NASHVILLE — Josh Gordon, the physically gifted receiver who was suspended from the NFL for violations of the league’s substance abuse policies, was conditionally reinstated by commissioner Roger Goodell on Friday.
Gordon, who was suspended indefinitely on Dec. 20, 2018, for violating the terms of his conditional reinstatement from a previous suspension, can rejoin the Patriots in Foxborough on Sunday. He applied for reinstatement earlier this month.
“We are all rooting for Josh to succeed, both personally and professionally,” Goodell said. “Everyone shares in that hope and will continue to support him to every extent possible. But as Josh acknowledged, ultimately his success is up to him.”
Effective Sunday, Gordon may go to meetings and do conditioning and individual work. He will be able to start practicing “subject to appropriate progress on clinical care and other arrangements,” according to the league’s statement.
Gordon will not have to miss any games in 2019 under the terms of his reinstatement, a league source said.
He will not, however, be allowed to play in the third preseason game on Aug. 22 against the Panthers because he will not have had sufficient time with the team for practice and conditioning work. His first possible appearance in a game could come on Aug. 29 when the Patriots play the Giants in the fourth and final preseason game.
Preseason, of course, is not the main point. If Gordon can play a significant number of games for the Patriots in 2019 — and that remains an if, given his history — then the team’s depth chart at wide receiver suddenly looks very strong.
Gordon joined the Patriots last September via trade with the Cleveland Browns, who drafted him in the second round of the 2012 supplemental draft. Gordon played in 11 games for the Patriots, catching 40 passes for 720 yards and three touchdowns. He missed the final two games of the regular season and all three games in the postseason because of his suspension.
When he was on the field, Gordon changed the Patriots passing game, giving Tom Brady a downfield option with outstanding contested catch ability. According to Pro Football Focus, Brady averaged 11.3 yards per attempt when targeting Gordon, his greatest depth of target to any receiver since the data supplier began tracking such things in 2006.
Right now, the Patriots’ wide receivers’ room could use a boost. This year’s first-round draft pick, N’Keal Harry, is dealing with a hamstring injury and Phillip Dorsett and training camp standout Maurice Harris also are nursing injuries. Julian Edelman and Demaryius Thomas are still physically unable to participate in practice, though both are with the team in Nashville and appear to be making progress. To watch a Patriots training camp practice recently has been to watch a group of receivers that includes some nice surprises, but could use some additional playmaking ability.
An offense with Edelman, Harry and Gordon sounds formidable. Harry (6 feet 4 inches, 225 pounds) and Gordon (6-3, 225) would be two of the biggest receivers in the league, giving the Patriots two dangerous playmakers downfield and in the red zone. They’d surely cause plenty of game-plan issues for opposing defensive coordinators.
There is an ever-present challenge with how to use Gordon since his on-field ability is such that he quickly becomes a focal point of an offense, while his off-field history suggests being careful not to become reliant on him. The 28-year-old has been suspended four times by the NFL, including for the entire 2015 and 2016 seasons, for repeated violations of the league’s substance abuse policies. Gordon has struggled with alcohol and drugs, which he’s said publicly he’s used since childhood and has received treatment for. It’s not known what triggered his suspension last December other than he violated the terms of his reinstatement.
The Patriots have been supportive of Gordon, who signed a restricted free agent tender with the team in April. That kept him under contract in New England in the event his suspension was lifted. Now that it has been, Gordon is set to earn a base salary of $2.025 million this year, or $119,000 for every game he is on the roster.
Gordon also worked out with Brady during the offseason, something the quarterback spoke about after a practice two weeks ago.
“There weren’t many opportunities, but he was around and I needed someone to catch,” said Brady on July 31. “I’ve always enjoyed playing with him and obviously hope everything works out for him. I’m hoping the best, certainly.”
Within an hour of news breaking that he’d been reinstated, teammates Julian Edelman and Kyle Van Noy had posted on social media about it, with Edelman sharing a photo of himself and Gordon jumping together in celebration on the field.
They had reason to celebrate then, and have it again now. The Patriots have been searching for an answer at receiver all offseason. For now, they’ve found one with rare abilities whom they can bring back into the fold.