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Why Bill Belichick and the Patriots had to trade for Josh Gordon

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New England acquired the wideout yesterday.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Cleveland Browns Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Quite a bit has happened since Josh Gordon came into Gillette Stadium in 2013 and torched the New England Patriots to the tune of seven catches for 151 yards, including this 80-yard catch-and-run against Aqib Talib.

Gordon had his fair share of baggage even back then, but he was considered to be the NFL’s next great wide receiver. After breaking out as a rookie, and amassing 87 catches for 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns in his second season in 2013, Gordon’s career came crashing to a halt because of a year-long suspension in 2014 due to marijuana use. He subsequently sat out the next two years, including a stint in rehab.

Gordon played in just five games in 2017, catching 18 passes for 335 yards and a touchdown. And after a rocky preseason that saw him show up late to training camp in order to continue to work on his issues, the Browns decided to move on from Gordon this weekend. Reports indicate that the 27-year old showed up late to the Browns facility on Saturday and “was not acting like himself”, and he also reportedly injured his hamstring in a promotional shoot on Friday.

After a poor performance on both sides of the ball on Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, there are many areas for the Patriots to improve in. But it was clear that, despite going up against arguably the top NFL defense, the New England receiver corps is not enough for the Patriots if they hope to get back to the Super Bowl, especially if injuries hit this already talent-deficient group.

Bill Belichick needed to infuse this position group with talent, and he has been trying all preseason and into the regular season to do so, as evidenced by the league-high 28 transactions at the wide receiver position (we hardly knew ye, Corey Coleman) so far this season.

News of Cleveland finally deciding to cut ties with Gordon raised questions about if Belichick and the Patriots would be interested in the talented-yet-troubled receiver.

Cleveland Browns v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

On one side, Bill Belichick has often stated that the best ability is availability. Trading for Josh Gordon, who has played 11 out of the last 96 regular season games, and has multiple suspensions, would seem to run directly counter to Belichick’s philosophy.

But on the other side, Belichick never passes up the chance to trade for a talented player who has fallen out of favor with his current team. This trade completely fits their M.O. of trading for a talented player for pennies on the dollar (see: Kyle Van Noy, Phillip Dorsett, Danny Shelton, Cordarrelle Patterson). Sometimes those trades work and sometimes they don’t (see: Barkevious Mingo, Kony Ealy), but the low cost often justifies the minimal risk regardless.

The fact that The Hoodie took a chance on such an embattled and unreliable player should tell you all you need to know about how he views the current options at wide receiver.

Having given up just a fifth-round pick, with the chance to recoup a seventh-round pick from Cleveland if Gordon doesn’t play in more than 10 games, this is a classic low-risk/high-reward trade that Bill Belichick has made a career out of making. And keep in mind that with the Patriots set to receive a 6th-round compensation pick for Dion Lewis signing with the Tennessee Titans, the risk is even lower.

Gordon could never pan out as a Patriot, and this trade would still be a gamble worth taking for Belichick and the Patriots. If Gordon never sees the field, the Patriots fall back 28-30 slots in the draft at most thanks to the compensatory pick from Lewis’ departure. At best, Tom Brady has the best outside threat he’s ever had at the receiver position since Randy Moss was in Foxborough.

An offense with a healthy and clear-minded Gordon, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, James White, and Chris Hogan becomes exponentially more dangerous. Defenses will have to think twice about doubling Gronk if Gordon and Edelman are also on the field. And let’s not forget about Chris Hogan, who is best suited for a #3 receiver role, and would do much better against opposing teams’ second- and third-string cornerbacks. But it remains to be seen if Gordon can be counted on yet, so Patriots fans must temper their expectations for now.

The potential reward for this trade is simply too much for Belichick to pass up on. There was not going to be a more talented wide receiver on the trade market before the trade deadline, and whether it was Gordon or a lesser receiver, Belichick had to trade for somebody, to give Tom Brady some help on offense. It also helps that due to his suspensions, Gordon is still under his rookie contract, and is making a non-guaranteed, veteran-minimum salary of $790,000 this season. He will be a restricted free agent next year, so the Patriots will still control his rights after this season.

A move like this provides hope that if New England runs into a ferocious defense like Jacksonville again, they could have more weapons on offense to help Tom Brady. While the defense remains a huge question mark after Sunday’s performance, the Patriots got better today. Now it’s on Josh Gordon to prove that he can stay on the field and regain his status as one of the top wide receivers in the NFL.