by Jordy McElroy
The New England Patriots needed Josh Gordon until they didn’t.
That’s the moment the former All-Pro wideout learned the Patriot Way wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows—a perpetuating narrative given life through the popped champagne bottles, confetti parades and Lombardi Trophies. It’s a cutthroat business, and coach Bill Belichick stands at the center of it all.
Emotionless, heartless and merciless—it’s a rare approach to coaching and personnel oversight that has ensured the Patriots’ near 20-year reign of dominance.
Gordon was the piece on the chessboard that was supposed to spell checkmate for the rest of the league, and when that didn’t happen, he was taken off the board and casually tossed aside so a new piece could take his place.
That new piece will be former Atlanta Falcons receiver Mohamed Sanu, who now joins the ever-changing Patriots receiving corps.
For Gordon, however, the way in which he was let go had to feel like a gut punch from an organization he recently described as feeling like a “family environment.”
The Patriots moved the 28-year-old receiver to injured reserve on Wednesday, promptly bringing an end to his season. There are two designations for return per NFL team in a season, and rookie wideout N’Keal Harry and left tackle Isaiah Wynn are expected to take those spots for the Patriots. However, things got interesting when news dropped that Gordon was reportedly healthy enough to give playing on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns a shot.
Teams aren’t allowed to stash healthy players on injured reserve, meaning the Patriots would have to waive him once he is healthy enough to play. So why would Belichick place a talented player at a position of need on IR when he was nearing a return?
According to OverTheCap.com, if the Patriots released Gordon before the trade deadline, they would have been on the hook for the $1.08 million guaranteed on his contract, and he would have had freedom to potentially sign with a contender. By waiting until after the trade deadline to part ways, Gordon would be placed on waivers instead of getting his opportunity in free agency. The waiver wire would give lower teams on the totem pole a shot at scooping up his contract on the cheap in hopes of securing a long-term deal or grabbing a free draft pick for their efforts if he leaves after the season.
It’s a move that would provide $952,000 in cap relief for the cap-strapped Patriots—a shrewd and bottom-line oriented decision that quickly put the family talk to bed.
Belichick has built the perfect machine within the Patriots organization, where he makes touch decisions void of an emotional reaction. Look at what happened in training camp to punter Ryan Allen. Coming off an amazing performance at Super Bowl LIII, he was tossed aside for rookie Jake Bailey without Belichick even blinking.
It was clear to the Patriots that Gordon was never going to revert back to the same player that torched the league for 1,646 receiving yards and nine touchdowns back in 2013 with the Browns. His speed has slowed considerably with injuries, and he wasn’t finding separation on his routes consistently. Throw in the uncertainties surrounding his prolonged battle with substance abuse, and Belichick decided to make the unpopular move.
Gordon had become somewhat of a fan favorite as he continued to make strides in his rehabilitation process. Everyone loves a great comeback story, and it was hard not to get behind him given everything he’s been through in life.
But none of that factors into the equation for Belichick. If he allowed it do so, he wouldn’t be able to make those tough decisions he sees as being in the best interest of the team as a whole.
There is no one player bigger than the Patriots organization.
It wasn’t too long ago when quarterback Tom Brady nearly saw himself pushed out the door by Belichick. If not for the saving grace of owner Robert Kraft, he might be playing for the San Francisco 49ers right now.
Belichick has been at this game long enough for any would-be free agent to know how he operates as a coach and general manager. He’s going to make every decision without the influence of past accomplishments, time or personal feelings. The situation with receiver Demaryius Thomas, who recently called out the Patriots organization, is another great example.
He was released during training camp, only to be brought back and released again when the Patriots had a shot at adding Antonio Brown to the roster.
“It was insulting, for sure,” Thomas told the New York Daily News. “Once I got cut (on August 31), I could have just come here [to the Jets] and not stayed there and re-sign. When they re-signed me, I was thinking that I was good. Two weeks later, I was gone. So, it’s like, ‘Why did I waste my time?’ Because at the end of the day, it was kind of a waste of time for me.”
Remember Super Bowl XLIX hero Malcolm Butler? He was franchised tagged, replaced as the No. 1 corner by Stephon Gilmore and ultimately benched for Super Bowl LII.
Gordon is simply another name in a long line of cap casualties at the hands of the greatest football coach that ever lived. It’s a jarring decision that will leave talking heads discussing the motives behind the move for days—maybe even weeks.
But you can rest assured it’s business as usual in Foxborough ahead of a big home game against the Browns on Sunday. The same team that traded Gordon to the Patriots a year ago is the opponent on the schedule the same week the Patriots decided to cut bait.
Whoever thought irony could be as savage as Belichick?