Looking for answers: Why the Patriots didn't just release Josh Gordon

Looking for answers: Why the Patriots didn't just release Josh Gordon

While we're all still scratching our heads as to why the Patriots would part ways with a capable player who plays a position they've desperately been trying to fill for the last couple of seasons, let's get into some of the bookkeeping associated with the move. 

Placing Josh Gordon on injured reserve . . . 


It ends his season with the Patriots, in all likelihood. They've already used one of their return-from-IR designations on receiver N'Keal Harry and the other seems ticketed for left tackle Isaiah Wynn. Gordon would technically be eligible to return after eight weeks if he was coming back from a serious injury.

But based on his reaction to the move Wednesday night, and based on the fact that he was out at Wednesday afternoon's walkthrough, his injury isn't so serious that it would require an eight-week absence. Players on IR with minor injuries must be released when healthy. So while he won't be back with the Patriots, odds are he'll be playing somewhere for someone else in due time. 


Mohamed Sanu is a different player than Gordon, as we pointed out in our initial reaction to the Gordon IR move Wednesday night. So in terms of the on-the-field impact, this isn't a one-for-one swap. But as far as the roster goes, it can be thought of in those terms.

The Patriots needed a freed-up slot on their 53-man roster after trading a second-round pick to the Falcons for Sanu. Initially it looked like the Patriots would be clearing a spot for Sanu by releasing Eric Tomlinson. The team announced that it was releasing Tomlinson midday Wednesday. But that swap never became official. Instead it was Gordon who was plucked from the roster and placed on IR to make room for Sanu. Tomlinson remains on the team. 


Even if Gordon spends just one week on IR, that benefits the Patriots. How? Consider his move to IR a delayed release. Had the Patriots simply released him on Wednesday to clear a spot for Sanu, Gordon would've become a free agent and eligible to sign with any team. The Patriots probably wouldn't want that to happen and then see him land with a playoff contender.

By placing him on IR, they can keep him from the free-agent market. If he's released off of IR after the Oct. 29 trade deadline, he (like all players, even veterans, who are released after the deadline) would have to go through the waiver process. That means Gordon would not be free to sign with a team of his choosing. The waiver priority list is based on club records, meaning teams at the bottom of the standings and out of contention would first have a crack at Gordon.


Why, you might be asking yourself, would a team like the Dolphins or the Bengals care about plucking Gordon off of waivers? The answer is simple enough: draft capital. Because Gordon is eligible to hit free agency this offseason, he's eligible to qualify for the league's compensatory pick formula.

If the Dolphins claim him on waivers and keep him for the season, they could let him walk this offseason, watch him sign elsewhere, and they may end up with a 2021 pick as a result. Even if it's a Day 3 selection, a half-season of Gordon (and his salary) would be worth it for a team at the bottom of the league and looking to rebuild through the draft. 


Notice in the previous graph I pointed out that any team that claims him on waivers would also be claiming his contract. Gordon was a restricted free agent last offseason and signed his one-year tender with the Patriots for $2.025 million. Had he been released on Wednesday to create room for Sanu, the Patriots likely would've been on the hook to pay the rest of that salary for 2019, according to's Jason Fitzgerald.

If, by releasing him off of IR following the trade deadline, Gordon gets claimed, then whichever team claims him will also claim the approximately $1 million on salary (and cap space) left on his contract for this season. That's nothing for a team like the Dolphins, for instance, who have about $28 million in cap space right now. But for the Patriots — who are tight up against the cap thanks in part to the money committed to Antonio Brown earlier this year — that money would serve as some slight relief.

They're looking for relief where they can get it, it seems. The Patriots restructured Shaq Mason's contract this week to free up just over $1 million, according to ESPN. They could also try to extend players like Kyle Van Noy, Dont'a Hightower and Devin McCourty for further relief. My understanding is that they haven't yet reached out to McCourty on an extension to this point. If Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio want to swing any more deals between now and the trade deadline, or if they want to sign any additional free agents as the season goes on, they'll need some cap breathing room.


