By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Josh Gordon suddenly got reinstated, and fresh buzz built for the potential of the Patriots’ wide receiver corps.
Then Bill Belichick threw a big, fat wet blanket on the whole situation.
Gordon received his conditional reinstatement to the NFL on Friday in an all-timer of a news dump. He’s now able to participate in team activities with the Patriots, and would have been allowed to practice had the team not immediately placed him on the non-football injury list. It's a promising development for him and a sign that the NFL has evolved in the way it handles players who are grappling with substance abuse.
The NFL’s statement on Gordon contained a strongly supportive message from commissioner Roger Goodell. At this point it almost goes without saying that the veteran receiver's issues go well beyond football and anyone with a compassionate bone in their body hopes that he can stay on a positive path in life.
Belichick surely feels the same way, as evidenced by his supportive comments made the day after Gordon’s suspension in December. But that doesn’t mean he was about to buy into the hype for Gordon’s return to football.
"For the past eight months, Josh’s situation has been entirely a league matter," read a statement from Belichick released . "When Josh returns to our program, we will evaluate the entire situation and do what we feel is best for Josh and the team."
So if you didn’t want people telling you to pump the proverbial brakes on Gordon ... Belichick himself did exactly that.
The full details on the conditions of Gordon’s reinstatement aren’t publicly known or reported. But unsurprisingly, his reinstatement is "subject to appropriate progress on clinical care and other arrangements." Ostensibly, he's still one misstep away from another suspension and will remain in such a state as long as he's back with the Pats. Goodell also made sure to note that Gordon's ultimate success or failure is "up to him".
It's not exactly a situation where you can depend on Gordon to be one of Tom Brady's top targets for an entire season.
Gordon's football potential is undeniable. He showed in 11 games in 2018 that he can still be a game-changing, big-play receiver when he's on the field. If he can stay within the conditions of his reinstatement and maintain that positive momentum - and complement a healthy Julian Edelman and N'Keal Harry - he could suddenly turn the Patriots' uncertain receiver corps into an impressive stable of weapons.
Unfortunately, last season also showed how risky it is to rely on Gordon to stay on the field. He still needs to focus on getting better off the field. But in football terms, Gordon is the definition of uncertainty.
That doesn't mean that Belichick is about to cut Gordon entirely. He could start the regular season on the NFI or PUP list. His contract is non-guaranteed and it would cost nothing to stash him. It's a low-risk proposition to keep him around.
The only football risk with Gordon is investing too much of your receiver stock in his production or availability. Belichick learned those risks that hard way. As it has been for a long time, the real focus for Gordon should be overcoming his personal demons. Football is a secondary issue for him, and Belichick is treating it that way.
Everyone whose opinion is worth entertaining wants Gordon to succeed both personally and professionally. But the first part is exponentially more important than the second. And it's imperative that no one looks at Gordon's reinstatement as anything close to a guarantee that it's going to stay that way.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. 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 [email protected].