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On Monday afternoon, ESPN’s Adam Schefter confirmed that the New England Patriots made their 27th transaction involving a wide receiver since the start of the new league year in March.
This one garnered more buzz than the previous 26 transactions combined.
Per Schefter, the Patriots traded a fifth-round pick to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for troubled-but-talented wide receiver Josh Gordon, with the caveat that New England will get back a late-round pick from Browns if Gordon isn’t active for 10 of the team’s 14 remaining regular-season games.
What does it all mean, Basil? Let’s break it down.
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Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press
The pick the Patriots are giving the Browns will likely be near the bottom of the fifth round. Folks troubled by that need to realize how rarely fifth-round picks become difference-making players.
Yes, the Pats are giving up an opportunity to land a Richard Sherman or a Tyreek Hill, but there’s a much better chance they’re sacrificing a George Bussey, or a Clint Oldenburg, or a Ryan Claridge, or a Hakim Akbar, or a Dave Stachelski.
Don’t know any of those guys? They’re all New England fifth-round picks from the Belichick era.
With Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola gone and Julian Edelman suspended, the Patriots desperately needed wide receiver help. Now, they have a scary-athletic 27-year-old with a 1,646-yard season on his resume, and all they had to do was give up the next Clint Oldenburg.
But what if Gordon’s demons interfere with his ability to play football? Easy, he’s making less than $700,000. And if you want to move on in a few weeks, you get a seventh-round pick back from the Browns.
Gordon will cost the Patriots practically nothing, there’s very little risk involved, and if he pans out, they control his restricted free-agent rights in the offseason.
The rich got richer.
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Butch Dill/Associated Press
There’s little doubt the Browns offense is better on paper with Gordon than it is with a 2019 fifth-round pick, since that 2019 fifth-round pick isn’t going to catch any passes this season.
Obviously, Browns general manager John Dorsey figures the franchise is better off without Gordon, who despite his talent has been plagued by off-field issues throughout his adult life.
He was cited on misdemeanor drug possession charges while at Baylor in 2010, and the next year he was suspended indefinitely from the program for violating team rules. At the NFL level, he was suspended two games for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy in 2013, he was arrested for suspicion of driving while impaired in 2014, he was suspended 10 more games for substance abuse that summer, he missed the entire 2015 season after testing positive for alcohol use, and he was denied reinstatement after another failed drug test in 2016.
That’s a lot of baggage, and it’s amazing the Browns held on this long. They welcomed Gordon back after he missed most of this year’s training camp while dealing with “mental health and anxiety” issues, but the last straw came over the weekend.
Per Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot, Gordon showed up late to the team facility on Saturday and was “not himself” while also “complaining of a pulled hamstring.” Schefter reported Gordon suffered that injury “at a promotional shoot,” rather than in a game or practice.
They won’t admit it, but the Browns are probably aware they aren’t winning the Super Bowl this season. They lost a talented player on Monday, and they got nothing in return. The team is worse on paper now, and it’ll be harder for quarterback Tyrod Taylor to run the offense.
That said, the relationship between Gordon and the team had probably run its course. Both sides needed a fresh start.
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Jason Miller/Getty Images
And since nobody is questioning Gordon’s talent while practically everybody is questioning his character, Foxborough might be the perfect new setting for him.
If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. There must not be many teams that believe Gordon can make it at this point—otherwise, the Browns would have fetched more than just a fifth-round pick for him—but a strong, disciplined four- or five-month run with New England would likely make a world of difference.
The test for Gordon now pertains to how well he fits in with the Pats. Strong on-field performances would surely increase the demand for his services beyond the 2018 season, but the key for him now is to keep his head down, stay out of trouble and do his job.
Maybe Gordon will be motivated by the fact that he’s part of a contender for the first time in his career. Maybe a fresh setting with legends like Brady and Bill Belichick will work wonders. And maybe the Patriots’ no-nonsense environment will help him stay straight.
Plenty of maybes, but this might be the ideal spot for what could be Gordon’s last chance to revive his once-promising career.
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Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images
That’s not to say Gordon wouldn’t have excelled elsewhere, which is why it’s rather astonishing other receiver-needy teams failed to outbid the Patriots for his services.
Schefter reported that the Cowboys, Redskins, 49ers “and others” spoke with the Browns about a potential trade for Gordon, “but the Patriots stepped in and closed.”
