Whether he’s ultimately released or traded, it’s clear Josh Gordon has finally worn out his welcome in Cleveland.
But while the Browns are done with the oft-troubled wideout, Gordon will likely have plenty of suitors around the league – especially after it was reported that he didn’t fail another drug test and isn’t facing additional discipline from the NFL.
With that in mind, here are the top five destinations for Gordon:
New England Patriots
If any team and coach can finally help Gordon reach his sky-high potential, it’s the Patriots and Bill Belichick. Moreover, New England needs Gordon almost as much as he needs them.
Phillip Dorsett, a former first-round bust of the Indianapolis Colts, led all Patriots receivers in Week 1 with seven catches for 66 yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile, Chris Hogan and Cordarrelle Patterson combined for just two catches and 17 yards … and that was the entirety of New England’s wide receiver production against Houston.
Of course, the Patriots have won titles before without top-tier receiving talent, and Julian Edelman will return from suspension in Week 5. Still, Belichick is a master at revitalizing weak positions during the season and knows the importance of having mismatch-type weapons come January.
While some may see Gordon as a poor fit for The Patriot Way, Belichick has proven he’s willing to take shots on diva receivers like Randy Moss and Chad Ochocinco – with varying results.
Replacing a talented but unreliable receiver with another one might not seem like the smartest move, but Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has rarely been able to resist a shiny new toy. And in fairness, Gordon is two years younger than Dez Bryant and has much less wear on his tires.
Gordon is reportedly eyeing two teams if he’s traded, the Cowboys and 49ers, and it’s hard to imagine the interest isn’t mutual in Dallas considering the team’s awful offensive performance in Week 1. Cole Beasley was the leading receiver (seven catches) in the 16-8 loss to the Carolina Panthers, while journeyman Deonte Thompson was targeted on critical downs late in the game.
The Cowboys could roll the dice and hope Allen Hurns or rookie Michael Gallup emerge as their top wideout, but considering Dak Prescott’s development potentially hangs in the balance, the team may be tempted to take a big swing on Gordon.
While most of Gordon’s potential suitors will likely be probable playoff contenders, the Colts could be a sleeper destination. They can offer him a less pressure-filled environment, but still a shot at being a big part of a potentially explosive passing game.
Outside of T.Y. Hilton, quarterback Andrew Luck is once again lacking top receiving options. The tight end duo of Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle mitigates that weakness to some degree, but Ryan Grant and Chester Rogers would be best in complementary roles behind Hilton and Gordon.
Meanwhile, Gordon could be perfect in the Alshon Jeffery role in Frank Reich’s system, but with a far greater ability to challenge opposing teams deep – something Indy struggled to do in Week 1. The rebuilding Colts may not be willing to part with any draft picks to snag Gordon, but if the receiver is released, it could be hard to resist giving Luck the most physically gifted weapon of his career.
San Francisco 49ers
In the offseason, the 49ers opted against using any of their mountains of free-agent cash to land the likes of Allen Robinson or Sammy Watkins. And they appeared to pay the price in a disappointing Week 1 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, as Jimmy Garoppolo completed just 45.5 percent of his passes and was intercepted three times.
Sure, the Vikings’ defense should be elite this year and San Francisco’s pass protection was awful, but it’s not ideal that tight end George Kittle led the team in catches (five) and yards (90), even in an offense predicated on spreading the ball around.
Kyle Shanahan’s system is a star-maker, though, and rookie Dante Pettis looked promising in a 61-yard performance. The 49ers may decide to trust the process and not overreact to one bad performance. On the other hand, the need is there, and in addition to Gordon apparently viewing San Francisco as a top destination, Shanahan knows the wideout after acting as the Browns’ offensive coordinator in 2014.
The Seahawks have shown they’ll bring in players with off-field issues – most recently Mychal Kendricks despite the linebacker pleading guilty to insider trading the week before – so Gordon shouldn’t scare away head coach Pete Carroll.
Seattle certainly needs help at receiver, too. No. 1 wideout Doug Baldwin is dealing with a sprained MCL, leaving Tyler Lockett and 34-year-old Brandon Marshall as the top options in the passing game. And with the Seahawks hoping to rely on Russell Wilson and the offense to win games while the new-look defense finds its feet, a weapon like Gordon would be a major boost.
The presence of Marshall could also be a factor for Gordon if he’s released and gets to choose his destination. The veteran has battled and overcome mental health issues during his career, so perhaps he could be the mentor Gordon needs to get his career back on track.