Keeping Gordon away from a contender while simultaneously freeing up some cap space and clearing the way for first-round pick N'Keal Harry to contribute makes some sense for the Patriots. But at a position where Belichick and Caserio have been desperately searching for talent for two years now, releasing a player like Gordon — who'd proven himself capable of being a key piece when available, who'd earned trust from Tom Brady — leaves questions unanswered.

One injury, particularly to Harry, who missed most of training camp injured, would suddenly give the Patriots a big-body-outside-the-numbers receiving need and ding the overall depth of the wideout group. The team was clearly OK with letting Tomlinson walk about 24 hours ago. Does keeping the tight end-slash-fullback hybrid on the roster clearly represent better value than what Gordon provided?

What happened between the team's announcement of Tomlinson's release and Gordon's placement on IR? For a player who has dealt with as much as Gordon has over the course of his life and has previously acknowledged his own issues with being dependable — typically a hallmark of what Belichick wants in his players — one has to wonder if the team simply determined this was a player it no longer wanted to, or couldn't, depend on.

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Where things stand between Tom Brady and Patriots as free agency looms

Where things stand between Tom Brady and Patriots as free agency looms

All’s quiet on the Tom Brady front at the moment.

Perfectly reasonable.

In contract negotiations, the Patriots are traditionally a team that waits … and waits … and waits … and then gets down to business clinically and dispassionately.

If an impasse hits, their approach is often, “See what’s out there. We’ll leave the light on for ya.”

They’ve done that with Moss, McCourty, Hightower, Bruschi and many others over the years. All came back and re-signed after brief free agent tours. Will they do the same with Brady?

Perhaps. But there are two big problems the team faces if it decides to do that.

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First, the Patriots can’t sit in the parking lot drumming their fingers on the steering wheel while every other team is in the store, trying Brady on for size.

They need to get in and shop for a quarterback too just in case Brady does decide to go to Indy, Tampa, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Carolina, Washington, Chicago or Miami. Saving Brady’s spot until he’s ready to answer? Dice roll. 

Second problem? The $13.5M that hits New England’s 2020 salary cap if/when Brady becomes a free agent on March 18 at 4 p.m. is a wrench in the works.


Need a refresher on why exactly that hit even exists? Here’s the simple summation from CBS’ Joel Corry where he explains the Patriots borrowing a bookkeeping strategy the Saints used with Drew Brees to give Brady a raise (not an extension) last August:

The Saints restructured Brees' contract last March for salary cap purposes by converting $16.2 million of Brees' $23 million in 2019 compensation into a fully guaranteed third day of the league year roster bonus. Since the roster bonus was fully guaranteed, it was treated like signing bonus under the salary cap where it was prorated over the life of the contract. The Saints added a 2021 contract year that also automatically voids on the last day of the 2019 league year. 

Brady's contract was reworked last August to raise his 2019 salary from $15 million to $23 million. Brees' most recent contracts with the Saints were seemingly used as a template in Brady's renegotiation. Two contract years for 2020 and 2021 with $30 million and $32 million salaries automatically voiding on the last day of the 2019 league year were included for cap purposes, so Brady's fully guaranteed $20.25 million roster bonus could be prorated over three years at $6.75 million annually through 2021 instead of just 2019. The renegotiated contract also contains a clause prohibiting the Patriots from designating Brady as a franchise or transition player.

The Patriots can’t play the same financial shell game. The expiring Collective Bargaining Agreement means teams can’t kick the financial can down the road into phony future years as the Patriots and Saints did with Brady and Brees.

If a new CBA is agreed to prior to free agency, that’s good news.

If not, they can play a new game with different toys using option bonuses or completion bonuses.

The issue with that is, the $13.5M cap hit from the voidable years and a competitive compensation plus making sure there’s room to get Brady better offensive support means a multi-year deal has to be done because his 2020 cap hit would be astronomical.

If a multi-year pact wasn’t what the Patriots wanted to do with a 42-year-old, they won’t love doing it with a 43-year-old. And if they do agree to a three-year deal, the team will then be in the uncomfortable spot of having to release Brady if he wants to keep on past 2020.

