FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- There are two layers to the news New England Patriots wide receiver Josh Gordon is stepping away from football to focus on his mental health, as he is facing a potential suspension for violating the terms of his conditional reinstatement under the NFL’s drug policy.
The first is the personal side and viewing it through the appropriate lens. Given Gordon’s past struggles with substance abuse, his health comes first, which ESPN analyst Louis Riddick captured in a tweet:
If u have any experience w/loved one that struggles w/mental health/addiction, u know just how difficult it can be to overcome & control. My heart breaks for Josh Gordon on a basic human level. The hell w/football. I'm talking about the man. Never quit fighting @JOSH_GORDONXII— Louis Riddick (@LRiddickESPN) December 20, 2018
Then, much less important in the big picture, the Patriots still have a football game to prepare for Sunday against the visiting Buffalo Bills. That is likely part of the message that coach Bill Belichick will be relaying to players.
Along those lines, the question is how the Patriots move forward without Gordon.
They have lost a player who had solidified a No. 2 role alongside Julian Edelman, which will force a reshuffling of the attack. Specific to receiver, more will be expected of Chris Hogan (29 catches, 69 percent playing time), Phillip Dorsett (27 catches, 34 percent playing time) and Cordarrelle Patterson (20 catches, 21 percent playing time) -- the third, fourth and fifth options.
So instead of a two-receiver package of Gordon and Edelman, with Gordon’s field-stretching ability a key threat, the team will likely mix and match between Hogan, Dorsett and Patterson in that package.
But as is often the case when the Patriots have lost a key player in past seasons, they also look beyond the specific position when filling the void.
They are deep at running back, and this could spark more plays with two backs on the field, tapping the pass-catching skills of James White and Rex Burkhead. They join rookie Sony Michel to form a solid three-pronged attack at the position.
Fullback James Develin, who has played 34 percent of the offensive snaps this season, will continue to be a big part of the plans in more traditional two-back sets.
Meanwhile, the Patriots could also lean on more two-tight end packages than they have been running in recent weeks. Rob Gronkowski seldom leaves the field, and now backups Dwayne Allen (more of a blocker) and Jacob Hollister (more of a pass-catcher) could see more time. They have limited production in the passing game, however, with seven catches between them this season.
Gordon leads the Patriots with 12 receptions of at least 20 yards this season, despite not debuting with the team until Week 4, according to ESPN Stats & Info. He is tied with Mike Evans for the second-most yards per catch of any player in the NFL at 18. DeSean Jackson averages 18.8.
For an offense still trying to find its identity at this late point in the season, losing Gordon creates a domino effect felt throughout the roster.