Ex-Patriots and NFL experts weigh in on the decision to trade for Josh Gordon
"I think it's a high risk."
Josh Gordon is a Patriot.
The NFL transaction wire made the news official Tuesday evening: New England will receive Gordon from the Cleveland Browns in exchange for a conditional fifth-round pick in next year’s draft. Acquiring Gordon was a contentious decision, considered to be low-risk, high-reward by some and needlessly desperate by others. On one hand, the 27-year-old tantalized the league in 2014, leading the NFL in receiving yards and earning first-team All-Pro honors. On the other, he hasn’t been active for a full season since his rookie year, battling substance abuse and multiple suspensions.
Here’s what people are saying after the trade:
Willie McGinest: ‘It’s going to be up to him’
Former Patriots linebacker Willie McGinest said on NFL Network’s “Total Access” Monday that he expects the Patriots to surround Gordon with the necessary resources to facilitate success. McGinest, who spent 12 seasons in New England, said it’s up to Gordon to take advantage of that environment.
“As far as the Patriots go, they’ve been used to dealing with guys that are outspoken or maybe [have] some character issues,” McGinest said. “When you got guys like Tom Brady and Bill Belichick and everybody else and the way they’ve done things in the past, the way they go about their business — treating everybody the same and engulfing him with football, which I know they’re going to do — now it’s up to Josh.”
Calling Gordon a “phenomenal athlete,” McGinest anticipates the 27-year-old will be fine if he “really wants this deep down inside” and “does what he needs to do.” McGinest acknowledged it’s going to take some time for Gordon to “learn the system and learn the plays,” but as long as he proves he’s both competent and accountable, McGinest expressed optimism about the future.
“It’s going to be up to him because he’s in a great environment,” he said.
Eric Mangini: ‘This is just a lottery ticket’
Former Patriots assistant coach Eric Mangini said on FS1’s “First Things First” Tuesday he doesn’t know what to expect from Gordon.
“My initial reaction was this is just a lottery ticket,” Mangini said. “That’s all it is. They give away a fifth if he plays 10 games. If he doesn’t, they get back a seventh, so they really swap picks if he doesn’t end up playing in 10 games. “
“There’s no telling what he can be there because a big part of being in New England is being a trustworthy player and being a player that can line up, can run the right routes, [and] can be there every day on a consistent basis,” he continued. “That hasn’t been Josh’s track record. That being said, they need a lot of help.”
For Gordon to make an impact early, Mangini predicts the Patriots will give him “a very small package of plays that he can do really well” — whether that be a fade or a post. He said he envisions Gordon to be a specialty player, à la new wide receiver and kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson. “That to me is the best way for them to use him in the short term until they understand who he is, where he is, what he can do,” Mangini said. Of the 20-plus receivers the Patriots have cycled through since March, Mangini tabbed Gordon as the most talented, but noted his raw abilities alone won’t necessarily guarantee a smooth transition.
“Here’s the hard part,” Mangini said. “When he left Cleveland, he left his best chance to be successful. They were helping him, they were patient with him, they did all those things. He’s going to an environment where you need to perform. There’s not going to be anybody leading you through that process. There’s not going to be anybody sitting next to you in that process, in terms of being like a sherpa. You’re on your own. You better be able to excel in that environment, and it’s not easy.”
Mike Giardi: Last months with the Browns have been ‘exhausting’
NFL Network’s Mike Giardi agrees Gordon will likely be given “a small package” if he were to play against the Detroit Lions Sunday.
Giardi said the addition of Gordon could help create additional lanes for tight end Rob Gronkowski. Giardi also noted he’s spoken with a pair of individuals “in Gordon’s circle,” who both called the past couple of months in Cleveland “exhausting.”
“Their hope here is that a change of scenery, especially with an organization like the one with Patriots, will be something to re-energize his career and get him on the right path,” Giardi said Tuesday.
Peter Schrager: ‘This is not exactly Randy Moss’
Given Gordon’s incredible athleticism and ability to get down the field, some have tapped him as Brady’s best receiver since newly inducted Hall of Famer Randy Moss.
NFL insider Peter Schrager isn’t buying the comparison just yet.
