Josh Gordon’s conditional reinstatement to the NFL and return to the New England Patriots should be cause for celebration for both parties.
It means Gordon’s life is in order, and his addiction and mental-health issues successfully are being managed. The Patriots are getting an uber-talented player thrust into what was a dwindling receiver pool. Win-win. Everything is awesome.
But everything is also complicated because the Patriots went through this same situation last season after they traded for Gordon to fix their receiver corps. Clearly, everything worked out fine. They won Super Bowl LIII over the Los Angeles Rams despite the fact that Gordon, their second-best receiving weapon behind Julian Edelman and ahead of a banged-up Rob Gronkowski, violated the terms of his reinstatement by submitting a diluted sample and was ultimately suspended five games for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse polictty just as the Patriots’ season was reaching its apex.
They went from Gordon to Phillip Dorsett when they needed Gordon most. Even though they probably knew better going into the situation — that, while no player ultimately can be counted on to avoid suddenly being taken off the field due to injury or suspension, Gordon is a higher risk — the lesson certainly was reinforced in December.
So, how do the Patriots handle Gordon’s return to start the regular season? Do they immediately thrust him into a starting role and ride the wave as long as it can carry them? Do they keep an extra wide receiver on their roster as insurance? Do they give Gordon a specialized role that can be removed if Gordon can’t fend off the demons? Do they hope that someone like Demaryius Thomas or Cameron Meredith can return off the PUP list as insurance in case Gordon can’t stay on the straight and narrow?
It will be fascinating to see how the Patriots attempt to navigate these choppy waters for a second straight year. Because, ultimately, the Patriots can’t count on Gordon to stay on the field for 16 regular-season games, a bye week and however many postseason matchups. It would be the story of the year that everyone will be rooting for if that comes to fruition. But Gordon has played 16 games exactly once in his NFL career. And that was when he was a rookie. Since then, he maxed out at 14 straight games in 2013, 11 in 2018, six between 2017 and 2018 and five in 2014. He didn’t play in 2015 and 2016.
Hopefully, things will be different this year and from now on. Roger Goodell decided to conditionally reinstate Gordon for a reason. Hopefully, his troubles are behind him.
But the Patriots can’t count on hopefullys and base their season on Gordon while assembling their pass-catching weapons for Tom Brady. We’d take the path of keeping an extra wide receiver even if Thomas and/or Meredith start the season on the physically unable to return list. If that means keeping one less tight end or offensive tackle, so be it. They’re weak at those positions anyway. But the Patriots can’t afford to lose a Dorsett or a Maurice Harris or a Braxton Berrios and start over at the position midway through the season if Gordon gets lost again.
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