Patriots were desperate at WR and that's why they're reaching on Josh Gordon

NFL columnist
Yahoo Sports

The New England Patriots are desperate to fix their offense. And that’s how the marriage to Josh Gordon has come to pass.

A league source confirmed reports by ESPN’s Adam Schefter and the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport that New England agreed to acquire Gordon from the Cleveland Browns for a conditional fifth-round pick. The move happened two days after the Browns announced they were parting ways with Gordon.

Both teams later confirmed the swap.

The Patriots hope Josh Gordon energizes a receiving corps that lacks punch. (AP)
The Patriots hope Josh Gordon energizes a receiving corps that lacks punch. (AP)

Here’s why the Patriots need Gordon

A source who spoke to Yahoo Sports on Monday afternoon said New England is simply “desperate” to add speed and playmaking to the offense. The loss of running back Dion Lewis has turned out to be significant, while the Patriots have been in a constant churn at the wide receiver position trying to find an impact player beyond Julian Edelman.

Enter Gordon, who will basically be considered a low-cost rental the rest of this season, with the Patriots free to cut him loose at any moment they sense an issue.

The source told Yahoo Sports this trade is also a low-risk reach by coach Bill Belichick for both quarterback Tom Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. In only one preseason and two regular season games, McDaniels and Brady have become acutely aware that the offense is lacking an option to take the top off a secondary. It’s something the team lost when it dealt wideout Brandin Cooks to the Los Angeles Rams. Since that move, New England has been rotating through options to resolve the problem in any way possible, including unsuccessful stints with Jordan Matthews, Kenny Britt and Malcolm Mitchell. The Patriots also tried deep speed-option in Corey Coleman last week before cutting him to make room for Gordon.

Gordon’s reliability questioned

Now Gordon will ultimately be the guy they hope solves the need – if he can get on the practice field and actually into regular-season games, something that has been a constant challenge over the past four years. That’s part of what showcases some of the New England desperation in this move.

Gordon has simply not been a player who could be trusted by an NFL team since 2013. He has repeatedly run afoul of the league’s substance-abuse program while also dealing with mental health issues. In recent years, his fight with substance problems has been more a matter of attacking some of his social anxiety issues and hoping it would transform some of his substance-abuse failings. But that hope fell short when the Browns decided to trade him Monday, after a still-murky incident in which Gordon allegedly injured his hamstring.

Cowboys had no interest in Gordon

Not everyone across the NFL bought that leaked rationale on Sunday, either. Two team sources who spoke with Yahoo Sports on Sunday said they believed there was likely more to the release than a simple injury. And at least one wide receiver-needy suitor – the Dallas Cowboys – had no interest in acquiring Gordon when he became available. A Dallas team source told Yahoo Sports on Monday that the Cowboys wouldn’t be involved in a trade for Gordon, shortly before the team began working to bring back former wideout Brice Butler. A second league source who has a familiarity with Gordon dating to his rookie season was more blunt about the trade rationale.

“Seriously man, the guy can never be trusted,” the source said Sunday night. “Some renegade team or head coach that thinks they can fix him [will add him]. … No team that’s worried about the chemistry of [their locker room] will touch him.” 

Does this go against Patriot Way?

At least from that standpoint, the Patriots make some sense. It’s not a team that worries about the locker room, largely because of the program and standards that Belichick, Brady and a host of other veterans put in place. Gordon is no more likely to come in and upset that chemistry than other players in the past who either had baggage (Corey Dillon) or giant personalities (Randy Moss).

But Gordon’s availability continues to be the most eyebrow raising concern. Belichick has long put availability high on his list – if not first on his list – when evaluating veteran acquisitions. If Belichick believes a player won’t stay on the field, he’s very unlikely to sign him.

For example, a league source said that’s what ultimately scuttled a bargain-basement signing of Adrian Peterson in the 2017 offseason. Belichick brought Peterson in for a workout as a favor to then-Peterson agent Ben Dogra, and wound up believing the running back still had tread on his tires after seeing a workout. According to the source, a Peterson signing never materialized because Belichick ultimately didn’t think Peterson could stay healthy as a heavy-use player.

All of which makes a Gordon acquisition more puzzling. No star player has had more availability problems over the past four seasons in the NFL, playing only 10 of a possible 64 games in that span. That’s not the kind of track record Belichick takes a chance on. It underscores where New England is standing on offense coming out of a very instructive 31-20 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. A game in which Brady and McDaniels were frustrated and Rob Gronkowski was limited to only two catches for 15 yards – largely because he consistently drew the bulk of schematic attention from the Jaguars’ secondary.

The idea is to resolve some of that with Gordon, who would at least occupy one of the top two cornerbacks on a defense, if not the No. 1 defender – while also being a high priority for the deep safety on most snaps. In theory, that would open up the seams and underneath routes for Edelman (when he returns from his four-game suspension), Gronkowski and Chris Hogan.

Time will tell if that ever comes to fruition – or if Gordon can even get himself onto the field for the Patriots. But there’s little denying what this is at the moment. It’s a reach. Maybe a low-risk, high-reward reach. But absolutely a reach to resolve past failings, in hopes of squaring away a little of the offensive desperation that has been hiding below the surface.

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