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Patriots’ Gamble on Josh Gordon Wasn’t Worth the Risk

December 21, 2018

FOXBORO -- The costs of taking a chance on Josh Gordon run far deeper than the fifth-round draft choice the New England Patriots sent the Cleveland Browns in exchange for him.

Gordon’s failure to make it the entire season means the Patriots are worse off for having had him at all, even if he does lead the team with 720 receiving yards. All the time spent teaching him the offense, all the time Tom Brady spent developing chemistry with him, could have been invested with another receiver.

Now they’re left scrambling to figure it all out with the playoffs looming.

By playing in 11 games, Gordon actually gave the Patriots more than his history suggested he was likely to give them. In fact, he played in the same number of games for the Patriots as he did for the Browns since the start of the 2014 season through the first game of this season.

It was a bad gamble, an undisciplined move, that only would have paid off if the Patriots could have gotten a full season out of the receiver who started his college career at Baylor, was suspended twice by coach Art Briles, transferred to Utah and never played a game there.

So with all of those warning signs screaming at the Patriots not to do it, why did they take a chance on the receiver who in 2013 had a breakout season with 87 catches for 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns?

They were desperate. Why were they desperate? They haven’t put enough of a premium on drafting wide receivers through the years and when they do, they tend not to pick very wisely. So they take veterans from other teams and when they become too expensive to keep they let them go and repeat the cycle.

Wide receiver isn’t the only problem with the Patriots’ offense, but for the moment it becomes the most pressing one.

Reigning MVP Tom Brady is showing the instincts of an athlete playing in pain, reflexively bracing for hits. He fell down on his final throw Sunday and earlier was picked off throwing while retreating and couldn’t put enough on the ball to heave it out of bounds. Tight end Rob Gronkowski’s physical ailments make him a week-to-week mystery and Julian Edelman has dropped more balls than in years past.

Subtracting Gordon from an aging offense at this point in the season makes the Patriots’ already fading hopes of reaching the Super Bowl seem a little more distant.

Despite three 10-point road duds (vs. Lions, Titans, Steelers) the Patriots still entered this week’s games ranked seventh with 26.7 points per game. Yet, as the season has progressed, the offense has been one better at bending defenses than breaking them. It stalls in the red zone, where the Brady-Gronkowski combination thrived for so many years.

The Patriots rank 16th in the NFL in red-zone touchdown rankings, compared to third last season.

It will be interesting to see how the Patriots pivot to try to compensate for the loss of Gordon.

Cordarrelle Patterson (not at the start of Thursday’s practice) brings some of Gordon’s qualities in that he’s a big target who can bust a big play here and there. He recently has looked to be on the verge of taking on a bigger role for the Patriots. James White’s ability catching passes coming out of the backfield, used more earlier in the season, likely will return to prominence.

In a sense, the final two weeks will serve as a mini-exhibition season with one gigantic difference. The results count, so it’s fortunate that the next two opponents are the Bills and Jets.

Gordon’s departure makes those games a little more challenging, but it still qualifies as fortunate scheduling to deal with a most unfortunate development.

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