The way I see it, the Chargers have three choices:
- Give Gordon the extension he desires
- Trade him before the season starts
- Wait it out
Let's go over the pros and cons for each of these options.
Give Melvin Gordon the Extension
Gordon has made it clear that he is seeking a contract that is on par with what Todd Gurley and Le'Veon Bell recently got. That would be something in the neighborhood of 4 years at about $14 million a year. There's little doubt that, if $14 million is what a top RB costs, Gordon deserves the money. However, it remains to be seen if these new deals that running backs are receiving will stick and set a new market, or if more teams will go the way of the Steelers and let their star running backs walk in favor of a cheaper alternatives.
As I wrote earlier in the week, I don't believe that a significant investment in the running back position is a wise one. Stats have shown that, after the age of 27, backs begin a steady decline. With all the stars the Chargers have that are due for an extension, they will need to get a bargain somewhere. Running back has proven to be a position where bargains can be had relatively easily.
- The Chargers keep a Super Bowl contender in tact by making sure one of their best players is on the field.
- They lock down Gordon for the remainder of Philip Rivers' career.
- They show other veterans they are willing to pay their own.
- The Chargers invest heavily in a player that is likely on the verge of a decline.
- It will be much more difficult to sign other impending free agents such as Rivers, Pouncey, Henry, and Ekeler. Then later: Bosa, Ingram, Williams, Allen, and King.
- They risk making the same mistake as the Rams and dumping money into a player with injury concerns.
Trade Melvin Gordon
It appears Gordon's preference is to receive an extension. The second part of that ultimatum was a trade. It is difficult to speculate what the Chargers could receive in return for Gordon because there isn't really a recent precedent for a star back being traded - even less so at this point in the offseason.
If the Chargers were to find a team that values Gordon to the tune of 4 years and $14 million, that team should, theoretically, be willing to cough up at least a first round pick to get him. If negotiations don't pick up between Gordon and the team, we should learn pretty rapidly what the trade market is for him. For now, I am assuming the asking price will begin at a first rounder in 2020.
It would be interesting to see what the demand would be for Gordon. I don't see a whole lot of contending teams that are in need of a running back to the extent they would be willing to part with a first-round pick. A few trade partners could be:
- Houston Texans - Lamar Miller has been solid throughout his career, but has never rushed for more than 1,100 yards. Gordon also provides more in the passing game.
- Indianapolis Colts - Marlon Mack averaged 4.7 YPC last season behind one of the best offensive lines in the game, and was non-existent as a receiver. Gordon managed 5.1 behind one of the worst. So, this would be an upgrade for the Colts. The recent success the Colts have had at drafting could dissuade them from giving up picks, but this feels like a good fit.
- Green Bay Packers - Aaron Jones has been very good when healthy. The problem has been that he can't stay on the field. Gordon has had his own health concerns, but he's proven to be more available than Jones has early in his career.
- Buffalo Bills - There are two factors that cause me to put the Bills on this list: LeSean McCoy's fading production, and the Bills apparent willingness to trade for top-end talent. Earlier in the year, news broke that the Bills and Steelers agreed on a trade that would send Antonio Brown to Buffalo before the deal was killed when Brown made it clear that he would not sign with the Bills. The Buffalo front office has shown they don't mind making a splash. Melvin Gordon could be that splash they missed out on.
Any scenario in which Gordon is not on the team may come with a parallel move to replace him. Duke Johnson is a name that has been thrown around quite a bit on social media. While I like Duke Johnson and think he would make a great fit, I'm concerned that they could find themselves in the same position with him as they currently are with Gordon. Johnson will be entering the final year of his contract in 2021, which means he will likely be expecting negotiations to heat up next year. He will not demand the same money as Gordon, but I wonder if they are better off finding Gordon's replacement in next year's draft.
- The Chargers cash in on a star player rather than losing him to the open market.
- They avoid the drawn out drama of a contract holdout.
- They enter Philip Rivers' final season(s) with extra cap space and draft picks to make a final push.
- They turn a position of strength into one of weakness on a Super Bowl contending team.
- They give into a player's demands - perhaps encouraging other players to do the same.
Wait it Out
This is the approach the Pittsburgh Steelers used with Le'Veon Bell, and it came back to haunt them. They strung the contract situation with Bell out a year too long, and both sides ended up losing.
The Chargers have a little more leverage in this situation than the Steelers did. Gordon would be holding out in the fifth year of his deal, while Bell sat out his franchise tag year. The Chargers could threaten to franchise tag Gordon following the season. So, if he did decided to sit out and wait for a deal, the Chargers could force him to sit two straight seasons. It is unlikely Gordon would be willing to do that as he would be forfeiting his salary for two years. The Chargers wouldn't want that because they would be losing Gordon's production or the compensation in return from him. It could ultimately turn into a game of chicken to see who blinks first, and that would be a bad look for both.
- Perhaps Gordon blinks first and they get one more year of production out of him before making preparations for his exit.
- The Chargers set a precedent that they do not put up with contract demands from players who are already under contract.
- The situation could get ugly and result in a constant distraction that inhibits their promising season.
- Gordon could holdout as long as he needs to and the Chargers lose the chance to get anything in return.
Somehow all of these options look bad for the Chargers, but, if I had to pick the lesser of three evils, I prefer that they trade Gordon. If we learned anything from the Le'Veon Bell saga, it's that you need to make sure you get something from your star players. If it's not on-field production, then it needs to be value via a trade. The Steelers let Bell hold out and ended up getting nothing other than a third round compensatory pick in return. The Chargers cannot let that happen. If they aren't going to sign him, the trade needs to happen soon.
Start a conversation: What do you want the Chargers to do with Melvin Gordon? Sign him? Trade him? Is there another option?