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A return to the Patriots still on the table for Josh Gordon

Minnesota Vikings v New England Patriots Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images

As his teammates prepare for Super Bowl 53 in Atlanta, the Josh Gordon saga continues.

On Monday, NESN’s Doug Kyed reported — citing a source with knowledge of Gordon’s situation — that the circumstances surrounding the gifted wideout’s suspension stemmed from diluted drug test samples, and that the Patriots organization is currently paying for his treatment at an inpatient facility in Gainesville, FL. The report also stated that a return to the football field is still on the table for Gordon.

On Tuesday, Gordon’s Instagram account refuted the story.

Without further comment it’s obviously difficult to discern whether or not issue was taken with the entire report, or just a portion of it. But, we do know a few things:

  1. Gordon was spotted in Gainesville,FL working out at a local gym — a point that Kyed mentions in his reporting, and is explained by his source as a “granted freedom to work out based on time spent in the facility”. Gordon had spent his previous recovery stint in Gainesville,FL prior to rejoining the Browns organization in 2017.
  2. Gordon has likely taken thousands of drug tests in his time in the NFL. He knows how it works, he knows when a sample is diluted, and he knows that it’s diluted for a reason. He wouldn’t currently be in Gainesville,FL for simply drinking too much water before a test.
  3. Michael Johnson — Gordon’s manager — is an unsavory character who appears to have no regard for the actual well being of his client. In a 2017 Sports Illustrated piece, Johnson — who was serving a 12-month probation sentence for his “central” role in an illegal 2013 recruiting scandal at the University of North Carolina — was a constant impediment to writer Ben Baskin’s attempts at accurately detailing Josh Gordon’s life story. Johnson, as it turned out, had plans of “parceling out” portions of Gordon’s story for profit — articles, books, movies, etc. — in a scheme to recoup as much of his client’s forfeited salary as possible. He even went as far as having Gordon lie to Baskin (who wasn’t offering any compensation for the interview) with regard to drinking and using drugs before games — a facet of his client’s story that he later shopped to GQ Magazine.

Any time that news involving Josh Gordon is being publicly refuted, this has to be kept in mind. Johnson wants to completely control any and all information regarding his client, and it wouldn't be surprising at all to find out that he was behind the Instagram comment.

Probably the most prominent aspect of the report is that the team is keeping the door open for Gordon’s return. On Tuesday evening, Robert and Jonathan Kraft joined NBC Boston’s Boston Sports Tonight and discussed their thoughts on the situation, without providing much detail moving forward.

“He was a real good guy, and there was a connection,” the elder Kraft said. “Unfortunately, people like that need mentoring at a young age, but when it becomes addiction, addiction is something that is way beyond our... We gave him tremendous support on a daily basis, and he was worthy. But I think we as a society have to try to help these young people not to get addicted in the first place. And that’s the sad part of this. He’s a good guy -- a really good guy. It makes us sad.”

“This wasn’t a troublemaker in the locker room,” Jonathan Kraft went on to say, “That football locker room, especially in our place, you have to be somebody that’s smart, that’s committed to week-in and week-out understanding what’s going to be asked of you mentally as well as being willing to work physically and then being selfless. And that doesn’t describe everybody on every football team, and our team took to Josh very quickly because he had those attributes, and unfortunately he had some personal demons... As a person and as a teammate, he was beloved in the locker room. And I’m sure if you ask guys this week, they would tell you they wish he was here with us. He was not a guy that was disruptive or a problem.”

From a business perspective, it made sense for the Patriots to maintain Gordon’s rights following the announcement of his indefinite suspension, as opposed to releasing him outright. As the team moves forward, he won’t take up a roster spot or require a dedication of any cap resources until the suspension is lifted.

However, for some, that’s all this is — a business decision.

The well-wishes for Gordon’s future that continue pouring in from Patriots management and ownership, the NFL, and the NFLPA, are in fierce opposition to having an addict work vigilantly toward an eventual return to an environment that has proven time and again to be detrimental to his recovery. It’s one thing to sincerely want the best for Josh Gordon, and it’s another thing to know and do what’s best for him. Unfortunately, Gordon’s situation continues to further illustrate just how little the NFL and its franchises truly understand about addiction.

That being said, it’s certainly cool to see how much Gordon’s teammates miss the presence of their new friend in Atlanta — a place he helped them get to.

“Obviously we want him to be here as a teammate, a player and a person,” Patriots wideout Phillip Dorsett said this week. “We definitely would want him to be here. It is a little heartbreaking.”

Should the Patriots claim a sixth Super Bowl title on Sunday in Atlanta, Gordon will get a ring just like everyone else — as if he never left.

Follow Brian Phillips on Twitter — @BPhillips_SB