The Patriots traded for Moss in 2007, after he had compiled an impressive highlight reel over the course of nine years. Prior to coming to New England, Moss had played all 16 games in seven seasons, earned first-team All-Pro honors three times, led the league in touchdowns three times, and was selected to the Pro Bowl five times. Gordon has shown flashes of a player with the potential to do the same, but he has not proven himself nearly to the same extent as Moss had.
Schrager said likening Gordon to Moss — who did have his own controversies with marijuana during his career — is “insulting” and “disrespectful.” Though Moss tested positive for marijuana in 2001 and was subject to increased testing for two years, he never failed a subsequent test and was phased out of the league’s drug program. Unlike Gordon, Moss was never suspended for substance abuse.
“Josh Gordon has played in 11 games over the last four seasons and he has won one of them,” Schrager said on ESPN’s “The Herd with Colin Cowherd” Tuesday. “This is not exactly Randy Moss. Here’s what people are failing to realize: It’s not fantasy football. It’s real football. The Browns bent over backward to do whatever they could to give Josh Gordon every last chance. He had last chances with three different head coaches. He had warning after warning after warning.”
“You’re not dealing with a generational talent who’s coming in hot right now,” Schrager continued. “You’re dealing with a guy who the Cleveland Browns gave a million chances and said no. If you think Belichick is going to stop that locomotive they have going on in New England to make sure this guy has one thousand chances, be ready. I would just say this … They’re on a path to the Super Bowl and if he gets in the way, there will not be a spot on that team.”
Field Yates: ‘Give yourself a bunch of throws at the dartboard and you’re bound to land on a couple of bullseyes’
ESPN’s Field Yates said on “Golic and Wingo” Tuesday the fifth-round pick the Patriots sent the Browns wasn’t much of an investment to bring in Gordon.
“If you go through the fifth round of the 2018 NFL Draft, there are a couple of players that have made an impact,” Yates said. “There’s also one [Vikings kicker Daniel Carlson] that got cut notably [on Monday].”
“If you’re going to keep that pick for the Patriots, you’re going to get a player that maybe makes your roster,” Yates continued. “If you cut a fifth-round pick at the end of training camp, as [Vikings coach] Mike Zimmer said yesterday, ‘No water off a duck’s back.’ It happens. If you have the maximum potential realized from Josh Gordon, you’re talking about the most talented wide receiver the Patriots have had — in terms of pure talent.”
Though he admitted the likelihood Gordon “reverts to form” is very uncertain — ballparking it anywhere from a five to 25 percent chance — Yates called Gordon the team’s most talented wide receiver since Moss. He also acknowledged Gordon has “battled a lot of inner demons” over the years, but he said the mentality in the NFL is often to “give yourself a bunch of throws at the dartboard and you’re bound to land on a couple of bullseyes,” a mantra he finds directly applicable to Gordon’s situation.
“The Patriots are not batting 1.000 when it comes to these moves of troubled or risky players that they bring aboard for essentially pennies on the dollar,” Yates said. “We know that Chad Ocho Cinco and Albert Haynesworth have been notable examples of whiffs. But this is not that different from draft picks in some ways. You look at the track record of any team, there are going to be a lot of whiffs and there are going to be some hits along the way.”
Reggie Wayne: ‘This is not about right now’
Retired Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne, who also had a brief stint in New England, said on NFL Network’s Total Access Gordon “brings a lot” to the Patriots.
“They’re going to put him in this week, but they’re going to give him a small package,” Wayne said. “They’re going to give him 10-15 plays: ‘This is what you got to do. Learn these plays.’ And they’re going to slowly get him up to beat.”
Wayne said the addition of Gordon should help alleviate some of the problems the Patriots were having against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 2 (i.e. connecting with pass catchers). Retired Green Bay Packers wide receiver James Jones agreed, noting that Gordon not only can win his own one-on-one matchup and “blow it off the top,” but he can also create one-on-one matchups that Gronkowski can win. Though Gordon should be able to contribute in the near future, Wayne said he believes the biggest contributions will come in a few months.
