The Patriots lost their gamble on Josh Gordon Thursday but it wasn’t all bad news. At least he didn’t take Tom Brady with him.
After New England traded a fifth round draft choice to the Cleveland Browns for the troubled wide receiver after the first game of the season in hopes of kick starting their slumbering offense, head coach Bill Belichick assigned Gordon the locker next to Brady hoping he would be a positive influence on him both in the huddle and in life.
Gordon had been suspended four times by the NFL at that point as a result of his ongoing substance abuse problems, missing a total of 56 of a possible 97 games in his career due to suspensions or rehab at that point. Now a fifth suspension looms this week after he announced he was stepping away from football for a second time to deal with his mental health issues.
“I take my mental health very seriously at this point to ensure I remain able to perform at the highest level,’’ Gordon announced on Twitter. “I have recently felt like I could have a better grasp on things mentally. With that said, I will be stepping away from the football field for a bit to focus on my mental health."
Almost immediately reports began to circulate that he was facing another indefinite suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. So what’s the good news for the Patriots?
Well, while one must conclude that TB12 was not the lifestyle influence on Gordon the Patriots had hoped for, at least Gordon didn’t influence Brady into changing his lifestyle.
But the real truth of this failed effort to turn the Patriots’ locker room into Boys Town is that while desperate times may call for desperate measures those measures most often lead to bad decisions. Count the acquisition of Gordon among them because with two weeks to go in what has been a rocky season for the Patriots this is no time to be losing the only deep threat you have.
How much of a threat can be debated but Gordon was averaging 18 yards per catch since coming to New England, second best in the league. Although he had only scored three times his 40 catches in 12 games were second on the team among wide receivers and his deep threat ability in the vertical game often successfully opened up space for Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski underneath. Now, with the start of the playoffs only three weeks away, the Patriots have another offensive problem that has no obvious solution.
That was always the greatest danger in acquiring Gordon. Not that he might get into trouble because when you acquire someone who has been suspended for two years and played in only five games last season and just 11 in the previous four you don’t need to be Nostradamus to see trouble on the horizon. The problem always was what happens if it surfaces late in the season after you’ve begun to make him a significant part of your offense?
That’s the gamble the Patriots took and with Gordon’s Thursday tweet announcing he was again walking away from his team (as he did last year with the Browns) it became clear they came up snake eyes.
When the Washington Redskins decided to claim troubled former San Francisco 49ers’ linebacker Reuben Foster off waivers a few weeks back former Redskins’ return man and third down maven Brian Mitchell, who is now a television host in D.C., cautioned them saying, “Whether you’re with your friends or not, if you’re a guy who makes bad decisions, you’re probably going to continue to make them.” He had a point, as Gordon has just confirmed.
On September 19, Bill Belichick made a similar mistake trading for Gordon, who let him down at the worst of times. Now Belichick, whose team is on a two-game losing streak for the first time in December in a decade, must try to cobble together a passing game that has lost its one legitimate vertical threat at a time when its two most reliable receivers, Edelman and Gronkowski, both seem shadows of their once imposing selves.
Can Phillip Dorsett or Chris Hogan replace Gordon? Obviously Bill Belichick doesn’t think so because they were here when he made the trade on September 19. If he felt they posed the kind of threat Gordon can be on his good days Belichick never would have taken that gamble in the first place.
But they don’t and he knew it so he threw a Hail Mary and held his breath. For three months it worked to some extent but after Josh Gordon’s forced decision to walk away into what is likely to be another long suspension, it’s time for Tom Brady and Bill Belichick to say a Hail Mary instead of throwing one in Josh Gordon’s direction.