The San Francisco 49ers were confirmed to be in on the Cleveland Browns’ Josh Gordon sweepstakes but ultimately lost out to the New England Patriots, who acquired the troubled star. Here’s why the Niners didn’t close the deal.
Former Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon won’t be joining the San Francisco 49ers this season.
Instead of a possible reunion with former Browns offensive coordinator, now-Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan, Gordon is off to the New England Patriots, who acquired the talented-but-troubled 27 year old via a trade with Cleveland Monday afternoon.
News of the deal was first reported by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, who reported the Patriots would give up a conditional fifth-round NFL Draft pick in exchange for Gordon’s services. And the Pats would get a pick back from the Browns if Gordon isn’t active for at least 10 games this season.
The 49ers were initially rumored to be a possible landing spot for Gordon. And according to The Athletic’s Matt Barrows, general manager John Lynch even confirmed the Niners had made a call regarding the acquisition of Gordon from the Browns:
So why didn’t it happen for San Francisco?
Lynch saying the Niners were doing their “due diligence” on Gordon is telling. It’s an indication the 49ers were willing to take on the risk — one that includes Gordon’s 2015 suspension for violating the league’s policy on substance abuse, various missed and late attendance to meetings and serious question marks about his off-field character.
There would have been a price San Francisco would have been comfortable making. And while we may never know exactly what that was, it’s pretty clear it wasn’t quite what the Patriots offered in exchange.
It isn’t as if the Niners want to entirely steer clear of players with red flags. Remember, they stood by linebacker Reuben Foster during and after his two-arrest 2018 offseason — one which could have easily resulted in a season-long suspension, or more, had more of his charges stuck.
Additionally, the 49ers don’t own their own fifth-round pick in 2019. That selection was part of the deal for offensive guard Laken Tomlinson. So, perhaps, a fourth rounder might have been too much for Lynch to give up.
There’s a bigger reason, though. One which more likely points to why the 49ers elected not to get too deep in the bidding war on Gordon.
San Francisco has made vast strides to improve its own receiving corps the past two years. Most recently, this included 2018 second-round draftee Dante Pettis, who’ll likely be the heir apparent to the veteran, Pierre Garçon, in 2019 or sooner. Paired with Marquise Goodwin‘s offseason extension, the point is Shanahan is content enough with his group this season.
This isn’t to mean the Niners are closed to the idea of improving at wide receiver. If anything, San Francisco’s wide receiver play over the first two games of 2018 has been underwhelming, at best. Gordon would have certainly added prowess to this unit.
But ultimately, Lynch and Shanahan likely determined the price for a risk-reward scenario with Gordon was going to be too high. Even if a fifth-round pick is deemed on the lower end.
Or, in another context, they would have preferred if the Browns were unable to find a trade partner and elected to cut Gordon outright, thereby leaving him free to sign with any team as a free agent.
That never happened, though. And the 49ers will have to determine whether or not declining the pursuit of Gordon was a good idea — a determination that will ultimately be made in time.