl receiver Jarvis Landry.
In five games last season, Gordon caught 18 passes for 335 yards and a touchdown, flashing the talent that made him once one of the league's most-electric players. Coupled with the Browns' overhauled roster and a strong support system in Berea, there's optimism that the 27-year-old can regain his form this fall.
"As I humbly return to being a member of this team with an opportunity to get back to playing this game I love, I realize in order for me to reach my full potential my primary focus must remain on my sobriety and mental well-being," Gordon wrote in a statement.
Jackson and general manager John Dorsey said they'll slowly assimilate Gordon back into the swing of things and it's unclear when he'll be able to practice with the team. He can participate in meetings and conditioning and "will gradually resume all football activities as deemed appropriate," Dorsey said in a statement.
Gordon comes back to a group that's seen Landry, rookie Antonio Callaway and third-year player Rashard Higgins earn the team's top three receiver spots. Cleveland also traded Corey Coleman, its 2016 first-round pick, to Buffalo two weeks ago.
Jackson made clear Gordon will need to earn his keep as the Browns near the end of camp.
"He's really excited to be back and ready to get going. He'll continue to make progress. We're very happy to have him back in the building," Jackson said. "He understands that he has to earn the right to be back there. Nothing is going to be given. He doesn't just walk right out and become the starting 'X' on our team. He's going to have to earn that. There's been quite a few players that have been here the whole time that have worked extremely hard. We are going to keep going that way. At some point in time, when we think it is right – when I think it is right – for him to be back in that mode, then we will stick him back out there. But, not before then."
Jackson added he believes Gordon is in good physical shape, but he'll inevitably need to get into "football condition where you're playing against professional athletes and the grind of doing that play after play after play."
"I don't think that anybody is really prepared for that until you do it. Do I think that he can go out and participate in practice and do those things if he needed to? I do because I think I know Josh that way," Jackson said. "He looks good. He's not overweight or anything like that. He looks extremely well and looks like he is in a good place and ready to get back into our program."
Equally, if not more, important is Gordon's emotional well-being. While the Browns have expressed a low tolerance for off-field mishaps, Jackson made clear Gordon's situation is a bit different considering the nature of addiction and his willingness to put himself in a better situation. It's up to Gordon, Jackson said, to stay on a positive path.
"I think he is in a much better place. I think we feel very good about where he is," he said. "I think all those things, as you guys know, are always fluid. That's always a concern, but at the same time, we're here to support, help and try to create the right environments for Josh."