On Monday the Chiefs signed wide receiver Josh Gordon, who is being reinstated from the NFL’s substance abuse program, to their practice squad. Since leading the NFL in receiving yards in 2013 Gordon has been in and out of the league, resurfacing the last couple years with the Patriots and Seahawks. According to the Adam Schefter article:
Gordon was suspended indefinitely in December 2019 for violations of the league’s policies on substance abuse and performance-enhancing substances. It was Gordon’s sixth suspension since the 2013 season and his fifth for some form of substance abuse, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
I don’t have a lot to say about the signing, only that it does carry with it some whiff of desperation. Last season the Chiefs made a similar move in signing running back Le’Veon Bell who, after being released by the Jets, went on to produce just 466 yards from scrimmage for Kansas City in limited action over the course of the season — and was a healthy scratch in both the AFC Championship Game and Super Bowl.
The subtle admission in signing Josh Gordon realizes the critical question I asked about the Chiefs’ offense heading into the season. When I wrote my preview of the AFC West, I had this somewhat prescient blip about the Kansas City skill position unit:
Ironically, for a team that has revolutionized the NFL by having weapons all around the offense, my biggest fear heading into the 2021 season is that the Chiefs don’t have enough weapons. Sure, WR Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kelce are going to do their thing and be the best in the business at what they do. Patrick Mahomes is going to light it up behind center. But beyond that, do they expect Mecole Hardman to make a big jump in his third season? Is Demarcus Robinson suddenly going to be better than average? Can rookie 5th round pick Cornell Powell come in and replace some of Sammy Watkins’s production at X receiver? I don’t know the answers to these things.
As it played out, Cornell Powell didn’t even make the Chiefs’ roster. And Hardman, Robinson and Pringle, otherwise known as options 3, 4 and 5 in the passing game, have combined for just 260 yards on 22 catches through the first three weeks of the season. Perhaps worst of all is that the group has been targeted — i.e. thrown to — just 32 times. That equates to roughly three targets per player, per game, which maybe more than anything shows that quarterback Patrick Mahomes just does not trust them very much.
In comparison, WR Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kelce — who soak up an untenable amount of the offense’s production — have combined for 556 yards on 39 catches, and 52 targets through three games. That comes out to about nine targets per player, per game. The Chiefs are probably the most top-heavy roster in the NFL, and we may be starting the see the teetering effects of a team that lacks both foundation and depth.
I know it probably sounds silly that I am criticizing an offense that has generated 92 points in three games, but anyone who has watched Kansas City this year understands that something is missing. The defense has been a huge letdown thus far, yet at the same time they have dealt with injuries at every level and played three of the NFL’s best offenses. I am not willing to panic on that side of the ball this early in the season.
Offensively, however, which has ostensibly been just fine, is and has been lacking a legitimate third option in the passing game. You can only go to Hill and Kelce so often before defenses simply double team the two of them and force Mahomes to go elsewhere. Recently the Chiefs answer has been to run the ball with Clyde Edwards-Helaire — who has been okay — but going that route has significantly decreased Kansas City’s margin for error. And with 6 turnovers in their last two games, they haven’t been able to overcome.
Opposing defenses are taking away Patrick Mahomes’s fastball. Since a 75 yard pass to Tyreek Hill in Week 1, the deep ball has been virtually non-existent. Seemingly every big play the Chiefs have produced have been on underneath throws that the receiver has racked up a ton of yardage after the catch. Beyond that it’s been a lot of runs, and a lot of dink and dunk to Travis Kelce.
I don’t know how soon Josh Gordon will be available. My best guess is that he spends 2-3 weeks on the practice squad learning the robust Andy Reid playbook, and slowly gets brought along with Go routes and corky jet motion in the backfield. If, somehow, he reverts to 75-80% of what he once was, I can’t imagine Gordon not being an upgrade over the troika of Hardman, Robinson and Pringle — nice pieces in theory, but who have a hard time consistently beating single coverage.
Cautious optimism is the best way to go with this signing. I like that the Chiefs are addressing what I thought they should have addressed during the offseason, but it’s unfortunate that they are now forced into bargain hunting for #2 receiver options.