While everyone in the five state region of New England was finishing up dinner on Friday night, the one thing on everyone’s mind was “The Red Sox need to sweep the Orioles this weekend.” That all changed at around 6:30pm EST. The news all Patriots fans have been long waiting for finally dropped, and it sent Twitter into a frenzy.
Former Browns and current New England Patriots wide receiver Josh Gordon stepped away from football last December, and the news of another failed drug test followed shortly thereafter. He was suspended indefinitely and placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt List, with the option of applying for reinstatement. Fast forward to August 3, 2019, when a small flash of hope lit up Patriots Nation on a day that is already considered a holiday: Tom Brady’s birthday. The application for reinstatement into the league had been completed and submitted, and all that was left to do was wait.
Now, back to present day. The NFL announced that Gordon is to be reinstated on a conditional basis. Those ‘conditions’ are unknown but it’s almost certain we can assume the biggest one is to stay clean. In a statement released by Roger Goodell, he expresses how he and the league “… and will continue to support him to every extent possible. But as Josh acknowledged, ultimately are all rooting for Josh to succeed, both personally and professionally. Everyone shares in that hope his success is up to him.” So, effective this coming Sunday, Gordon is permitted to return to the Patriots and attend meetings and workouts. However, it was determined by the league that he will not have had enough conditioning and practice time to participate in the August 22nd game against Carolina. That part is a little strange considering Gordon has posted videos since he stepped away from the Patriots of him working out not only in the gym, but on the field as well. Once even with Tom Brady in his Brookline backyard. The only downside to all of this is that there is still the strong possibility of a suspension. While we don’t know what that will be yet, or even if there will be one (wishful thinking, I know), that’s something important to keep in mind.
With all of that out of the way though, it’s time to focus on how that shakes up the Patriots receivers group, and the offense as a whole. After the departures of Cordarrelle Patterson and Chris Hogan in free agency, the only receivers who have a rapport with Brady were Edelman and Dorsett. Braxton Berrios would be returning from IR, free agents like Damoun Patterson, Demaryius Thomas and Maurice Harris would be signed, N’Keal Harry would be the steal of the first round, and undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers would go on to light up training camp. Now, add Gordon to that mix. Eight of the receivers on the current roster are 6’2” or taller, with Josh Gordon checking in at 6’3”. With Rob Gronkowski’s retirement, the transition from smaller, more elusive receivers to big body wideouts who can high point the ball is in full motion. It’s not completely crazy to argue that the trade for Josh Gordon last September helped turn the Patriots’ season around, which was spiraling at the time despite it being only two weeks into the season. In his 10 games with New England in 2018, Gordon amassed 40 receptions for 720 yards, three touchdowns and an average of 18 yards per reception. He played a key role in the games against Indy (Brady’s 500th touchdown and Gordon’s first as a Patriot), Chicago, and Green Bay. With that small sample size, and the relationship he has with Brady, Edelman, and the rest of the team, the potential for Gordon to have a great season has no limit. The only thing that could stop him, is himself.
It was clear that New England was going to pull out all the stops to make sure Gordon was in the right environment to succeed, starting by putting his locker right next to Tom Brady’s. Last year, when I wrote about the trade, I specifically said that if there’s one place in the league where Gordon could and would be great based on the people and resources around him, it would be Foxboro. I don’t expect that to be any different this year. In fact, it could even be amplified to ensure that they have their guy, and more importantly that their guy is healthy and safe.