With no long-term guarantees, a $697,058 salary and potential restricted free-agent control after the season, Gordon is substantially more valuable than a fifth-round draft pick. And there’s a decent chance Dallas, Washington, San Francisco and possibly even Seattle or the Jets will regret not pulling the trigger and offering a fourth-rounder in exchange for a player who could have easily become the top target on any of those rosters.
None of those teams has a healthy star No. 1 receiver at the moment, and Gordon has that in him. Why not roll the dice when you have so little to lose?
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Sean Gardner/Getty Images
Cleveland’s willingness to dump Gordon—the team announced it was parting ways with him regardless of trade conversations—is an indication that the Browns are confident in rookie fourth-round pick Antonio Callaway.
Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins and Rod Streater—who they signed Monday—are the only non-rookie receivers remaining on Cleveland’s active roster, and with Gordon on the fritz it was Callaway who started and played the majority of Sunday’s game. The tantalizingly talented Florida product came through with three catches on four targets, including a clutch 47-yard touchdown grab in the fourth quarter.
Callaway completed burned Saints cornerback Ken Crawley on that play. He has the speed and athletic ability to become something special, and it appears the Browns are comfortable enough to make him a focal point of the passing game immediately.
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Steven Senne/Associated Press
In a corresponding move, the Patriots made their 28th wide receiver-related transaction of the year with the release of Corey Coleman, who was a Browns first-round pick just two years ago but is now looking for his fourth NFL home in a six-week period.
Cleveland traded Coleman to the Buffalo Bills in exchange for a mere 2020 seventh-round pick in August, he was released by the Bills a few weeks later, and he spent less than a week on the New England roster.
He’s only 24, but the Baylor product might already be running out of opportunities.
Meanwhile, the addition of Gordon could directly impact Phillip Dorsett’s playing time. The former Indianapolis Colt was Brady’s most targeted wide receiver during the first two weeks of the season, but he lines up outside, and that’s where they’ll likely use Gordon.
If Gordon delivers, there might not be much room for Dorsett when Edelman returns from suspension, especially with Chris Hogan in the slot.
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Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
Gordon could pull a Randy Moss in New England, but the reality is he won’t likely be the top option in that offense, especially once Edelman returns.
And so while this’ll be a great opportunity for him to prove he has the ability to contribute to a highly functioning NFL organization, there’s a chance he won’t produce consistently strong numbers.
Buyer beware if you think he’ll save your fantasy football team. The Patriots are comically unpredictable when it comes to who gets reps and targets from week to week, and it’s possible Gordon would have been a better fantasy play in, say, Dallas, San Francisco or Seattle.
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Ron Schwane/Associated Press
The return says a lot about what the league thinks of Gordon
Albert Breer of The MMQB noted based on the return that the Browns “couldn’t find much of a market” for Gordon, which is a strong indication teams have lost all hope that he can become something special.
It’s important to keep in mind that while Gordon was once a first-team All-Pro, that was way back in 2013. In the four-plus seasons that have since transpired, the 6’3″, 225-pounder has caught just 43 of 92 targets and scored just two touchdowns.
The Browns and Patriots love to make deals with each other
The two franchises have done a lot of business together in recent years.
The Pats acquired both Danny Shelton and Jason McCourty from the Browns in two separate deals in March, they sent veteran linebacker Jamie Collins to Cleveland in exchange for a third-round pick in 2016, they picked up Barkevious Mingo from the Browns the previous offseason, and the two sides made a big draft trade in 2015.
ESPN.com’s Bill Barnwell tweeted that “Belichick could convince Cleveland to trade him Lucy for Charlie Brown,” but the jury is still out on most of those deals. Time will tell if Belichick got the better of his former team this time.
This doesn’t “fix” the Patriots
They were outplayed in a loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, and superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski was barely a factor. The problems with New England span well beyond the receiving corps, and Belichick knows it.
“It’s a little bit of everything,” the head coach said of the team’s offensive struggles against Jacksonville, per Ross Gienieczko of the Boston Herald. “That’s kind of the way it was the whole day. It wasn’t any one position, one guy, one thing. It was kind of one thing on this play, one thing on that play.”
If any team will get the most out of Gordon, it’s probably New England. But even if that happens, the Pats will have work to do.