By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Nothing washes away the stench of a bad loss quite like the acquisition of an all-world talent. And so, almost in an instant on Monday, when Ian Rapoport reported that the Patriots were “getting close” to acquiring Josh Gordon via trade, the news broke the internet in a way that would have even made Kim Kardashian a bit envious.
That is, of course, not without reason. For starters, seemingly any move the Patriots make becomes instantly regarded as a big one. Add in the big-time potential for a receiver of Gordon’s caliber, plus Gordon’s long and troubled history with abiding by NFL rules, and this news has all the makings to be a story that’s sure to make everyone go a little bit crazy with a mixture of excitement, confusion, anticipation and — above all else — shock.
Yet while the concept of teaming up Tom Brady with Josh Gordon is no doubt an exciting development for those who follow and cover the Patriots, the move reveals the Patriots to be both willing to accept a fair amount of risk and also a bit desperate.
Yes, we can all point to the 2013 season as evidence of Gordon’s greatness, and yes, it remains possible that he still possesses some of the talent which allowed him to record 1,646 receiving yards in a single season. (Only nine receivers have ever recorded more receiving yards in a single season, and Gordon did that despite playing in just 14 games. Hall of Famers Randy Moss, Michael Irvin and Lance Alworth never had a season with as many receiving yards.) But it would be wholly disingenuous to weigh the 2013 accomplishments more heavily than everything that has taken place since then.
The reality of the situation is that if the Patriots had a roster that was currently sufficient, they wouldn’t be in a position to acquire a player with Gordon’s history. That’s not meant to suggest the Patriots have some sort of honorable moral code, and it’s not meant to cast aspersions on Gordon’s character. It is merely pointing out that for four-plus seasons, Gordon has been completely unreliable.
And really, that lack of dependability goes back to his college days. At Baylor, Gordon was suspended after getting arrested while sleeping in the passenger seat of a teammate’s car outside of a Taco Bell. The driver was also sleeping, and marijuana was found in the car. The next year, Gordon was suspended for failing a drug test.
Gordon played in 30 out of 32 games in his first two NFL seasons in 2012 and 2013, compiling 2,451 yards and scoring 14 touchdowns on 137 receptions — a fairly significant accomplishment, considering his quarterbacks were Brandon Weeden, Thad Lewis, Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer.
But of course, Gordon missed the first two games of that 2013 season for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.
In 2014, after a DWI arrest in the summer, Gordon was suspended for the entire 2014 season. That penalty was reduced to a 10-game suspension after he pleaded guilty. He played in five games, catching just 24 passes for 303 yards.
Then came 2015. When Gordon was … suspended for the entire year. For violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Again.
He applied for reinstatement in 2016. He was denied. Because he failed another drug test. He was ultimately issued a four-game suspension, but he entered rehab shortly before the end of that suspension.
He was finally reinstated late in the 2017 season. For someone who hadn’t played in an NFL game in three years, he looked pretty good. He threw on some sunglasses after catching a touchdown vs. Green Bay.
Everyone was excited for the return of Gordon — most notably the Cleveland Browns, who made the rare move of investing a second-round pick in Gordon in the supplemental draft and remained dedicated to him throughout all of his off-field battles with addiction. (Gordon also admitted to smoking marijuana and/or drinking alcohol before every game he ever played in college and the NFL.)
That was, until this week, when the Browns finally decided to cut ties with Gordon after he reportedly suffered a hamstring injury during a photo shoot. That ought to be repeated for effect: The Cleveland Browns, who are 4-45-1 since 2015, decided to cut ties with Gordon. He wasn’t worth it anymore.
And that’s where the desperation for New England shows. It’s not that a fifth-round pick (and possibly less than that, if it doesn’t work out) is exceptionally risky. Hardly. But the Patriots should not be in a position just two weeks into the season where they need to go out and make a move that forces them to rely on the league’s most unreliable player.
That’s also without delving into the fact that picking up New England’s offense has proven to be quite challenging for nearly every veteran receiver who joins the team — even those who have entire springs and summers to pick it up. Joining an offense this complicated at this point of the year will challenge Gordon to be better than the veteran receivers who have come before him.
But, alas, there is no denying the temptation to make this move. The idea of Brady connecting on deep balls with Gordon — and at the very least opening up opportunities for Rob Gronkowski, Chris Hogan, and Edelman (after Week 4) — is one that can theoretically change the dynamic of the Patriots’ offense. And after getting shut down in a loss in Jacksonville on Sunday, such an infusion was definitely needed.
There’s nothing wrong with the deal in and of itself. But for the Patriots to be in a position after just two weeks to pounce on a player that’s getting dumped by the lowly Browns? It doesn’t say much about their positioning or planning prior to the start of the season. It may well work out in the end, but for the most prepared team in the NFL, it feels like a bit of a Hail Mary.