New England Patriots

By Matt Dolloff,

Bill Belichick has often said that “dependability is more important than ability.” But that clearly doesn’t apply until after you’ve arrived in New England.

The Patriots have brought in players before who wouldn’t have been described at the time as “dependable.” And for every Randy Moss, there’s an Albert Haynesworth. For every Aqib Talib and Legarrette Blount, there’s a Chad Ochocinco or a Michael Floyd. It’s a hit-or-miss proposition as to how these players perform. It remains to be seen where receiver Josh Gordon falls on this spectrum.

But what’s clear about the Patriots’ trade for Gordon from the Cleveland Browns, is that Belichick valued Gordon’s ability over his dependability. And when asked about it during his Tuesday conference call by NBC Sports Boston’s Phil Perry, he obviously wasn’t comfortable broaching the subject.

Here’s the full exchange, via the Patriots’ official transcript:

Q: We’ve heard you say that dependability is more important than ability. Given that, what are the circumstances around which you’d be open to relaxing your standards or the team’s standards on dependability from a player? At what point are you willing to put more stock into the ability of a player versus his dependability?

Belichick: That’s a pretty vague and general question. I’d say in the end we try to do what’s best for the football team. I don’t know any other way to answer it.

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 10: Josh Gordon of the Cleveland Browns makes catch in the first quarter against the Green Bay Packers at FirstEnergy Stadium. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

CLEVELAND, OH – DECEMBER 10: Josh Gordon of the Cleveland Browns makes catch in the first quarter against the Green Bay Packers at FirstEnergy Stadium. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Gordon wasn’t even specifically mentioned, so it’s not like Belichick had to talk about him in particular, which he’s also not ready to do. But the question was obviously about Gordon.

With his answer, Belichick tacitly admitted that the Patriots’ need for talent at wide receiver outweighed the need for someone they know they can depend on. There’s nothing wrong with that. That is what’s best for the football team right now. It’s just an indictment of the idea that dependability always trumps ability, because it clearly doesn’t.

Not before you get here, anyway. From here on out, Gordon is going to have to be dependable in order to stick around. As a player who’s played only 11 games since 2013, almost exclusively due to suspensions for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, he’s perhaps the least dependable player that Belichick has ever acquired.

Yet he’s also one of the most talented. If Gordon can get himself right off the field, he still has the tools to be the very best receiver in the NFL. He and Tom Brady could form a lethal combination, if the stars align.

Belichick knows this. But he also realizes that Gordon is about as far from a guarantee to be dependable as one can get.

At the end of the day, the Patriots do need their receivers to be dependable. Phillip Dorsett has become a reliable target for Brady, because he’s on the same page with the quarterback. If Gordon can’t be relied upon to make the right plays and get open, Brady isn’t going to target him. It won’t matter how skilled Gordon is.

Sep 9, 2018; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon (12) makes a catch during warmups before the game at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

But it remains clear that the Patriots need better outside threats. They need at least one more receiver who can beat man coverage on the perimeter, a problem they faced on Sunday against the Jaguars. Gordon brings a ton of upside in that department. But right now, he brings virtually nothing on the other end.

For the Patriots, Gordon’s ability supersedes his lack of dependability. His ability is the only reason he’s in New England. Belichick won’t admit that when he talks, but his actions speak much louder here. Sometimes, when you’re building your team, ability is more important.

And now, Gordon needs to pair his ability with dependability. Or he’ll be out the door as quickly as anyone who’s come through Foxborough.

Matt Dolloff 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 Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at