With a scorching hot summer sun beaming overhead, players from the Los Angeles Chargers are grinding and sweating buckets on a training camp practice field—all while disgruntled running back Melvin Gordon sits on the sidelines to the tune of crickets.
’Tis the season of NFL holdouts.
Gordon’s recent request for a trade through his agent Damarius Bilbo was the bombshell kind of news that went off with a whimper—a common result in a no-leverage situation.
It’s a situation that pales in comparison to the ongoing contractual dispute between All-Pro running back Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys. Elliott is considered one of the best running backs in the league, while Gordon has only teased at elite potential.
Does he make the Chargers better?
Is he one of the more versatile running backs in the league?
Do the Chargers need him in the offensive backfield to win football games?
The latter fact has already been proven due to the team’s success without him on the field for a quarter of the 2018 season. Despite him missing four weeks with injuries, the Chargers still managed to win all of those games, including a couple road meetings with the Pittsburgh Steelers and top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs, with a one-two punch at running back of Austin Ekeler and rookie Justin Jackson.
Unlike the Cowboys, who are completely dependent on Elliott’s presence in the backfield, the Chargers are well-equipped to compete with or without Gordon, who has only played in 16 games once in his four years in the league.
“[The other running backs are] going to get a lot of work,” Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers told the Los Angeles Times, when speaking on the holdout. “It certainly is a deep position for us, and those guys all love to play and work hard. We love Melvin, but we’re going to go with what we’ve got. It’s a pretty dang good group.”
While Rivers’ decision to make those comments public could be questioned, the validity of his statement holds so true that it must have stung for Gordon. Pass-heavy teams like the Chargers aren’t handcuffed to the running back position, which further diminishes Gordon’s value, particularly if he’s looking to become one of the highest-paid players at his position.
The Chargers have reportedly offered an extension that would have granted him $10 million per year, but we also aren’t privy to the full details of that potential deal and how much of that money is actually guaranteed.
However, if $10 million per year was the actual offer on the table, it would be a fitting contract for Gordon, who would then sit behind Todd Gurley, Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson and eventually Elliott on the pay scale.
The Chargers aren’t a cap-rich team, and they already have deals for Rivers and Hunter Henry coming up in 2020, along with Melvin Ingram, Joey Bosa and Keenan Allen in 2021.
Even if they wanted to break the bank for Gordon, which would be detrimental to the team’s future success, they simply lack the flexibility to make that sort of move that would pay him around $13 million per year.
The New Orleans Saints didn’t want to pay receiver Michael Thomas a record-breaking five-year, $100 dealwith $61 million in guaranteed money, either, but his holdout threatened the chance of the team making a Super Bowl run. He isn’t the best receiver in the league, but he is so important to what the Saints do offensively that he couldn’t be replaced. The same simply doesn’t hold true for Gordon and the Chargers.
On the ground last season, Ekeler had 106 rushes for 554 yards and three touchdowns, while Gordon finished the year with 175 rushes for 885 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Through the air, Ekeler hauled in 39 receptions for 404 yards and three touchdowns to Gordon’s 50 receptions for 490 yards and four touchdowns. That isn’t to insinuate Ekeler is comparable from a talent perspective, but he has proven capable of stepping up and taking on a bigger role if called upon.
The team is also enthralled by what they’ve seen from Jackson, who finished his rookie campaign with 50 carries for 206 yards and two touchdowns.
Gordon’s situation is likely to end in a trade, unless one side budges at the negotiating table. It won’t be the cap-strapped Chargers with a deep roster of potential replacements, and it’s even less likely to be Gordon, especially with other desperate teams willing to pay him more money.
The road to an eventual divorce is a murky one with the Chargers holding all the cards. They get to decide where, when or if they even want to facilitate a trade. Here’s to hoping Elliott has a spare bedroom in Cabo for the rest of the summer; Gordon is probably going to need it.
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“Born in Germany and raised in the beautiful state of Tennessee, Jordy McElroy is a storyteller of sports and semi-deep thinker.
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