By now, everyone who cares to know is well aware of the fact that Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon has decided that he is worth more than his current contract and worth more than whatever unknown contract the Chargers have offered him to this point. Given his disagreement with the club’s valuation of his services, he has, of course, declared that he will sit out of training camp and demand a trade if they do not change their minds and come around to his way of thinking about how good he is.
This, as we have discussed previously, leaves the team in the position of having a few options of how to handle their disgruntled employee. They can give in and pay him a stupid amount of money that greatly exceeds his value to the team. They can give in and trade him away to a dumber team that is willing to pay him that kind of money. Or, they can just ignore him and go on about their day like this isn’t happening and give his playing time away to guys who are somewhere between 80 to 100% of how good he is at the various things he does on a football field.
So, the question we raised in the headline is, “how much leverage does Melvin Gordon really have?” The short answer is “less than he seems to think,” but we can unpack that a little more.
Gordon has the option of refusing to come to mandatory team events, preseason games, and eventually regular season games. Some of those things come with fines or lost game checks, but he can do that if he wants. He can talk to the media or have his intermediaries do it for him. This can put pressure on the team in the court of public opinion, but that isn’t the most effective strategy. He does not appear to be winning the public relations battle at this time. Our poll, at time of writing this, has just shy of 70% of respondents saying to just trade him away and a not-insubstantial minority (8%) saying to just let him sit out and not give him anything that he wants.
Ultimately, Gordon’s goal is to maximize his earnings this year and in the future while minimizing risk. So, the only ways he “wins” this is if he gets traded and signs a big deal or if he signs a big deal without being traded. But what happens if the team doesn’t allow either of those things to come to fruition? What can he do then?
Well, if Gordon sits out the entire season, we get to play this same game again next offseason because he will still be under contract for the same length of time and same amount of money as he is now. The difference is that he will be a year removed from playing football and a year closer to 30.
What that means is that if he wants to become a free agent next year, he would need to return no later than the Tuesday following Week 10 in order to finish out his contract. The problem for Gordon if he does that is that the team can simply franchise-tag him after that if they are so inclined.
Ultimately, Gordon just is not good enough (they went 4-0 in games he missed last year) to force the Chargers’ hand by simply not being available, and the contract rules of the NFL are not in his favor enough to force their hand.