The New England Patriots acquired Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon in a trade Monday afternoon, sending a conditional 2019 fifth round pick to Cleveland. If Gordon is active less than ten games, the Browns will send back a seventh round pick, and if Gordon is active ten or more games, the deal stands as is.
The San Francisco 49ers called the Browns about Gordon, according to general manager John Lynch. Both Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan talked about doing due diligence whenever a potentially quality player is available.
Shanahan met with the media Monday afternoon to wrap up Week 2, and he was asked about Gordon and if it was tempting to see if he could fit into what the team is doing.
“Anytime a good player becomes available on the open market, you look into all that stuff. By no means is it something you ever would get desperate for. Like I said last night, we feel very good about the guys on our team. That’s something that we looked into and obviously went a different way.”
He was specifically asked if the price was too high for the 49ers, to which he said, “Yeah, I’m not going to get into exactly what. But, I think they did more than we did.”
Adam Schefter reported that the deal was originally going to be for a sixth rounder, but the Patriots did not have one in the 2019 draft. The 49ers do not have a pick in the fifth round due to the Laken Tomlinson trade, and do not have have a pick in the seventh round due to the Shon Coleman trade. That means either they would have had to offer up a fourth round pick or a sixth round pick.
If the 49ers had gone with a fourth round pick, they probably could have worked out a deal for some pick in return. But, the team did not do a deal, and naturally that has some folks upset about it.
I get why people are upset. Josh Gordon at one point was an immensely talented player. In 2013, even after a two-game suspension, he put up a league-leading 1,646 receiving yards with 87 receptions and nine touchdowns. It’s hard for people to forget about those numbers, even five years later. And if the 49ers got even half that production, a fifth round pick would be a bargain.
At the same time, there’s no guarantee the 49ers would get half that production, or even any of that production. Since 2013, Gordon has appeared in 11 total games. he was suspended for 11 games in 2014, suspended all of 2015 and 2016, and reinstated for the final five games of the 2017 season. He played one game this year before injuring his hamstring and then getting traded.
Hypothetical Gordon would have been an upgrade over several of the 49ers current wide receivers. Reality Gordon is harder to determine. Gordon has said he has been working hard to stay sober and stay on the football field. I don’t know what to buy about the Browns deciding now was the time to unload him. When it comes to the Browns, nothing is ever quite what it seems.
And yet, the 49ers decided it was not worth it. The entire wide receiver corps has been overhauled by Lynch and Shanahan. They have repeatedly said they like what they have. It would seem at first glance like they decided Gordon was not worth the price given what they have and the concerns surrounding him.
Kyle Shanahan worked with Gordon for one season in 2014, when Gordon played in five games and had 24 receptions for 303 yards. Gordon was suspended the first ten games of the season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. He was reinstated for Week 12 and played through Week 16. He was then suspended by the team in Week 17 for missing a Saturday walkthrough. There was some talk that part of this suspension was due to the Browns wanting to avoid him getting a sixth game for purposes of accruing a season towards free agency, but I have not found further confirmation on that.
All of that is to say, Shanahan has at least a little bit of experience with Gordon. Shanahan and Lynch talk about their partnership and being on the same page. It is possible Shanahan pushed for the 49ers to acquire Gordon and Lynch did not want to do it, but given what we know about this partnership, my guess is they were in agreement on this.
Was it the right decision? Hindsight is 20/20, and that will be particularly the case with this decision. If Gordon balls out for the Patriots, there will be plenty of second-guessing of the decision. Given the context of Gordon, I don’t exactly blame the 49ers for not making the move, but I will understand the second-guessing if he plays well for the Patriots the rest of the season.
In the end, it all comes down the risk/reward evaluation. The 49ers decided it was not worth trying to match or beat the Patriots offer. What kind of deal would you have been willing to do to get Gordon, if at all?