As another line of information on the NFL’s transaction wire, the Tennessee Titans’ decision to release wide receiver Josh Gordon from their practice squad is unlikely to turn many heads. Gordon, after all, is another aging veteran in a league cruel to its elders, and Gordon hasn’t been relevant to an offense in several seasons. But after a couple of failed stops added to the overall career arc, you have to wonder whether this specific transaction might signal the end.
To rewind a decade is to find Gordon as a dynamic young wideout who looked like a rare NFL Supplemental Draft steal. In 2012, the Browns surrendered a future second-round pick for the rights to Gordon, who immediately became a staple in the team’s passing attack. That first season found Gordon grabbing 50 catches for 805 yards and 5 scores, setting the scene for an incredible sophomore season.
It was in 2013 that Gordon became a household name. While 805 yards is a very productive campaign for most wide receivers, Gordon would somehow double that total and then some in his second year in Cleveland. At the age of 22, Gordon would make his first Pro Bowl after leading the entire league in receiving yards with 1,646 on 87 catches and 9 touchdowns. When you consider that he was catching throws from the dynamic trio of Jason Campbell, Brian Hoyer, and Brandon Weeden, Gordon’s totals look even more amazing.
It seems safe to wonder if Josh Gordon’s career in the NFL is over after he was released by the Titans on Monday.
From there, however, things began to spiral quickly for Gordon. He was arrested for a DUI the following summer heading into his third season and was ultimately suspended for 10 games. The Browns would suspend him one more at season’s end for a violation of team rules. Gordon would remain suspended for the next two full seasons for further violation of the league’s substance abuse policies and failed tests.
From there, he would only play in a handful of games for the Browns—five in 2017 and 1 in 2018—before the team sent him to the New England Patriots in what amounted to a swap of late-round picks. The Pats got some solid production from here, but even there with Bill Belichick, Gordon still got in trouble and faced a ban from the game of football before which he’d announced a need to “step away from the game.”
In 2019, the Patriots would waive Gordon by midseason from the team’s injured reserve list. The Seattle Seahawks came calling with another chance for Gordon, but he would once again find himself suspended late in 2019. He was re-signed as a free agent by Seattle for 2020, but Gordon would never return to the field.
After several suspensions, the Chiefs still offered Gordon a place to rehabilitate his image. He was a solid citizen in Kansas City, but this late in the game, it was clear that Gordon was also not the same player he was years before. He even earned a spot on the active roster and playing time for most of the 2021 season, but Gordon only caught 5 total passes and was never a significant focus on offense.
The Chiefs brought back Gordon for another offseason but he failed to make the active roster and chose to sign with the Titans practice squad instead of Kansas City’s after final rosters were due to start the year. He would only play in 2 games with the Titans, however, and was targeted only once with zero catches in his short stint.
Given his lack of recent production, his history of mental health concerns and suspensions, and his advancing age, it feels safe to wonder whether this ride is finally over for Gordon. It’s an interesting yet frustrating story, a player so clearly gifted to impact the league as early as he did and yet incapable of mastering what really matters in order to create a legacy for himself on the field.