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Patriots hope to catch lightning in a bottle in trade for Josh Gordon

September 18, 2018

WR help in a flash?

That’s clearly the New England Patriots’ hope in acquiring Josh Gordon in a trade with the Cleveland Browns in exchange for a conditional 2019 fifth-rounder on Monday, less than 48 hours after Gordon reportedly missed a treatment session and injured his hamstring in a promotional shoot that wasn’t sanctioned by the Browns, leading to his departure.

Gordon, the 2013 All Pro and NFL receiving yardage champion, was deactivated for the Browns’ Week 2 loss in New Orleans because of the hamstring injury, but ESPN’s Adam Schefter said it won’t prevent him from potentially suiting up for the Patriots’ Week 3 visit from the Detroit Lions.

In addition to Gordon, the Patriots receive a seventh-round pick from the Browns if the receiver isn’t active for at least 10 games.

Gordon caught Cleveland’s game-tying touchdown against the Steelers in Week 1, when he logged 70 snaps just weeks after returning to the Browns from his training-camp reprieve to seek treatment for his substance addiction. He was reinstated earlier in the offseason from one of his many suspensions, contributing to Gordon missing 56 of a possible 97 games during his first six seasons.

What can Gordon provide the Patriots, who were blasted by the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday and rank an uncharacteristic 21st in total offense and 26th on third downs in the early going this season? He’s perhaps one of the game’s five most gifted receivers, when he’s right, a downfield playmaking terror with a career catch average of 17.3 yards.

Gordon obviously comes with additional baggage, too, including a reputation for not being fully committed to football all the time, in addition to his well-documented demons with substance abuse. That’s why this move might be surprising to some, as Bill Belichick’s tight ship has thrown overboard countless players who don’t fall in line with the “Patriot Way.”

Yet Belichick just this offseason signed Corey Coleman, Gordon’s former Browns teammate who was waived Monday in a corresponding roster move. Last season, Belichick rolled the dice on Phillip Dorsett, another former first-round flier who’d built a reputation as being soft in his short time in Indianapolis.

And of course going back much farther it was Belichick’s acquisition of Randy Moss from the Minnesota Vikings in 2007 that positioned the Patriots for a 16-0 season and Moss for one of the great individual receiving seasons in NFL history.

This much we can say for sure: Gordon isn’t Moss. Sure, both require extra handling and have a combination of size and athleticism that few other receivers in NFL history have been blessed with. But Moss authored six consecutive 1,000-plus yard receiving seasons to begin his career, never missing a game as a Viking.

But Belichick, who’s rarely met a reclamation project he doesn’t think he can conquer, clearly decided the volatile Gordon was a calculated risk worth taking. His Patriots have made a staggering 28 WR transactions since the league year began, according to ESPN, in an effort to stabilize a position group for Tom Brady that might turn over annually but has endured unusual circumstances this season with the trade of Brandin Cooks, suspension of Julian Edelman and myriad injuries, including the ones that marked the end of short Patriots stints for Malcolm Mitchell and Jordan Matthews.

How quickly can Gordon realistically help? He’s about to undergo an eye-opening crash course in one of the game’s most nuanced and demanding schemes, led by Brady and OC Josh McDaniels. The sky remains the limit for Gordon. And has always been the case, it’s up to him to decide how much of that potential will be fulfilled. But in going from hapless Cleveland to the NFL’s model franchise in New England, a better opportunity has never been in front of him.

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