Well, ladies and gentlemen— you asked for it, and now it’s here. News and opinions during the NFL dead zone!
Early this morning, Adam Schefter reported what had prior to only been a rumor:
Los Angeles running back Melvin Gordon has informed the Chargers that unless he receives a new contract, he will not report to training camp and he will demand a trade, his agent Fletcher Smith told ESPN.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) July 11, 2019
Well, that’s something.
And now an update from Gordon’s agent:
Although they have been especially open about wanting to keep their franchise QB around for as long as he wants to play, the Chargers are a notoriously difficult team when it comes to contracts and demands. In the not too distant past, the Chargers actually suffered from this stubbornness, as it kept their first round draft pack (Joey Bosa) out of training camp, helping to put a cloud over Bosa’s inaugural season with his new team (and forcing a late regular season debut).
What you should take from that is that the Chargers have no problem shooting themselves in their own foot if it saves them a buck. Even after it became increasingly obvious that the holdout would impact their soon-to-be star’s season, they stood firm. From most accounts, that was a dumb decision, but it helps color the team’s approach to labor disputes.
‘FLASH’ FORWARD TO 2019
So now Melvin Gordon is asking to be paid like one of the best running backs in the league. In his defense, he played like one of the best RBs in the league last year. Over the last three seasons, he has 38 touchdowns to this name. 28 rushing (second most in the NFL) and ten receiving (fourth-most among RBs), and his 38 TDs makes him second-most in the NFL. Those are really, really impressive numbers.
The Chargers, like much of the NFL, seem to have an interesting opinion on the value of running backs: it’s an important job, but anyone can do it. To that side, we have what happened in Pittsburgh last year. The best RB in the game, LeVeon Bell, held out and his replacement, James Conner, nearly matched those numbers for the games he was in.
By the end of the season, Conner didn’t quite reach Bell’s level, but the $14 million difference between the two helps make it a winning situation for the Steelers.
The Chargers are ready to play poker, and they’ve got a pretty good hand: Austin Ekeler is a talented player, and he’s ready to jump in if need be. There’s every reason to believe that Gordon is asking for $13-$15 million, and a several-year commitment. The Chargers have few real incentives to pay him more than the $5.6 million he’s contracted to receive this year. The positives would be that they avoid bad press, they keep a premium player, and they don’t need to fish around for replacement RB1s for the next year or two. The negatives are the financial repercussions and potentially opening the door for holdouts in other positions.
Likely Next Steps
Assuming that Gordon doesn’t go full Antonio Brown and essentially destroy his trade value, he does have some options with the team. They’d prefer to keep their talented runner, and also come out of this looking like winners. Gordon’s agent makes it sound like the potential contract is for less money and/or guarantees than Gordon feels he is worth. He could sit out, exactly like he says, and simply not make any money this year. He could also buckle up and prepare for franchise tag drama next year (or litigating whether or not his 5th year option is still valid).
The team could try and find a trade partner that is willing to either send him the desired contract or hold him to his 5th year option and risk the holdout. I think that only the Bills, Dolphins, and Raiders are teams that are amenable to taking on such a prickly project, and it’s hard to see the need for it post-draft. There are good reasons for each team to pass on this, even if they only give up a 2nd or 3rd round pick for a premier running back.
Therefore, it seems likely that we’ll see this dragged out a bit longer: a holdout, a twitter war, and then a reluctant Melvin Gordon showing up just before the start of the season. He’ll miss $330k per week during the regular season if he stalls, but my guess is that he’ll show up too late to contribute for week 1 or 2.
All-in-all, it’s hard not to feel for these really talented running backs. They work every bit as hard as some of the more glorious positions in the game, but teams really don’t have much incentive to pay them their equal worth. I certainly don’t have a solution for how to level the playing field. I would prepare for this particular story to drag on for a while, and I really don’t think the Chargers are going to offer Melvin Gordon the contract he feels he deserves. To that end, the best and possibly most likely scenario is that they only offer him his 5th year amount, he reluctantly accepts, they threaten to franchise tag next year, but ultimately decline to pay him the $12 to $13 million even that would cost.
What do you think will happen with Melvin Gordon?
-Jason “Some of that sweet, sweet Pittsburgh drama” Michaels