New England Patriots

By Ty Anderson,

Not a single thing about the Josh Gordon trade swung by the New England Patriots on Monday should be surprising.

Just circle back to their first plan: The Patriots lost Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks and ‘replaced’ them with a full offseason of Kenny Britt, and free agents Jordan Matthews and Cordarrelle Patterson. They also banked on Super Bowl LI hero Malcolm Mitchell’s knee not being (unfortunately) shredded to bits. It was quite the rough draft of a wide receiving corps expected to push New England to their third straight Super Bowl. Not Britt nor Matthews — or even Mitchell, for that matter — made it out of training camp, Eric Decker stole $75,000, and Patterson’s impact outside of screens is obviously minimal.

So even when Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s preseason debut got off to a hopping start that settled some of your concerns, you had a feeling that there wouldn’t be the normal, “everything’s fine and the depth players are going to progress into something” routine at the first sign of danger when the scheduled shifted to scoreless offensive drives that actually mattered.

The Patriots didn’t even have the bodies on the roster to warrant that sort of belief.

So an in-season upgrade (much like the one made on Monday), was always not only possible, but likely.

Especially when that dreaded first sign of ‘danger’ came with Sunday’s 31-20 loss to the Jaguars — a loss that saw the Patriots dress just three wide receivers and Brady toss just 102 of his 234 total passing yards to that position. On-sideline blowups from both Brady and Josh McDaniels confirmed that the Patriots had a legitimate need for more, too. And for all the source reports of their off-field disconnect, there was absolutely no way that Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was going to live an entire season of Brady’s offense not having all the weapons necessary to make them a legitimate threat for another Super Bowl.

Everybody’s ego and drive to win was always going to be too much for that to ever, ever play out over 17 weeks of football.

Oh, and Belichick has also routinely found an in-season upgrade when needed — Aqib Talib, Kyle Van Noy, Akiem Hicks, and even the reunion with Deion Branch following the exit of Randy Moss in 2010 come to mind — and done it with enough time for that player to learn about life in New England. From there, they either sink or swim, but they’re always given a chance to thrive.

This year wasn’t going to be different, especially given the twilight both Belichick and Brady are entering — knowingly or not.

Considering the names out there, whether Belichick’s answer was free agent Dez Bryant, Josh Gordon, or pending free agent and Lions wideout Golden Tate was really just a waiting and availability game more than anything else. (You could make the case that the Patriots already tried to hit a desperation jackpot with their signing of 2016 first-round pick Corey Coleman.)

So when Gordon became the first to truly be out there at a palatable price, the Patriots jumped.

If we’re talking about appeal, too, it’s hard to find a better option than Gordon. Across the board, really.

Although Bryant has done his best to vocally and socially will a Patriots tenure into existence, but the Patriots have remained far away the entire time. It’s largely believed that he wants too much money (i.e more than league minimum), and there are some that believe his best days as both a catcher and route-runner are behind him as his 30th birthday looms.

Tate, meanwhile, is off to a sizzling start with the ninth-most catches (14) and 11th-most yards (188) by wide receivers through the first two weeks of the season. If the Lions continue to Lion, they should be able to get something worthwhile for the 30-year-old. Especially so when you look at the league’s other teams short on receiving help, like the Cowboys, 49ers, and Eagles. That could lead to a legitimate bidding war that might not be worth it given the complexities of the Patriot offense.

Now, given the way the NFL often considers a little jazz cabbage and a few pregame shots to be a more egregious violation than beating the holy hell out of your loved ones, Gordon comes to the Patriots with a “troubled” past.

And while that past has kept him on the sidelines for actual seasons at this point in his stop-and-start NFL career, it’s one that’s most importantly allowed the Patriots to buy as low as possible on a 27-year-old wideout. Just five years removed from one of the greatest seasons by any wide receiver in league history — In league history! With a trifecta of Cleveland quarterbacks throwing him the ball for a full season! — the Patriots acquired Gordon in exchange for a conditional fifth-rounder in 2019 sent to a Browns franchise that wanted to simply get whatever they could for Gordon.

If we’re going on cost alone, Gordon’s return makes the Randy Moss trade look like an overpay by the Pats. (It was not.)

Now I know what you’re saying: That’s probably the going rate on a player that’s played just six of the last 51 games, and considering Gordon to be at the center of any sort of plan is something that should nullify the alleged brilliance of Belichick.

But with 19 catches for 352 yards and two touchdowns over that six-game stretch (which equates out to a near 1,000-yard season over a 16-game pace), that promising ceiling you saw come to life in 2013 is still there. It’s not only there within the numbers, but it costs the Patriots less than $700,000 this season, and comes with restricted free agent rights at the year’s end.

If the 6-foot-3 Gordon is even a fraction of what he was when he set career-highs in catches (87), yards (1,646), and touchdowns (nine) in 2013, he automatically becomes a weapon Brady and the Patriots have not had in years. He’d also be a welcomed addition to a Patriot offense that’s clearly in trouble if a team successfully takes Rob Gronkowski away from Brady.

Factor that in with the return of Julian Edelman in Week 5 and if Edelman is Edelman, the Patriots are back to being the Patriots. And if the conditions of Gordon’s return are met (he’ll have to be active in 10 of their 14 remaining games for that fifth-rounder to move to the Browns), you will know that the trade was more than worth it. If he’s not, the search will continue.

Just like they’ve positioned themselves — even if it’s been by way of about three dozen roster transactions.

Ty Anderson is a digital producer for Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.