Here was a moment from Sunday afternoon that was long forgotten until about 24 hours later.
Tom Brady‘s second pass of the day against the talented Jaguars defense? To Jacob Hollister, a second-year tight end who, with Sunday’s game included, has exactly seven career receptions to his name. The play elicited this reaction in the press box: “Who?”
Such is the state of Brady’s weapons. With Julian Edelman suspended, Danny Amendola in Miami and Brandin Cooks in Los Angeles, there’s Rob Gronkowski and everyone else, the shallowness of the Patriots‘ receiving corps having been an issue since training camp opened. Brady covers up a multitude of shortcomings, but leaning on the likes of James White (who led all Patriots players on Sunday with seven catches for 73 yards) while Gronkowski is shut down as he was by the Jaguars (two catches on four targets) is not a plan for long-term success.
NFL Network reporter Mike Giardi listened to Brady’s appearance on Boston’s WEEI on Monday and heard Brady make an interesting comment about his day. In talking about how the Jaguars limited Gronkowski to two receptions and what that meant for the rest of his options, Brady said, “He was double-covered most of the day on third down, which gives other players opportunities — we could never get in a rhythm at that position (wide receiver).”
His off-field struggle to maintain his sobriety would seem to run counter to the all-business Patriot Way. Gordon has been suspended five times since he entered the league in 2012, and it’s known that he admitted himself to an in-patient rehabilitation facility at least once. He has been candid about his use of drugs and alcohol.
Now, Bill Belichick doesn’t possess a cure for addiction any more than the 31 other NFL teams do. And the halo around the Patriot Way has been dinged more than once. The Patriots have made it work with players like Randy Moss, Corey Dillion and LeGarrette Blount, who all were infamously problematic — though for different reasons than Gordon — until they were indoctrinated in Foxborough.
The potential, though, is brilliant. Physically, only Gronkowski is more talented among Brady’s options than Gordon, and Gordon is the best outside receiver Brady has had since Moss. In 2013, Gordon had 87 receptions for a league-high 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns. Since then, he has played in just 11 games with 43 receptions for 655 yards and two touchdowns. He was suspended for all of 2015 for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.
Whatever led to the Browns finally giving up on him after all this time — whether it was because he was late to a meeting, or because he showed up with a hamstring injury suffered at a photo shoot or, as The Plain Dealer reported, because there may have been some concern that a relapse was coming — is almost beside the point to the Patriots. This is a calculated risk, that the most buttoned-down and structured team in the NFL can absorb a player who might benefit from some of that, and that a fabulously talented receiver can offer just enough offensive spark to make whatever handholding is necessary worthwhile.
If it works, the Patriots will have a receiving corps that includes Gordon, Gronkowski, Edelman (when he returns from suspension after two more games), Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett. If it doesn’t work, Belichick has shown no reluctance to release wide receivers, even with the current state of the group. Kenny Britt couldn’t get healthy in training camp and was released. He joined the likes of Jordan Matthews and Malcolm Mitchell as camp casualties at the position. Eric Decker strolled through the revolving door of the locker room in August, too.
However, the risk is important to remember. The Patriots are in no danger of Gordon being a poor influence on a malleable locker room, not with strong, well-established veteran leadership already present. But they are foisting on Brady another receiver with rough edges at a time when they are already trying to integrate Cordarrelle Patterson, who has made his bones primarily as a kick returner to this point in his career, with the season already in progress. Gordon’s history of being unreliable and undisciplined runs counter to everything Brady values. The New England offense is renowned for its complexity, and earning Brady’s trust is not a short-order job. Another moment from Sunday: Brady pointing to his head in a rage and screaming to his teammates to do their jobs. On the surface, at least, it’s hard to imagine how Gordon seamlessly joins an offense like that.
That is the task now handed to offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. The Patriots need help immediately, but this situation would seem to be calling for a deliberate roll-out, perhaps by giving Gordon just a limited role in the offense at first. The Patriots have long been known to show holes in their game early in the season, only to have them addressed by the time winter arrives and the playoffs draw closer. This would seem to be a move with the long view in mind, assuming Gordon can keep himself on the roster that long.
That would create a new headache for AFC opponents, especially ones who might have watched how the Jaguars took Gronkowski away and forced Brady to turn to lesser lights. In the meantime, if this is not Gordon’s last chance, it has to be very close to it. There is no gray area here — Gordon will either become a key piece, or he will be gone entirely. It’s a low-risk move with a potentially great reward for the Patriots, with all the onus on Gordon to toe the line. But if he does, this might be a true win-win — a trade that saves both parties.
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