KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs have never been shy about giving players with questionable backgrounds a second chance.
Or third or fourth or fifth.
Or, in the case of Josh Gordon, a sixth.
The wildly talented yet trouble-prone wide receiver was reinstated by the NFL this week following his fifth suspension for violating its substance-abuse policy and policy on performance enhancers. And with a glaring need for a big, rangy wide receiver for Patrick Mahomes, it made sense that Kansas City was one of several teams to inquire about him.
Gordon wound up signing with the Chiefs on Tuesday. One day later, he was wearing a red No. 19 jersey and working out with the practice squad while trying to digest as much of coach Andy Reid’s robust offensive playbook as possible.
“Josh is a good player. I think we all know that,” Reid said, “and he’s worked hard on his situation and making sure it was right. He’s been reinstated by the league, which I thought was an important step, and so we welcome him aboard.”
Reid’s reputation as a coach willing to give players the benefit of the doubt dates to his time in Philadelphia, when he most famously gave Michael Vick an opportunity to be his quarterback following his prison sentence for his role in a dogfighting ring.
It has continued in Kansas City with mixed results.
Many teams took Tyreek Hill off their draft boards entirely following his arrest on charges of domestic violence during his time at Oklahoma State. He had finished his college career at tiny West Alabama, where he got rave reviews from coaches, and the Chiefs took a fifth-round flier on him in the 2016 draft.
Not only has he steered clear of trouble, he’s been a three-time All-Pro while setting a slew of franchise records.
Travis Kelce missed an entire college season at Cincinnati to a suspension, and many believe that hurt his stock leading up to the 2013 draft. The Chiefs took him in the third round and, much like Hill, he has earned three All-Pro nods, set a slew of records and joined up with his speedy counterpart to help the Chiefs win a Super Bowl.
On the other side of the coin are players such as Marcus Peters, Kareem Hunt and Frank Clark.
Peters was a two-time All-Pro cornerback for the Chiefs, who drafted him despite his getting kicked off his college team. But he had run-ins with coaches and teammates in Kansas City and ultimately was traded to the Rams.
Hunt, who also had issues in college, had a dominant rookie season for Kansas City before video surfaced of him kicking a woman in a hotel hallway. The Chiefs immediately released Hunt, who was later signed by the Browns.
In the case of Clark, who had a domestic violence arrest in college, the Chiefs traded with the Seahawks for him and signed the pass rusher to a long-term deal. But he was arrested again in March in Los Angeles and is facing a felony gun possession charge; his arraignment and plea hearing is set for next week.
“Everybody deserves an opportunity to at least try to do the right thing,” Reid said.
Gordon’s talent has never been disputed. He led the league with 1,646 yards receiving in 2013, when he was an All-Pro with Cleveland, and he’s showed flashes of that same ability during brief stops in Seattle and New England.
The question is whether Gordon can avoid the drug issues that have plagued his career.
“He’s had a great eight months here of taking care of business. The league obviously understands that he’s a good guy,” Reid said. “We always sell Kansas City in general — it’s a great place to live, a great fan base and so on. So you are going to have support. As long as you’re doing the right things, you’re going to have support.”
The Chiefs also have a strong locker room culture that should help Gordon stay out of trouble.
“We like bringing in good football players, guys that work hard and come here and want to win football games,” Mahomes said, “and so it was a heck of an opportunity to bring him in here and involve him in that receiver room, and he’ll have his role. He’s a great football player, and I think you know in this offense everybody gets a chance to make plays.”
The Chiefs had hoped that Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson or Byron Pringle would emerge as their No. 2 wide receiver after Sammy Watkins left in free agency. But all of them have been inconsistent at best, and now they turn their hopes to a player whose size and athleticism is unlike anything else they have on the roster.
“He’s going to be a guy that even if he’s covered, he’s not covered. You can kind of throw it up there and he can make plays,” Mahomes said. “I’ve talked to him a little bit here now and he seems like a great dude that wants to come and work, so we’ll see as he gets out here on the practice field how he can help us as an offense.”
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