Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon is without question one of the National Football League’s very best at his position. Last season, he rushed for 885 yards on 175 rush attempts. He was ranked 5th in DYAR behind only Todd Gurley, Derrick Henry, Alvin Kamara, and Marlon Mack. He finished 3rd in DVOA behind only Gurley and Henry. He has become what the Chargers hoped he would when they traded up to the 15th pick in the 2015 NFL Draft to select him.
Gordon says he wants to be paid what he is worth. Sports Illustrated reported that he would be willing to sit out an entire season if the team was unwilling to meet his demands. He is currently being paid $5.6 million for the 2019 season (the last remaining year of his rookie deal).
Reports say that what he thinks he is worth is a multi-year deal with an average annual value in the range of $13-15 million. For those familiar with the value of running backs in the modern NFL, that figure is laughable. Running backs, even great ones, are easily replaceable.
Last season, in games without Gordon, the Chargers were still perfectly capable while relying on late-round draft picks, Justin Jackson, and undrafted free agent, Austin Ekeler. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers, they combined for 125 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown. Against the Bengals, they put up 129 yards from scrimmage and another score. The following week, they were also without the services of Austin Ekeler, so another undrafted free agent, Detrez Newsome, took his place. He and Jackson combined for 139 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown against the Chiefs.
The Chargers are better with Gordon than they are without him. Of course, they are. Nobody with half a brain would suggest otherwise after watching the 2018 season. That said, they are not that much worse without him.
Pro Football Focus writer, Kevin Cole, helped shed some light on what Gordon’s actual value should be expected to be:
Working on projecting WAR using PFF data and historically similar players. Melvin Gordon has comps with high name recognition, but not particularly valuable according to WAR.— Kevin Cole (@KevinColePFF) July 11, 2019
Value calculation is $4.3M/yr in 2019-2020 based on the weighted comps.
Top-3 comps shown pic.twitter.com/DgMtOF5vZb
That value calculation, you might notice, is less than Gordon is scheduled to make this season. He also provided another model result that suggested a slightly rosier future value:
With Duke Johnson in the news, I ran his WAR projections based on comps and modeling. Despite lower workload than Melvin Gordon, his WAR value is slightly higher due to pass game usage, roughly $5-9M/yr.— Kevin Cole (@KevinColePFF) July 12, 2019
Here are Duke's top-3 comps pic.twitter.com/5zie6fIb2d
$5 million to $9 million definitely seems like a more accurate value to assign to Gordon, so in the interest of being more charitable to the veteran running back, we will go with that for now. Even if you choose the highest end of the higher model, you get a contract figure that is millions below what Gordon is reportedly looking to get paid.
If the Chargers are smart, they will not even consider paying Gordon anywhere near what he is asking for. He simply is not worth it. If he really wants to be paid what he’s worth, he should play out his current contract or negotiate an extension with an average annual value $1 to $3 million more per year than what he’s making now. Anything else, is just Gordon hoping the Chargers or some other team is stupid enough to grossly overpay him.