Ezekiel Elliott, Melvin Gordon holdouts: Here's what makes these star-RB situations so vastly different

Melvin Gordon is a really good NFL running back, but he's not Ezekiel Elliott.

This is obvious to many, but it's not stopping Gordon from attempting to leverage a holdout against the Los Angeles Chargers as he seeks a new contract. The former first-round pick is entering the final year of a rookie deal that's set to pay him $5.6 million, but wants to secure his longterm future with the Chargers as opposed to becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2020. The latest reports have the team offering Gordon a deal that averages a little more than $10 million annually, but that's not been enough to get their starting RB back in the building -- with the relationship having now devolved to the point where Gordon will likely miss regular season games in lieu of a new contract.

His agent went as far as demanding a trade in early August as well, but was stonewalled by the team.

Contrarily, there's Elliott, whose situation is different than Gordon's on nearly every level. Gordon alluded to Elliott's value when I spoke to him in July, noting what happened to the Cowboys in 2017 when Elliott was not on the field during a six-game suspension. The numbers support that argument if you're Elliott, but ironically, not if the person saying it is Gordon. The Chargers have a promising backfield in the absence of Gordon and a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Philip Rivers, neither of which are applicable in Dallas.

Dak Prescott is a fourth-year talent still working to turn the proverbial corner as an elite QB, and outside of the excitement being generated by rookie fourth-round pick Tony Pollard, the Cowboys' backfield consists of an aged Alfred Morris, two practice squad talents in Darius Jackson and Jordan Chunn, and another rookie in fifth-round pick Mike Weber who has been mostly unimpressive thus far in his first two preseason outings. Pollard could potentially combine with Morris to at least slow the bleeding of not having Elliott around, but it's fair to say the Cowboys need Elliott to dire levels.

The Chargers, however, don't truly need Gordon -- although they'd love to have him onboard.

Rivers is hot off of the 10th 4,000-yard season of his career, also throwing for 32 touchdowns to only 12 interceptions in 2018. The eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback has proven he can carry the load, and probably wouldn't mind being asked to do it again -- particularly as he plays out his contract and approaches free agency in 2020 -- along with a variety of potential talent that's bubbling to take the next step in their respective careers. One such player is Austin Ekeler, who delivered 958 yards from scrimmage and six TDs last season as a flex back, and second-year talent Justin Jackson added another 341 scrimmage yards and two TDs to the mix.

In the first two preseason games for the Chargers this year, Justin is averaging 4.2 yards per carry, as the team appears to be grooming him for a bigger workload this season.

Also working against Gordon is the fact he's not a market-setting talent, but Elliott is. The latter can openly command money that equals or exceeds that of Todd Gurley, but the former shouldn't and won't crack the top-three when it's all said and done. The third highest-paid RB in the league is David Johnson of the Arizona Cardinals, with Le'Veon Bell at No. 2 and Gurley owning the throne, and even with the Cardinals' offensive issues that have hampered Johnson after his stellar 2016 season -- he's still better than Gordon and in position now under Kilff Kingsbury to have another breakout year.

In looking at the top four running backs in the league, no matter the variation of subjectivity, it can't be argued that short list includes Elliott, Gurley, Bell and Johnson. This leaves Gordon as fighting to prove he's fifth-best ahead of Devonta Freeman -- who's earns an average of $8.25 million annually with the Falcons. This and more is why talks are moving well on the Elliott front, but the complete opposite for Gordon. 

It's because no matter how you slice it, the value of Elliott will get him a lot more bread -- and respect -- than his counterpart in Los Angeles.

The Cowboys have reportedly upped their offer to Elliott, hoping to make him the second highest-paid RB in the NFL. Even if that's not quite enough to get the deal done, it's close, and very far from the smaller pile of money -- and leverage -- Gordon is trying to maneuver with and around. Additionally, head coach Jason Garrett outright needs his most potent weapon this season, given the fact he's also coaching for his job, and will soon begin lobbying quite passionately behind the scenes to help get the deal done. There is, however, no such thing occurring in the City of Angels.

All of this is why the safe bet is Elliott playing in Week 1, but Gordon maybe not at all in 2019.

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