The Patriots had no indications that troubled wide receiver Josh Gordon was facing yet another substance-abuse suspension -- one that once again casts his NFL career into doubt -- and hope to able to continue supporting him during his indefinite banishment from the league.
Team sources said that Gordon had been a good teammate and was well-liked by coaches, and there had not been any recent indications that he had failed any tests or had his playing status in doubt. The team's coaching staff found out on Thursday morning, within hours of Gordon releasing his statement that he would be taking a leave from the Patriots, sources said; some had an opportunity to speak to the former Pro Bowler before he left the team. The staff also did not receive word of the NFL's suspension of Gordon until Thursday as well.
"He is not a bad kid at all," one member of the organization said. "We enjoyed working with him. I just feel awful for him. This is a really sad time for Josh, and for us. And it's not about football. You always have to deal with injuries and different personnel each week. That's what all teams do.
"This is about Josh, and is he going to be getting the right help and support now? Is this about helping him, or punishing a kid who has not shown that he can handle what the league says he should be able to handle? Because if this was easy, then Josh would have already overcome it. He needs help and he needs support and direction. We were aware of that and trying to do what we could for him, and it's unfortunate we can't continue to do that with him in our building, whether he can play or not."
Gordon had presented no discipline problems or significant issues, team sources said, and they were hopeful of his ability to contribute to the team down the stretch and into the postseason. The Patriots can deploy Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett, who have had a limited role this season, on many of the deep routes that Gordon ran to stretch defenses and open up space in the middle of the field.
The Patriots assigned people to be with Gordon at all times, as part of an elaborate security play, to help keep Gordon from the kind of stumbles that landed him back on the suspended list this past week. The Patriots had Jack Easterby, a former team chaplain who has blossomed as New England's team development/character coach, working closely with Gordon, and the team had invested a lot of resources in Gordon's security as well as his rehab and recovery. The team felt it had the right infrastructure in place, but also recognized the challenges facing Gordon with this addiction, one that he has been unable to overcome in the past with others trying to provide similar support. According to ESPN reports, Gordon is believed to have run afoul of the substance abuse policy during the team's Nov. 18 bye weekend, somehow eluding the support structure the team had established around Gordon.