Melvin Gordon contract saga: Holdout timetable revealed, trade talks rumors, what it means for gambling, fantasy

Ezekiel Elliott's highly publicized holdout with the Dallas Cowboys finally ended with a record deal, but what about Melvin Gordon's? Will there be a conclusion soon for the Los Angeles Chargers running back?

Gordon announced in July he was seeking a new contract, a raise from the $5.6 million he's receiving in 2019. If Gordon doesn't get his wish, he wants to be traded from the Chargers -- a request he reportedly made. Unlike the Cowboys, the Chargers' Super Bowl hopes don't rely on Gordon (although they do improve if he's on the football field instead of training elsewhere). 

The Chargers and Gordon appear to be in a stalemate in contract negotiations, and as CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora reports, the holdout is expected to last into the regular season. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport added later on Saturday that Gordon has been given permission to seek a trade.

According to The MMQB's Albert Breer, the Eagles were the only team to propose a deal for Gordon in recent days, offering former Chicago Bears running back Jordan Howard and a swap of mid-round draft picks in exchange for the disgruntled ball-carrier. Trade talks between the Eagles and Chargers were "more conceptual" than serious on Philly's end, per Breer, and L.A. "obviously said no."

While speaking to reporters on a conference call on Sunday, Los Angeles general manager Tom Telesco replayed that extension talks with Gordon, who is currently holding out for a new contract, will be suspended until after the season

The Chargers appear willing to employ a running back-by-committee approach with Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson. While the Chargers are taking a risk with Ekeler, they would like to see if the former undrafted free agent can handle regular snaps as the No. 1 running back. 

Not to mention the Chargers could add an outside option at a much cheaper rate, someone like LeSean McCoy, who was released by the Buffalo Bills Saturday. McCoy is capable of handling No. 1 running back carries, making Ekeler more effective as the change-of-pace back like he was the past two seasons. 

The 26-year-old Gordon has been a touchdown machine over the last three years, reaching double-digit touchdowns twice and scoring 28 total in that span. Gordon only has one 1,000-yard season in that stretch due to missing seven games with various injuries, but he has also racked up at least 400 yards receiving in each of his last three seasons. Gordon has a 4.0 yards per carry average in his career, only topping the 4.0 mark once in four seasons (5.1 last year). 

So we beg to ask the question -- how did Gordon and the Chargers get to this point? 

The Chargers made an offer to Gordon, but he rejected it 

Los Angeles was committed to pay Gordon, reportedly higher than the $8.25 million per year Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman makes and lower than the $13 million per season David Johnson gets from the Arizona Cardinals. The three highest-paid running backs are, in order, Todd Gurley (Los Angeles Rams, $14.375 million per year), Le'Veon Bell (New York Jets, $13.125 million), and Johnson ($13 million). After those three, Freeman is fourth...showcasing the significant dropoff in pay after the top three backs in the league. Gordon would land somewhere in the middle as the fourth-highest paid running back in football, but running back contracts have been on the upswing over the past few years. 

It's hard to blame Gordon for asking for higher than $13 million per year when Bell and Gurley recently signed deals over that amount. Gurley earned $45 million guaranteed, but that number isn't practical. Bell getting $27 million guaranteed after sitting out a season is around what Gordon is likely seeking, taking care of his financial future after signing his second deal. 

Gordon has at least some leverage

Gordon is willing to extend his holdout into the season and the reason why is simple -- if the Chargers struggle out of the gate, Gordon has much more leverage to get the contract he desires. Los Angeles's first four games are against the Indianapolis Colts, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, and Miami Dolphins, three of those teams finished in the top-10 of rush defense last year. They could certainly use Gordon in those games. 

Unlike Ezekiel Elliott, Gordon is on his fifth-year option as a first-round draft pick from 2015. He has already accrued four years of service time, so he'll be eligible for free agency after the season no matter how long he holds out. The Chargers won't get anywhere near the value Gordon is worth if they trade him, so they are calling Gordon's bluff and banking on winning while he's out. Gordon is costing himself money in free agency by holding out but saving his legs as well for his second contract. For a player with an injury history like Gordon, sitting out may be beneficial. 

Why the Chargers won't pay Gordon what he is seeking

The Chargers have compiled a talented roster over the past few years, giving franchise quarterback Philip Rivers his best roster since the late 2000s when the Chargers finished 14-2 and were the No. 1 seed in the AFC (2006) and reached the AFC Championship Game (2007). While it would be beneficial for Rivers to have Gordon around, Rivers is also a free agent after this year. The Chargers need to work out a contract extension with Rivers.