There is an existing sliver of cap-relief hope for the Patriots. According to our friend Miguel Benzan of the Boston Sports Journal (a crutch for me whenever I write cap-related stories), the Patriots could get credited for past charges against the cap related to Antonio Brown ($9M) and Aaron Hernandez ($3.25M).

I’m trying to find out if the team is anticipating that and/or actively trying to recoup. It would be a boon if that $12.25M were credited back before March 16, though, since it would nearly offset the Brady dead dough.


So where do things currently stand? After conversations over the past few days, this is my understanding of where things are.

Negotiations will begin "in a couple of weeks." I interpret that as during or immediately after the NFL Combine which starts about February 26 and concludes March 1.

By that time, Brady should have back-channeled his way to an understanding of what’s out there. Last week, I wondered whether it was advantageous for the Patriots if teams did make their pitches to Brady before "legal tampering" begins on March 16.

My understanding is that the Patriots aren’t worried about other team’s financial pitches. Their business with Brady revolves around the direction of the 2020 offensive personnel,  Brady getting some input on that and Brady’s role in the team’s future. They aren’t going to be super-vigilant about tampering. 

Something worth noting is there is very little rancor right now. The situation is what it is. The sides are going to work to make it work. Why they are here, what could have been done to avoid this, who’s right, who’s wrong, who’s to blame? I’m not sensing it.

There’s been plenty in the past. Now – with Brady having the freedom to say, “No thanks, it’s been great…” and the team truly being in the “year-to-year” contractual situation they wanted, nobody seems to have an active resentment. Also, I think the gravity of what may loom – the specter of a historic 20-year run ending – has added an air of solemnity.

I’ve also heard we shouldn’t be expecting TOM BRADY FREE AGENT TOUR 2020: COAST-TO-COAST WITH THE GOAT! If Brady hits free agency, he may try to set up meetings at one location instead of creating a circus. That’s a “what I’m hearing…” so take it for what that’s worth.

Reiterating what I’ve previously reported but have had again mentioned, the “Patriots are willing to go north of $30M” report wasn’t something either side loved.

For the Patriots, it created a false expectation before any negotiations began and, from the perspective of the Brady camp, it missed the point of what his main issue is. 

Also, while negotiations haven’t begun, the team is plotting a course for adding players that fit Brady’s strengths to help on offense whether through free agency or trade. Tight end is a position of emphasis.

Finally, if Brady goes to another team? The people he’ll leave behind in Foxboro will be highly, highly motivated to have a 2020 season that will make Brady wonder if he made the right decision.

Report: Raiders prepared to offer Tom Brady two-year, $60 million deal

Report: Raiders prepared to offer Tom Brady two-year, $60 million deal

We have an actual dollar figure attached to the swirling rumors of various Tom Brady free agency landing spots.

The Brady-to-Las Vegas speculation has been out there since TB12 was spotted chatting up Raiders owner Marc Davis at the Connor McGregor-Cowboy Cerrone fight in Vegas last month. Now, veteran NFL reporter Larry Fitzgerald Sr. (father of the Arizona Cardinals wide receiver) reports that Davis' Raiders are prepared to offer TB12 a two-year, $60 million deal.

It's interesting to note that Larry Fitzgerald Jr., like Brady, is a long-time interviewee of Jim Gray on Westwood One's broadcasts of Monday and Thursday night NFL games. 

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While Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported on Super Bowl Sunday that the Patriots are willing to go beyond $30 million a year to retain Brady, it's unclear if New England would make a multi-year offer, since the face of the franchise, who'll turn 43 in August, essentially worked under a one-year deal this past season. 

Our Tom Curran has reported that while the Patriots will "extend themselves" financially to retain Brady, money is likely not the most important factor to the QB.

As Curran wrote Friday:

The persuasion in the Patriots pitch has to revolve around "who" and not "how much." The team that Brady plays for in 2020 won’t be the winner of a bidding war, it will be the one that provides the best ready-made landing spot to compete for a championship and have a shitload of fun while doing it.

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