“This is not about right now,” Wayne said. “This is more later on down the line. [Belichick’s] preparing for the playoffs, and, by then, Josh Gordon will know this playbook. All of a sudden when they got to go through Jacksonville again, [Belichick will] have a major playmaker out there to go against a Jalen Ramsey.”
Troy Brown: ‘Whatever his dependency is, it’s obviously an issue’
Although former Patriots wide receiver Troy Brown said the acquisition is “positive” for the Patriots because Gordon adds “some production,” he also said he doesn’t think the Patriots should have made the move.
“I think it’s a high risk,” Brown said on NBC Sports Boston. “The guy has not played a full season since 2013. I’m not saying he’s a bad guy, [but] whatever his dependency is, it’s obviously an issue. You can say whatever you want to say about marijuana, whatever, I don’t really care about it, but at the end of the day, it’s against the rules.”
Michael Felger: ‘I hate it’
98.5 The Sports Hub’s Michael Felger expressed surprise in the Patriots’ decision to turn to Gordon. As he explained:
I hate it. I hate it. I hate it. I hate it.
This is the typical guy you can’t rely on. I think it’s a bad sign you’re bringing on this guy. It’s that bad? You’re that desperate? You’re going to assume this sort of risk and this sort of problem guy? Like you’re really in the market to assume all that baggage? Now you’re the one that has to check his breath in the morning.
You’re the one that’s got to, if he shows up a few minutes late, wonder where this guy is? You’re now the team that has to wonder about what he’s doing and who he’s doing it with? And whatever happens is now going to rub off on you? Now you are the ones that have to do this? All because, what, you had a typical early season loss in 90-degree heat down in Florida, which happens just about every year. I even think they’re panicking, like it’s not that bad.
Phillip Dorsett has shown a little something.
Rob Ninkovich on Josh Gordon trade: ‘I think it just sends the wrong message’
Former Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich said he wouldn’t take a chance on Gordon.
“I wouldn’t, personally,” Ninkovich said on WEEI’s “Dale & Keefe” following the report that the Patriots were close to reaching a deal for Gordon Monday afternoon.
Citing Gordon’s long history with substance abuse and multiple suspensions by the league, Ninkovich said the acquisition “sends the wrong message.” Ninkovich said, despite Gordon’s stellar 2013 season in which he earned first-team All-Pro honors as the league’s leading receiver, he doesn’t think the 27-year-old would be “a great fit” in New England.
“There’s guys that fit and guys that don’t,” Ninkovich told WEEI. “There’s a certain personality that has to be considered when you play for the Patriots. I question his love for the game if you’ve been suspended so many times or you hurt your hamstring doing a video for some type of endorsement when you’ve practiced all week. Isn’t that letting down your teammates?”
Although Gordon injured his hamstring during a promotional photoshoot over the weekend, he is expected to be healthy enough to play against the Detroit Lions Sunday, according to multiple reports. Even if he’s active, Ninkovich doesn’t anticipate the transition will be seamless.
“First of all, receiver isn’t a plug-and-play position,” Ninkovich said. “It’s not like, ‘OK, here’s the phone book of Tom’s plays and you’re ready to go on Sunday.’ It’s going to take somebody at least a month to like really understand the offense. So you bring a guy in, you’ve got to take another guy off the roster. At what point does your talent hide everything else like your issues?”
Ninkovich stressed Belichick’s focus is geared toward one’s accountability — “Bill will say this all the time, ‘It’s not your ability. It’s, ‘Are you dependable? Are you reliable?’” — and he doesn’t expect Gordon will get the job done.
“Why would the Browns let go of one of their best players when they haven’t won a game in a year and two weeks or whatever?” he said. “It tells me he’s not dependable. You can’t depend on that guy.”
Ninkovich also expects the change in environments to be a transition for Gordon, who has only played for the Browns. During Gordon’s six-year tenure — he only played 41 games — the Cleveland amassed a 20-77-1 record.
“I think there’s a certain amount of pressure and stress that come with playing with the Patriots — and expectations,” Ninkovich said. “He’s in a place where, really, if they win one game, it’s a celebration. There’s no playoff hopes. There’s no win your division. There’s no failure if you don’t win your division. The Patriots here, I mean, it’s definitely a stressful environment. It’s not easy to play here.”