The need was obvious. Anyone watching the Patriots’ offense sputter its way through Sunday’s lopsided loss in Jacksonville could see it.
With Julian Edelman still serving his four-game suspension, with Danny Amendola still wearing a new uniform in Miami, with Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett trading flashes as a substitute No. 1 receiver, with Rob Gronkowski standing all alone as the player opposing defenses had to game plan for, it’s little wonder both Tom Brady and Josh McDaniels were caught by television cameras in full frustrated screaming sideline mode against the Jags. Only two weeks into the season, the most predictable shortfall on the roster was getting routinely, and repeatedly, exposed, and frustration was setting in.
And while the answer Bill Belichick came up with Monday reeks slightly of desperation, this is what happens when a team is, in fact, desperate.
Josh Gordon’s sordid history of off-the-field transgressions and on-field suspensions make him a huge risk to acquire, but Belichick made it clear he is willing to take that risk, with ESPN reporting the deal as a 2019 fifth-round pick in exchange for Gordon, along with a 2019 seventh-rounder if Gordon is not active for 10 games this season.
Cue the cries of the rich getting richer, of the annoyed base in Cleveland wishing management had held on for at least a few more weeks of patience with the oft-troubled Gordon, convinced they’re about to see Gordon win a title with the Patriots while they continue on the search for one measly win, or those from the NFL at large, convinced the stability of the Patriots’ franchise and steady hand of Belichick’s leadership will unlock the key to one of the game’s most talented, if troubled, players.
And make no mistake – the 27-year-old Gordon is an athletic freak. If he can indeed buy into the Patriot way, he could be just the football answer they’ve been looking for. His production when he’s on the field is ridiculous. Among active players, Gordon’s average of 92 receiving yards a game is fourth only to Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, and Odell Beckham Jr., otherwise known as the three best receivers in the game.
Of course the operative phrase is “when he’s on the field.” Gordon missed all of the 2015 and 2016 seasons because of suspensions and rehab for substance abuse (he has admitted to regular use of marijuana). He reportedly ran out of luck in Cleveland after sustaining a hamstring injury during a promotional appearance Friday and then arriving late to the team facility Saturday. The Browns ran out of strikes.
The Patriots aren’t likely to give Gordon too many at-bats, but Belichick has proven himself more than a capable match for oversized, problematic personalities. Some, like Randy Moss, helped him get to the Super Bowl. Others, like Albert Haynesworth, were gone before we got to know them.
But let’s not minimize Gordon’s issues. He has been treated for anxiety and depression, has been in rehab for more than marijuana use, and left Cleveland as recently as this season for three weeks to deal with personal issues. If the Patriots really want to see him help them on the field, they need to be prepared to help him off it. And he needs to be open to that help. But if both sides commit to this relationship that way, the ceiling is high.
And that will sure make Brady happy. For too many offensive series Sunday, he couldn’t find a target with enough separation from defenders. On too many throws, he was out of synch, overthrowing on some occasions or off target on others.
With the passing game stuck in neutral, an already hungry and talented Jaguars defense was able to stifle the run game too easily, leaving the Patriots’ offense frustrated. That was Brady early in the game, caught by the cameras pointing to his head and yelling, “Do your job,” as his team fell behind by two touchdowns, wasting its first possession with a long missed field goal.
When Gordon does his job right, he does it awfully well.
A true home-run hitter, he can stretch the field as well as any receiver in the game. He caught only 18 passes last season, but the 335 yards he covered averages out to 18.6 yards per catch. And at 6 feet 3 inches and 225 pounds, he’s the type of target a quarterback loves, tall and rangy with a huge catch radius.
That’s the upside. It may take some time to get there. Whether Gordon can keep himself on track long enough to learn the offense will determine whether that happens. That’s on Gordon. But for the Patriots, the downside is that it doesn’t work out and they cut him.
That’s a worthy risk, especially for a desperate team.