Thursday, July 25, 2024

Melvin Gordon Faces Hard Road

Entering the final year of his rookie deal, Melvin Gordon has decided that he will not play this season unless he receives a new contract or is traded to a new team. However, his timing couldn’t be much worse than the current NFL climate.

Who Is Melvin Gordon

Gordon was selected by the then San Diego Chargers with the 15th pick of the 2015 NFL Draft. He was immediately the lead back in a group that featured the likes of Danny Woodhead, Donald Brown, and Branden Oliver.

His first season ended up being cut short by a tear to his knee cartilage in week 15, but his rookie campaign was otherwise solid. His second season was also cut short, this time to a knee and hip sprain in week 11.

His third season was injury-free and saw him break the 1,000 yeard mark for the first time in his career, and he also registered 58 catches as he became a more consistent all-around player.

Last season, Gordon was once again limited by injury as he suffered a right MCL sprain in week 12 that saw him miss 3 games. When he did return he failed to top 50 yards rushing in any of his remaining games.

Clearly, Gordon has improved over his short career with his PFF grade increasing each year in both his running and receiving categories. However, his run blocking continues to be an area of inconsistency which is disappointing given his size.

Positional Awareness

While clearly an asset and a top tier running-back at this stage in his career Gordon finds himself in a tricky position. At a time when offenses are utilising backs more and more in the passing game, his lack of consistent blocking, and his limited appeal as a receiver has somewhat limited appeal.

He also has a sketchy injury profile that illuminates the whole situation from both sides. Having already missed 9 games in his first 4 seasons, teams may be reluctant to pay him the big money. Running backs, historically, take the biggest pounding of the skill position players, and typically average only 6 productive years at the NFL level.

A good recent example of this would be Jay Ajayi. Currently without a job, Ajayi. He came into the league the same year as Gordon and amassed 2,516 yards and 13 TDs before suffering his second major knee injury last season.

While Gordon’s injuries have been far less serious, the profile will likely give teams pause. At the same time, this is likely why Gordon is seeking his deal now. Much like Le’Veon Bell, he will be all too aware that the next hit he takes could be his last and he, understandably, wants to protect himself and his family for the long-term.

Easily Replaceable?

Unfortunately for Melvin Gordon, the potential landing spots are further limited by a consensus opinion that has only solidified in the last year: the difference between most running backs is only marginal.

When Damien Williams replaced Kareem Hunt last season the Chiefs offense hardly missed a beat. Likewise, James Conner replaced Le’Veon Bell in the Steelers lineup with only marginal differences in performance.

This also comes at a time when teams like the Philadelphia Eagles regularly change their lead back as they eschew paying a back his second contract, instead choosing to trade for players in the final year or two of their rookie deals and then letting them leave via free agency.

Gordon is most effective when used as more of a banger. Head down, hit the hole…or rather the player in the hole…and make yards. In this, he is one of the best in the league. And while this may still be a very valuable commodity, it may not be one that teams are willing to pay top dollar for, especially given it’s even more physical toll on the player.

When you combine all of the above with the fact that the Chargers already have Austin Ekeler in house, it seems unlikely that the Chargers will shell out serious money to keep him.

Where Next?

The market for Melvin Gordon would likely still have a few teams. Green Bay would seem like an ideal spot for me. Whilst they do have Aaron Jones he has not shown himself to be the most healthy running back. Coupling Melvin Gordon with Rodgers could immediately elevate that offense back into playoff contention.

Tampa Bay is also another intriguing spot. The Buccs took RJII last season in a move that has mostly fallen flat. Jones was unable to get anything going all season, and the Buccs have not had a 1,000 yard back since 2015. With Mike Evans and OJ Howard already on the team, Jameis Winston might finally be able to reach his potential with a stud running back in tow.

Another possibility for me is the Seahawks who have never really replaced Marshawn Lynch. While Seattle isn’t really a contender for this season, adding Gordon would solidify the running-back position behind recently re-signed Russell Wilson.

All three of these teams could also fit a long-term Melvin Gordon deal under their cap, with the Seahawks having the most space.

The Chargers do have the cap flexibility to re-sign Melvin Gordon and make a final push in the last few years of Philip Rivers career. Their refusal to take a potential heir to the throne in the last couple of drafts may signal that they are willing to do that kind of deal.

Either way, Melvin Gordon will likely get paid. But don’t expect it to be in the $50m range of Gurley and Bell. I would expect him more likely to be in the $40m range over 5-years with $15m-$18m guaranteed.

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