Josh Gordon’s departure leaves Patriots offense to adjust, yet again

Andy Hart
October 24, 2019 - 8:11 am
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Josh Gordon’s up-and-down, 13-month tenure with the Patriots came to a surprising end on Wednesday when New England placed the receiver on injured reserve amid subsequent reports that he’ll be released in the near future, available to play for another team.

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It’s the latest strange turn of events not only for Gordon’s career but for a Patriots’ wide receiver depth chart that’s seemingly been an ever-changing work-in-progress for more than a year.

While Julian Edelman will clearly be the centerpiece moving forward as he’s been for years as Tom Brady’s go-to slot option, Gordon’s arrival via trade from the Browns last September initiated a series of events that’s seen receiver roles and roster spots fluctuate greatly.

Gordon became a top target for Brady by this time last season, only to be lost to indefinite NFL suspension come December. In the spring Bill Belichick used a first-round pick on a wide receiver for the first time in his Patriots tenure with the selection of big-bodied outside target N’Keal Harry.

The team also aggressively pursued free agent slot options in Adam Humphries and Cole Beasley, only to be spurned, leaving New England to settle for a handful of veteran camp receiver bodies led by Demaryius Thomas, who was later unceremoniously traded to the Jets.

Then there was the short-term bromance between Brady and Antonio Brown, an 11-day fling that included one impressive game in Miami, reportedly near perfect chemistry on the practice field and endless dreams of 2007-like passing production.

Along the way over the last year there were also ebbs and flows among Brady’s complementary targets. Once a key postseason contributor, Chris Hogan’s role faded to the point that he quietly moved on to the Panthers this offseason. Phillip Dorsett has had big games and disappointing performances alike. Of late even undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers found his way into Brady’s on-field safe space, catching all nine passes thrown his way over the last two wins over the Giants and Jets.

But in many ways, Gordon’s injury and falling out of favor in New England, which conveniently coincided with the trade arrival of proven, reliable veteran Mohamed Sanu from the Falcons this week, leaves the Patriots right where they were when the man previously known as The Flash brought his baggage to Foxborough last September. Right now the Patriots passing game is very much a work in progress with as many questions as would-be answers. As is so often the case in these situations, there is both potential upside and potential for failure.

Now that his time in New England has concluded, it’s safe to say the Gordon deal never really paid true dividends. That the investment of assets, money and support resources was all for naught. He spent more time suspended over his year-plus in Foxborough than with the team. Sure he caught 60 passes for 1,007 yards and four touchdowns in 17 games played, but was gone, forgotten and apparently not needed for the Patriots postseason run to sixth Lombardi Trophy last winter. His work this fall as lackluster at best, apparently leaving him as an expendable asset.

So, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Brady and the rest are back where they started. As anyone who’s listened to Brady talk in recent weeks knows, he’s looking for more from his unit, almost regardless of the personnel around him.

What role will Sanu play? How will he fit in? How long will it take him to get up to speed in a unique Patriots scheme?

Will Harry return from IR – he’s been practicing for more than a week – to possibly fill the role as an outside receiver with size that’s been vacated by Gordon? Will the rookie be able to build a rapport on the fly with Brady after a somewhat disappointing summer?

Will Brady continue to trust and throw to Meyers or will Sanu’s arrival derail that budding relationship?

Can Dorsett take on a bigger role as at least the every-game No. 3 option in the passing game?

Can Edelman, who’s been dealing with a chest/rib injury for weeks, shoulder the burden of being the only proven, consistent, go-to option for Brady to turn to, the guy that opposing defenses are going to key on each and every time out?

Is the dream of an AB return completely dead? (Likely, but we felt like throwing this one in there just for fun!)

There are many questions surrounding the Patriots wide receiving corps right now. Of course if history is an indicator, Brady and McDaniels will find a way to answer those questions in a productive, positive fashion. Unlike past transitional periods when the offense sought an identity, this year’s midseason evolution takes place working in conjunction with a dominant defense that has proven itself capable of leading the way to victory on weekly basis. (It also takes place without the benefit of Hall of Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski, who seems content to remain retired.)

One thing we know for sure, is that Gordon’s time in New England is over and his on-field production never lived up to the hype of his arrival or even the optimism of his return to the team from suspension this summer.

And that, in part, has the Patriots Brady-led passing game looking to scramble to find a new route to success once again.

Related: Michael Bennett addresses suspension, still seems frustrated with Patriots