The New England Patriots on Wednesday made a puzzling move to put wide receiver Josh Gordon on the Injured Reserve (IR).
The move effectively ended Gordon's time with the Patriots. NFL teams can only designate two players to return from the IR each season. The Patriots used one on rookie wide receiver N'Keal Harry, and the other is likely to go to second-year offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn.
What made the move surprising, however, was that Gordon, who injured his knee in Week 6 against the New York Giants, then sat out Week 7, doesn't appear to have a season-ending injury.
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported that while Gordon's time in New England is done, he's likely to join another team. Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated reported that Gordon's camp felt the knee injury was "minor," and he would be medically cleared soon. Breer reported that Gordon ran 22 miles per hour on a treadmill on Wednesday.
When the move was announced, Gordon commented on a post from the NFL's official Instagram with the word "interesting."
However, as NBC Sports' Phil Perry detailed, it looks like a calculated decision by the Patriots.
First, the Patriots needed a roster spot after trading for wide receiver Mohamed Sanu on Tuesday. While there were other candidates to be released, the Patriots ultimately chose Gordon. It's unclear if that was just a sacrifice the team made or if they doubted his ability to get healthy and be productive.
The move blocks the Patriots' competition
Reports indicate that Gordon is likely to be cleared from the IR at some point. If that happens after Tuesday, October 29, the NFL trade deadline, Gordon would be waived. In getting waived, Gordon wouldn't simply become a free agent — he would first pass through the waiver wires, which are based on team records and go in reverse order of best record. It's unlikely another contending team could get Gordon.
As Perry noted, bad teams may be incentivized to pick up Gordon. He could help their team this season, and if he leaves in free agency this offseason when his contract expires, that team may get a compensatory draft pick in return.
If Gordon gets waived and released from the IR, it's unlikely that he would go to the Kansas City Chiefs, for instance.
The Patriots might have saved some money
According to Perry, if Gordon had been released, the Patriots would have been on the hook to pay Gordon's remaining salary (he's slated to make $2.02 million this year, according to Spotrac).
Instead, if Gordon is picked off waivers, the team adding him would pay the approximately $1 million on salary left on his contract for this season, according to Perry.
It remains somewhat confusing why the Patriots would choose to cut a good player at a position of need. Perhaps its portends bigger moves on the way. But it's clear that, as usual, the Patriots have found a way to use NFL rules to their advantage.