Not only is Rivers due to receive a deal, but the Chargers also have to work out deals with Keenan Allen and Joey Bosa over the next few years. Melvin Ingram is also a free agent after the 2021 season, so the Chargers have to watch their salary cap...which is why the offer to Gordon is probably around the $10 million average annual value range. It's time for Gordon to get paid, but the Chargers have to think about their other stars as well. 

Not to mention, it probably doesn't help that Rivers has already gone on the record saying that while the Chargers love Gordon, they are going to go with what they've got -- "a pretty dang good group" behind him.

Chargers grant Gordon ability to seek a trade

On August 31st, with the clock ticking on the start of the 2019 regular season, the Chargers granted Gordon's agent permission to seek a trade, according to Ian Rapoport. This was the first major play by the Chargers brass the suggested the sides could be so far off that Los Angeles has already moved forward with a roster plan that doesn't involve their former first-round draft pick.

An anonymous team is involved in trade talks

According to ESPN's Josina Anderson, one unnamed team has been in preliminary communication with the Chargers in an attempt to vet out a potential trade for Gordon. There have been no further updates on who that team may be and if the trade discussions have materialized any further. It's possible they ended the minute said team heard exactly what the Chargers are seeking as trade compensation. Speaking of compensation...

Chargers trade demands are reportedly steep

According to a league source close to Pro Football Talk, the Chargers and general manager Tom Telesco are reportedly seeking a first and fifth-round draft pick in exchange for Gordon. Any team that acquires Gordon will also have to allocate a large chunk of their present and future salary cap space in order to re-sign the running back to a long-term contract. 

Chargers shut down contract talks until the end of the 2019 season

Just hours after granting Gordon's camp the ability to seek a trade, Chargers general manager Tom Telesco informed the running back that the team will shut down contract negotiations until the end of the season, via Daniel Popper. This drastically limits Gordon's options. The running back can choose to accept the offer on the table -- if it's still out there -- to sign a long-term deal with Los Angeles. If he is still seeking a better deal, Gordon can holdout into the regular season and miss games. The ball is now in his court. It's his decision to make. 

Gordon will lose his weekly game check of $330,000 for every game he holds out in the regular season. It's important to note that his situation is different than Le'Veon Bell's was in 2018. Although Gordon could opt to not risk a long-term injury -- impacting a future contract -- by holding out -- he can't miss the entire season. Gordon would need to report to Los Angeles by Week 10 in order for this season to count toward his free agency. If he doesn't show up before then, the Chargers will get another year of team control over the running back.

Where things go from here; what Chargers plan to do

Bottom line: Gordon and the Chargers are at a stalemate. Gordon saw the lucrative deals Gurley and Bell received over the past year and wants a piece of the pie too. he's waiting to see what Elliott gets paid from the Cowboys and how the market changes (again) for running backs, giving him an opportunity to make even more money than what the Chargers offered him. Elliott's holdout with the Cowboys hurts the Chargers having Gordon with the team for the regular season, as he will wait until that deal is complete (whenever that will be). Gordon is nowhere near Elliott's level, nor will he get paid even close to what Elliott is going to make. He can sure try to up his market and his contract demands, but at the end of the day, he'll end up making more than Freeman and less than Bell...at least from the Chargers. 

The Chargers are prepared to move on with 2017 undrafted free agent Austin Ekeler, who is in line for more snaps and has been an excellent change-of-pace back to Gordon over the last two years. Ekeler has a 5.3 yards per carry average in his career, having 106 carries for 554 yards and three touchdowns in 2018. Ekeler started three-games in place of Gordon (injury) but had 40 carries for 129 yards and a touchdown (3.3 yards per carry). Ekeler isn't the same player as the No. 1 running back, but the Chargers are willing to see more work out of him than just a three-game sample. 

The Chargers will go with Justin Jackson to back up Ekeler, as the 2018 seventh-round pick had 50 carries for 206 yards and two touchdowns as the No. 3 back his rookie season. Jackson has been consistent this preseason as the No. 2 back, creating a running back-by-committee for Los Angeles. The Chargers only have to pay Ekeler and Jackson a combined $1.215 million, taking away significant leverage from Gordon if they perform. 

Recently, Chargers general manager Tom Telesco admitted he doesn't currently have a solution to end the Gordon holdout -- and that didn't sound promising.

On Thursday, coach Lynn confirmed the Chargers will use a committee approach at running back in Gordon's absence. Lynn provided further details on what to expect at running back for the Chargers in Week 1 of the 2019 regular season -- as Gordon sits.

