SAN DIEGO — Does Melvin Gordon, an honorary San Diegan, hold leverage in his salary dispute with the Chargers?
Not really and perhaps not at all, per a few broadcasters with TV networks that pay rights fees to the NFL.
During the exhibition-game telecasts and at other times, the smooth talkers correctly note the team’s 4-0 record without Gordon last year.
They point out running back Austin Ekeler is NFL-good in several aspects — which is objectively true in light of Ekeler’s 5.3 yards per carry, 10.3 yards per catch and catch rate of 75% in 30 career games.
Justin Jackson, who rotates with Ekeler, is a serviceable option who last year appeared in 13 games and both playoff contests.
Fresh-legged undrafted backs are also taking handoffs from Philip Rivers as Gordon works out in San Diego, the city where he began his NFL career in 2015 and where he has said he wishes the Chargers were still based.
At the poker table, it’s true the NFL’s labor pact and the sport’s brutality work against Gordon and his legal team.
He would forfeit his largest salary yet, $5.605 million, if he sat out this season yet at 26 with multiple knee injuries on his body, may have few years left, if that many, to command hefty salaries from the NFL.
And while he’s in his contract year, he’s not assured 2020 free agency, because the team could retain his negotiating rights with the franchise tag.
But, Gordon isn’t devoid of leverage.
The team could’ve issued Gordon an ultimatum to report to camp and expect no offer on an extension.
Instead, it offered him a new contract. That’s proof of some leverage.
Seems the front office believes Gordon improves the odds of the current team getting to a Super Bowl, which would time up nicely with sales campaigns linked to next year’s move into a new stadium.
Keep in mind a Super Bowl winner must log 19 or 20 games; that’s a lot of baton passing among players.
Gordon can help directly, but this gets overlooked: He would reduce the burden on Ekeler and Jackson, who’ve never carried a full load through half an NFL season, let alone 16 games or a playoff run and must work behind a line that former Saints tackle Zach Strief, after two recent practices between the teams, labeled as the club’s one question mark.
Salary disputes can brew hard feelings. For example: What’s bad for the Chargers is good for Gordon’s leverage.
It’s a cold fact All-Pro safety Derwin James’ injury last week only strengthened Gordon’s hand, if only on the margins. So did the NFL’s questionable decision not to suspend troubled Chiefs star Tyreek Hill, the player most responsible for his team’s upset victory over Team Spanos in last year’s opener.
Saturday brings the lone exhibition game of the four that involves game-planning for an opponent, putting more onus on Gordon’s replacements.
The contest will expose them to a final ration of NFL collisions this preseason, one reason I’ve long doubted a deal with Gordon would get done before next week.
While Ekeler and Jackson have prepared well, and undrafted backs such as Troymaine Pope have had good moments, it’s another thing to handle a full-season load as a featured back.
Gordon is a pretty good NFL player, whose benefit to this particular team could exceed pretty good.
Rivers is forever harping on a core NFL truth that small details decide games and seasons.
He suggested, for instance, that only a few inches kept the Chiefs from beating the Patriots in the recent AFC title game. The reference, he confirmed, was to edge rusher Dee Ford’s penalty for lining up offside. Tom Brady and Co. turned the reprieve into a Super Bowl berth.
Closer to home, Rivers and Co. last year matched the Chiefs’ 12-4 record but were shoved into wild-card oblivion. An intradivisional loss to the Broncos factored into the tie-breaker. (Likely, that upset defeat still irks both Rivers and Gordon, who each had a big mental miscue to open Denver’s door.)
Rivers last directed his team to a West title in 2009, but Gordon improves the chances of ending that drought.
He’s less of a playmaker than Rams star Todd Gurley, a 2015 draft-classmate who got an extension that included $45 million in guaranteed money.
Then again, the knee issue that Gurley has developed since the ink dried could make his contract a Rams liability, although Gurley has looked sudden and smooth this month.
Give me Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliot over Gordon as well, due to his superior play speed, play strength, fluidity and health history.
Elliott is holding out this month, too.
Even so, between Gordon and a front office led by Tom Telesco, who traded up to draft Gordon 15th after the back’s 45-game career with Wisconsin, there seems much useful common ground.
Don’t ask me when a Gordon deal will happen, but expect Rivers and Gordon to team up for a fifth consecutive season.
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