Patriots

Patriots are just winging it with their offensive personnel

Patriots

The release of Josh Gordon is confounding for an offense that’s still trying to figure out what it is as Halloween approaches.

You get the feeling there are other shoes to drop? Yeah, me too. Maybe it’s been because they’ve been dropping all year, we’re just conditioned to expect it.

Maybe it’s because there’s a master plan being executed that — when finished — will make us say, “Ohhhh, THAT’S what they were trying to do!”

Let’s get it straight with Gordon. He wasn’t great, but he was damn useful. In 16 games with the Patriots he had 59 catches for 1,000 yards on the dot. He played with toughness. He made contested catches. He was their best threat to score from deep.

He was nothing close to the 2013 Josh Gordon we remembered and is closer to average than elite. But he helped.

His last game with the Patriots was his 17th on the team. He had one catch for 7 yards, twisted his knee after a strip sack and his star-crossed Patriots career was over.

Since the Patriots already used one of their two IR returns on N’Keal Harry and the other is going to be used on Isaiah Wynn, Gordon wouldn’t be able to return even if the team changed its mind about releasing him.

 

Gordon and his camp made it very clear after he was sent to IR that they were just as confused. He was close to being healthy enough to go.

Why not just agree to an injury settlement and release him? It’s probably in the fine print.

Because if they release him now, he can sign anywhere. After next Tuesday’s trade deadline passes, all released players pass through waivers. If Gordon is claimed, the Patriots will get some salary cap relief and the claiming team will get a 2021 compensatory pick if Gordon — who’s a free agent after this season — leaves the claiming team.

But that’s all getting a little deep in the technicalities.

The Gordon move coming on the heels of the shrewd trade for Mohamed Sanu continues a year of ping-ponging personnel on the offensive side of the ball.

Some of it can be traced to injuries. Had the team not lost fullbacks James Develin and Jakob Johnson, they wouldn’t have had Elandon Roberts and James Ferentz clearing the way on goal-line plays against the Jets on Monday.

Also, the Harry injury has thrown a wrench in the wideout plans all year. I still think it’s strange to imagine a rookie wideout in the Patriots system who played one quarter of the first preseason game is a cornerstone piece of the offense, but any port in a storm, I guess.

And it has been a storm when it comes to finding pass-catchers for Tom Brady.

Set aside wideouts for a moment and look at tight end, a position the Patriots always kept populated with competent pass-catchers for the past 10 seasons.

Rob Gronkowski retired (#asexpected). The team fanned on getting Jared Cook. And a parade of tight ends began: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Benjamin Watson, Matt LaCosse, Lance Kendricks, Eric Saubert, Andrew Beck, Stephen Anderson and Eric Tomlinson joining Ryan Izzo, the 2018 seventh-round pick that represents the lone effort the team’s made to find a tight end in the draft in recent years.

Jenkins didn’t make it to June. LaCosse has had moments of usefulness but he’s been unavailable more than available. Kendricks, Saubert, Anderson and Beck didn’t make it to the regular season. Watson got released when he was eligible to return from a four-game PED suspension, got re-signed when injuries forced the Patriots hand and promptly had the most productive game of any tight end this season last Monday against the Jets.

Now wide receiver. The team’s efforts to get slot receivers Cole Beasley or Adam Humphries didn’t pan out. Neither did free agent signings Bruce Ellington, Maurice Harris or Dontrelle Inman.

The league plopped Gordon in their laps near the end of training camp and he was necessary insurance. Jakobi Meyers emerged from nowhere taking the sting out of the Harry injury. They lost Braxton Berrios but kept Gunner Olszewski. And Demaryius Thomas showed up in late August.

 

Between those guys, Philip Dorsett and Julian Edelman, they could make it work. That seemed the mindset coming out of camp.

Then, when Antonio Brown shot his way out of Oakland, the Patriots fell all over themselves to give him a $15M deal and ship Thomas out of town. Brown lasted eight days, the salary cap ramifications of his release still linger and Thomas is catching passes for the Jets.

AND YET!!!! And yet none of it mattered a bit because — bottom line — the Patriots kept winning thank to a historic defense covering for the trying-to-get-it-right offense.

Just Monday night, the best catch made by a wideout was — quite possibly — the 28-yard back shoulder grab by running back Brandon Bolden.

Despite having no running game to speak of, the scheming of Josh McDaniels and the execution of Brady and the receivers (including James White) has been testament to the team’s “Do Your Job” credo. Yes, it’s been chaotic. No, it doesn’t look like they want it. But nobody cares so execute.

And here they are at 7-0. With an offense that — despite the release of Gordon and the carousel of pass-catchers coming through the huddle — is close to being the best version of itself, at least on paper.

The addition of Mohamed Sanu could be a masterstroke. If he was useful with Matt Ryan and Andy Dalton, imagine what a glue-fingered, big-bodied inside receiver can be for Tom Brady?

And Harry will be eligible to play next week against the Ravens. Even if the Patriots have to stick a GPS on his facemask so he goes where he’s supposed to, he is an athletic upgrade on the outside over Josh Gordon.

This offense could still be potent enough to turn the weekly concerned frown of Tom Brady upside down.

But none of it — from the Gronkowski retirement to the swings-and-misses at tight end to the release and re-signing of Watson to the lusting after and subsequent release of Brown, the trade of Thomas, the unexpected return of Gordon and now his unexpected release — was game-planned.

They’ve been drawing it up in the dirt. It’s worked so far.

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