Late last week multiple sports outlets reported that Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon will not show up to camp without a new contract. In addition, if they can not come to a deal, Gordon is demanding a trade. Gordons’ agent, Fletcher Smith, told the media that he and his client are dug in on the matter. Reportedly, there has been no progress in negotiations which spurred them to take this drastic action.
Gordon is in is option year, set to make $5.6 million dollars. Given his production since being drafted in 2015, he has transformed into a top-5 running back in the NFL. Last season, he ranked fifth in yards from scrimmage. Over the last three seasons, he’s only second to Todd Gurley in carries with 1,079 and third in the league in touchdowns (38) and yards from scrimmage (5,205) over the last four seasons. Undoubtedly contributing to their decision making process are the recent long-term extensions given to fellow running back contemporaries Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley (4-yrs, $60 million, with $45 million dollars guaranteed), Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson (3-yrs, $39 million with $30 million dollars guaranteed) and Le’veon Bell (4-yrs, $52.5 million with $25 million dollars guaranteed). All three threatened to sit out until they got a new deal and only Bell actually sat out a season.
To holdout now will be the greatest leverage he has to use. The Chargers are coming off a 12-4 season highlighted (and lowlighted) by a trip into the AFC Divisional Round against the eventual Super Bowl champions, New England. The window of opportunity for Philip Rivers and company is now and Gordon is a big piece of the pie in that equation. At 26, this is the best time for Gordon to holdout. His value is at its peak, this is the moment of greatest need for his team with the Chargers ascending to championship contender status and he has proven himself to be a durable, reliable, elite dual-threat running back.
The only reason Bell didn’t succeed in getting paid with the Pittsburgh Steelers is because he waited until after he had been franchised twice. Bell and Gurley got their deals before the team had that control in their hands. The Chargers have the same leverage inasmuch that they can franchise tag Gordon for up to two more seasons at the league average of the top-5 running backs in the league. It’s in the Chargers’ best interest to get a long-term deal done or trade Gordon now as opposed digging in and letting him go (after sitting out the season) and getting nothing in return. Gordon loses all leverage by playing the season and allowing himself to get franchised for two seasons. What team is going to give a long-term contract with a boatload of guaranteed money to a 28-year old running back?
So what do the Chargers do?
The Chargers have a lot of big contracts of core players coming up at the end of 2020 and not a lot of cap space to sign them all. Rivers, Gordon, tight end Hunter Henry, linebacker Jatavis Brown, cornerback Trevor Williams, safety Adrian Phillips and center Mike Pouncey headline the players who will be looking to cash in on their on-field success. By the way, franchise defensive end Joey Bosa will be looking for big bucks at the end of the 2021 season. Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco has some big decisions to make and Gordon is forcing his name to the top of the list.
Without Gordon, the running back depth chart will be Austin Ekeler, second-year pro Justin Jackson, Detrez Newsome and Troymaine Pope. Ekeler has proven his versatility and ability to make plays in space but the group behind him is unproven to say the least. Gordon, obviously is the element that takes this group from good to great. As seen by the recent signings of guys like Bell and Gurley plus the growing influx of backs that are as deadly catching the ball as they are running it; the devalued running back position is making a comeback. If Telesco makes a trade he is hamstrung because no team is going to make a fair offer knowing the position he is in. At best he may be able to acquire a package of draft picks. A first round pick isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
The Oakland Raiders received a first-round pick from the Dallas Cowboys in exchange for wide receiver Amari Cooper. Weeks earlier, they had received two first-round picks, a sixth-round pick and a 2020 second-round pick plus a conditional fifth-round selection for Khalil Mack. Cooper was coming off a down 2017 season and found himself lost in the wide receiver shuffle until newly-hired Raiders coach Jon Gruden shipped him out of town. Mack has established himself as a top-5 if not the best pass rusher in the league before Gruden sent him away. Gordon is closer to the Mack end of the spectrum than the Cooper end. The problem is draft picks are always a crapshoot. A package of picks including a first-rounder or two is all well and good, but it does not result in equal value and it does nothing for the loss of production for a team that is among the favorites to appear in the Super Bowl.
The other side of the coin is to sign Gordon and judging from the deals mentioned above, the terms are going to be in the neighborhood of a three- to f0ur-year deal worth $13- to 16-million dollars per year with two-thirds of that money guaranteed. Can the Chargers afford it? According to Sportrac, Over-The-Cap, ESPN Stats and Info and other sources, the Bolts have just under $11 million dollars in cap space. Still, cap space backdoors are known and utilized by ever GM in the league. Keeping Gordon keeps the Chargers consistent and on course for that long-awaited Super Bowl return. Keeping Gordon keeps the Chargers in place as the biggest threats to Kansas City, who will be heralded as the heir apparent to the Patriots’ franchise based on the trajectory of quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes is coming into this, his third season, on the heels of winning the NFL MVP award after his first season as the Chiefs starting QB.
As a fan and as a man who was there at the NFL Draft when Gordon was drafted, I want him to stay a Charger for life. I’ve met the man, had a conversation with him and shook his hand on the very first day he was tapped to be a Charger. He’s a solid guy, very kind, very active in the community and has a sparkling reputation as a teammate. That being said, I believe Gordon will be traded. I cannot blame the Chargers front office as much as I’d like to do so. The system is flawed with the way teams can get away with so many years of control before a player can cash in on a long-term deal. I can’t blame Gordon for holding out as much as I can’t blame the Chargers brass for wanting to hold onto control for as long as they can before backing the Brinks truck up to his door. Players are now getting wise to the fact that this is the road to hoe if they’re going to avoid overuse and get paid before getting stuck on a series of one-year contracts.
Whatever they decide, they don’t have long to do it. Gordon and Smith have established the beginning of training camp, July 24, as their hard line date to get a new contract done. If they don’t get a deal, they want the Chargers to start looking for trade partners. There’s no reason at this point to believe they won’t follow through on their threat since no new news has come through the pipeline since this story broke. I believe the Chargers will shop Gordon and take the best offer they can get. Having a disgruntled player in the fold will be a huge distraction to the team, the fan base and the bottom line knowing he is at home while the team is fighting for a playoff spot. If Gordon is gone everyone has no choice but to accept it and move on. The Chargers should be able to get a Khalil Mack-esque deal. It won’t be as good but comparable in the sense that it will be multiple picks and at least one first-round pick. Brace yourselves Chargers fans. It won’t be pretty but we know, now more than ever, how much of a business the NFL has become. May the football Gods have mercy on our souls….
The Greg One