By: Hunter Quinn
The Cleveland Browns shocked the NFL this past week with the announcement that they would be releasing their long coveted wide receiver, Josh Gordon. This came as a surprise to so many because of Gordon’s up-and-down relationship with the Browns. There was a ton of hype last year surrounding Gordon as he made his return in the final stretch of Cleveland’s dismal 0-16 season. In fact, besides the Browns’ first overall pick, Gordon’s comeback was perhaps the biggest story regarding Browns football this offseason.
Gordon, sometimes known by his nickname “Flash” has been one of the most storied players in the NFL since his debut in 2012. However, since 2012, he has yet to play a full season. But when Flash has been on the field, he has been remarkable. The former All-Pro posted a league leading 1,646 yards on only 87 catches in 2013, along with 9 touchdowns. In the 4 seasons since, he’s caught 42 balls for only 338 yards. Much of this, however, is because of lack of playing time due suspension. Gordon sat out the entirety of the 2015 and 2016 season due to his violation of the NFL’s drug policy. Last year, he finally returned to the field for the remaining 5 games of Cleveland’s season and showed huge potential, including his debut game where he caught 4 balls for 115 yards.
With the addition of first overall pick Baker Mayfield and fellow wideout Jarvis Landry in the offseason, many thought that the potential Mayfield-Landry-Gordon trifecta would be one of the best in the league. Gordon checked himself into rehab over the offseason and upon his release, Browns fans thought they would finally get to witness the true talent of the 27-year-old this season. Questions about Gordon’s status started to arise as we approached the beginning of the NFL regular season and although the public knows Gordon has struggled with substance abuse, most people assumed his stint in rehab this offseason was the last step in solving his problem. After battling with mental health issues for most of the summer, Gordon was finally ready to return to the field Week 1 where he caught one ball for a 17-yard touchdown.
A few days later the Browns surprising announced he would be getting cut. No one knows quite why, and theories suggest it might be because of locker room issues or because of Gordon’s age. Interest was drawn from many teams including the Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers, and Cincinnati Bengals, among others. On Monday, September 17th, Adam Schefter reported that the New England Patriots offered the Browns a 5th round pick in exchange for the receiver, assuming he plays in at least 10 games this season.
The Patriots have a track record of picking up “discount” players who were highly regarded in the draft but haven’t worked out in other teams. This is oftentimes due to personality or opposing systems, and Bill Belichick loves giving these types of players second chances in New England. The list includes Randy Moss, Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco, Andre Johnson, Eric Decker, Barkevious Mingo, Kyle Van Noy, Darelle Revis, Cordarrelle Patterson and Shea McLellin, just to name a few.
No team is in more desperate need of wide receivers than New England. Before this addition, the Patriots only had 4 wide receivers on the roster; Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson, Philip Dorsett, and the suspended Julian Edelman. Although Tom Brady still has All-Star Rob Gronkowski and electric rookie running back Sony Michel, critics were saying this is the worst Patriots offense in years, and were even saying this might be the season the Pats don’t make the playoffs.
The addition of Josh Gordon will change that. If Gordon is able to remain on the field, he has all the potential to be a game changer. During the 31-20 loss in Jacksonville, Tom Brady looked lost. “Sacksonville’s” elite defense swarmed Brady and made him force balls to tightly covered receivers who just couldn’t find room to escape. Although the return of slot man Julian Edelman will give Brady more options in Week 4, Gordon adds a whole new dynamic to this Patriots offense.
Unlike Edelman and Chris Hogan, who make their living off of short, quick routes, and Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson who don’t add much to the offense except for deep routes, Gordon can play equally well all over the field. Over the last few years, the Patriots offense has evolved into one in which Tom Brady usually waits for a receiver to beat man coverage or dumps the ball out to a running back or slot receiver and hopes they can break a tackle to get additional yards after catch. This is largely in part to the lack of a true “X receiver,” one who can line up outside and beat his man downfield. Gronkowski has tried to be that player but since he usually lines up at the Tight End position, it’s hard for him to create separation when 2 or sometimes 3 players are constantly on him. Gordon, much like former X-receiver Randy Moss, has both the athleticism needed to beat corners and the talent to consistently make the catch from Tom Brady and beat players after it. With both Gordon and Gronkowski making the field longer, this will open up opportunities for Julian Edelman over the middle, create space for running backs Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, and force defenses to be aggressive, creating loads of room for trick plays designed for Cordarrelle Patterson.
If Josh Gordon shows up to play, this might be the most exciting Patriots offense since the Gronkowski/Hernandez or Moss/Welker days. However, “if” is the keyword. Gordon could wind up being the best skill player in the AFC East and lead the Patriots to their 4th Super Bowl appearance in 5 years or end up as another player on the long list of busts that just didn’t work out in New England. Regardless, this move brings an element of excitement to an otherwise boring New England team this year and if anyone can maximize Flash’s unreal potential, it’s Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.