FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots knew the risks when they acquired wide receiver Josh Gordon this season. On Thursday, the worst-case scenario played out.

Gordon announced Thursday morning that he’ll be stepping away from the Patriots. Later in the day, the NFL confirmed he’s facing another indefinite suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

Gordon, with a history of substance abuse issues, was having his most successful season since 2013.

This will be his fifth suspension under the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

“We support Josh Gordon in his continued efforts to focus on his heath,” the Patriots said in a statement. “His attempt to do so is a private and personal matter, which we intend to respect.”

The risk always was evident.

After an All-Pro season in 2013, Gordon’s career spiraled out of control. That season he was suspended for two games for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. Gordon played in just five games in 2014, then was suspended for the 2015 and 2016 seasons. Gordon was reinstated last year and played five games with the Browns.

In his statement Thursday, he expressed the desire to address his mental health by stepping away.

“I take my mental health very seriously at this point to ensure I remain able to perform at the highest level,” Gordon wrote. “I have recently felt like I could have a better grasp on things mentally. With that said, I will be stepping away from the football field for a bit to focus on my mental health. I would like to thank Coach Belichick, Mr. Kraft, as well as countless others within the Patriots organization for their continued support. I want to thank my fans for their support as well as I continue down the path getting back to 100%”

In Cleveland this preseason, he pulled his hamstring during a promotional shoot and showed up late to the facility. On Sept. 17, the Patriots traded a 2019 fifth-round pick to Cleveland for Gordon and a seventh-rounder.

It didn’t take the receiver long to get on the same page with Tom Brady. In 11 games with the Patriots, Gordon caught 40 passes for 720 yards and three touchdowns. He leads the Patriots in receiving yards and became the team’s best deep threat. His 18.0 yards per catch is second in the NFL.

The loss of Gordon might not be surprising considering his history, but it certainly hurts the Patriots’ offense. He’s become of Brady’s top targets as Rob Gronkowski (658 receiving yards, three touchdowns) has struggled to be as effective as in the past. Julian Edelman (711 receiving yards and four touchdowns) has stepped up, but also has been dealing with an unusual amount of dropped passes.

The fact the Patriots had to lean so heavily on a player like Gordon showed how desperate they became this year with the receiving position.

After losing Danny Amendola in free agency and trading Brandin Cooks, the Patriots tried to replenish their receiving corps. The front office brought in veterans like Kenny Britt, Jordan Matthews and Eric Decker. They didn’t work out and neither did Malcolm Mitchell, who hasn’t played in two years due to knee injuries. Early this season the Patriots brought in Corey Coleman, but eventually sent him to the practice squad and released the former first-round pick.

At that point, Edelman was serving a four-game suspension. The offense needed help so the Patriots brought in Gordon, knowing the risks. The Patriots reportedly also talked to the Denver Broncos about receiver Demaryius Thomas and the Detroit Lions about Golden Tate before the trade deadline, but didn’t strike a deal.

Now they’re without Gordon and still need help.

Along with Edelman and Gronkowski, the Patriots will rely on Chris Hogan (468 receiving yards), Phillip Dorsett (256 receiving yards) and Cordarrelle Patterson (244 receiving yards). The offense also will have to get running backs James White, Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead involved.


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