Melvin Gordon supported Le’Veon Bell from afar as his fellow running back stood his ground for the right contract while Pittsburgh Steelers fans and teammates turned against him.
Gordon, who’s always in top shape, breathes football, but he understood why Bell sat out regular-season games for the Steelers.
Last fall, with “Sports Illustrated” cameras filming, Melvin Gordon Sr. asked his son if he thought Bell would miss the entire 2018 season.
“Yes, sir,” Gordon told his father. “I would too. Come back and get hurt, why? Gave y’all everything he had for about five, six years. Y’all can’t pay the man?”
Gordon probably didn’t envision himself being in the same situation a year later, even as he approached the final year of rookie contract. Why would he?
There was no rift with Chargers management. Gordon enjoys being in Los Angeles. He’s beloved in the locker room and younger players gravitate toward him. And there’s a championship-caliber roster surrounding him and quarterback Philip Rivers.
Even now, after he threatened to skip training camp and demand a trade if he didn’t get an extension in the coming weeks, he posts videos and pictures on social media of him wearing the Chargers logo, just like he constantly did days before his agents told the media he wasn’t happy with the lack of contract negotiations.
It was a bold tactic to make it public. Perhaps a messy one that would upset the Chargers, who have declined to comment on the situation. It surely didn’t sit well with many Chargers fans, and it’s rare when players are able to return after demanding a trade, which Gordon hasn’t technically done.
But the ploy had to be done in Gordon’s eyes, and if it had to be done, it was the perfect time to strike.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter broke Gordon’s surprising demands at 6:52 a.m. Wednesday on arguably the slowest sports day of the year. For the next 12 hours, before a certain NBA trade regained the spotlight, Gordon and the Chargers had the nation’s attention, a rarity for the franchise.
But if step one was attention, then step two had to be for Gordon to move to the top of the Chargers’ priority list. Gordon and his agents gave the Chargers until July 24, when the team reports for training camp, to agree on an extension or the trade demand becomes real.
Damarius Bilbo, one of Gordon’s agents, told the NFL Network they had received a “disrespectful” offer and “talks had been dead.”
It’s possible the Chargers prioritized re-signing Rivers, who is entering the final year of his deal, and defensive end Joey Bosa, who still has two years left on his rookie contract, but maybe the team wanted to get a head start. Getting Bosa to agree to a rookie contract in 2016 was a difficult process, and paying elite pass rushers is never easy.
The Chargers likely assumed they had time with Gordon. He’s owed $5.6 million for his fifth year this upcoming season and the team can franchise tag him if necessary for 2020.
But Gordon wasn’t going to allow the Chargers to add miles on his body without a full commitment and decided to put pressure on them early.
So if Gordon got to step two and they’re atop general manager Tom Telesco’s to-do list, then the final step is to strike a deal before the deadline. If that doesn’t happen, are the Chargers really going to trade away one of their best players on a team with Super Bowl aspirations in 2019?
Imagine telling a 37-year-old Rivers, who hasn’t played in a Super Bowl, that his best weapon got shipped to another team for a future draft pick that doesn’t help him this season.
Bell didn’t have that type of leverage in Pittsburgh. The goal is always to win a Super Bowl, but Ben Roethlisberger has two rings and the Steelers have six. Rivers and the Chargers combine for zero.
Should he get paid? You be the judge pic.twitter.com/QW5ewdzqfW
— NFL Total Access (@NFLTotalAccess) July 11, 2019
Maybe Telesco is able to sign a quality running back off the street to go with Austin Ekeler and trade Gordon for quality offensive linemen. But what is the trade market like for a running back seeking top-tier money?
And if the Chargers decide to trade Gordon – a player who did all the right things off the field, showed up for mandatory minicamp and team media day, and played hurt last year – what does that tell the rest of the team? That’s not a good look when it comes to other contract negotiations.
Maybe it doesn’t affect them with Bosa and tight end Hunter Henry. They haven’t received a second contract. But it could with wide receiver Keenan Allen and defensive end Melvin Ingram, two close friends of Gordon. Their extensions expire in two seasons.
Left tackle Russell Okung, a member of the NFL Players Association and a vocal advocate for players to receive better pay, will surely be watching closely to see how the Gordon situation plays out. His contract is also up in 2021.
That’s a lot of players seeking new deals over the next two years. The Chargers’ best shot at a Super Bowl might be in 2019 and their odds likely decrease without Gordon.
It’s a tough position for the Chargers, who have done everything right in recent years. They’ve drafted well and hit a home run with the hiring of coach Anthony Lynn.
But Gordon has to look out for himself and perhaps for the rest of the running backs who put their bodies on the line only to be tossed aside after a rookie deal.
This could be a messy situation that lingers into the season. But for now, Gordon has leverage and he timed it perfectly.