Gordon has plans for when the holdout will end

According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, Gordon will not follow in the footsteps of Le'Veon Bell before him. Instead, the 26-year-old running back plans to end his holdout around the midseason point, with his eye on returning after 6-8 weeks have gone by. According to the NFL's free agency rules, Gordon will need to report to the Chargers no later than Week 10 of the 2019 regular season if he wants to accrue another season towards free agency. In other words, Gordon will have to report by then or he will be faced with this same contract dilemma all over again in 2020.

Teams that could trade for Gordon

Putting on the general manager hat for a second. Why would the Chargers trade Gordon for pennies on the dollar when they have the entire 2019 season to negotiate with him in the hopes of getting a deal done. That's not including the offseason, where they have exclusive negotiating rights with Gordon until March. 

But if the Chargers decide Gordon is not worth the money or they reach an impasse with him and can't sign Gordon long team, they test the trade market and see what they can get for Gordon. Los Angeles has to seek at least a third-round pick for Gordon since that's what the Texans traded for Duke Johnson in August.

Ironically, the Texans lost Lamar Miller for the season in Week 3 of the preseason and they are a team that could use Gordon's services. Houston says it's fine with the current group of backs it got, but Gordon makes the Texans better. About a month ago, the Texans were linked to Gordon in a trade rumor, but they traded for the much cheaper Carlos Hyde on cut day. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers could also use an upgrade at running back, as Gordon would clearly be the No. 1 over Peyton Barber

Fantasy ramifications of an extended holdout

How does Gordon's holdout affect where he should be drafted in fantasy football? For those that didn't have their draft yet, here is some advice from CBS Sports Fantasy Editor Ben Gretch and CBS Sports Fantasy Writer Chris Towers: 

If Gordon is present Week 1: "This changes whether or not he has a new deal, but there were already concerns about Gordon before he started his holdout. Apart from the difficulty that Gordon has had staying healthy for 16 games, Ekeler and Jackson represent the best tandem of backups the Chargers have had in Gordon's career. There's reason to believe they'd manage his workload, especially now that he's missed the entire offseason program. If they sign him to something long-term, that is even more likely, making him more of a second-round pick. If he returns without a deal, there's potential they'll use him heavily knowing he's likely to walk at the end of the year. Health would be a concern, but he'd be a viable pick at the end of Round 1 or early in Round 2." -- Gretch

If Gordon just misses September: "Gordon missing just a month at this point seems like it could be something close to a best-case scenario. He sits out a few weeks, gets his new contract, and comes back rested and ready to go with the team fully invested in him. Gordon has dealt with more significant injuries to his knees in the last few years than his reputation suggests — they've all tended to come late in the season — so a month less of pounding might not be a bad thing. You can't necessarily draft Gordon with this expectation, but if he is back by October, you're going to end up with one of the best steals on Draft Day if you get him in the fifth or sixth rounds." -- Towers

If Gordon misses both September and October: "I might be overplaying the risk, but this is the current assumption I'm operating under. And if this happens, there are additional elements that could be introduced. At that point, the Chargers would know full well Gordon is just there to qualify as a free agent at the end of the season. If their other backs are producing, it's possible they could respond to that by not exactly welcoming Gordon back with open arms and giving him the lead back role. Gordon's conditioning would play into that, and he might be brought along slowly. Of course, they might also see no reason not to use Gordon heavily, knowing they won't be footing the bill for his next contract. I probably wouldn't be willing to take Gordon until the sixth round in this scenario as a late-season high-upside bet, but I'm not sure I'd be able to use him right after he reports." -- Gretch 

How Gordon affects Super Bowl odds

The Chargers have won a playoff game with Gordon on their roster, last season against the Baltimore Ravens (the first time the Chargers make the playoffs with Gordon). In Gordon's four years in the league, he has 3,628 yards and 28 touchdowns (4.0 yards per carry) in 55 games. The Chargers are 26-29 in the 55 games Gordon has played, but 17-11 over the last two years. Gordon has just 26 carries for 55 yards and two touchdowns in two playoff games, but he was the player opposing defenses focused on stopping. He also played two of the top scoring defenses in that 2018 postseason. 

Gordon has been used a lot over the last two years, but also has been very good under head coach Anthony Lynn. He has compiled 459 carries for 1,990 yards and 18 touchdowns (4.4 yards per carry) while having 108 catches for 966 yards and eight touchdowns. Gordon was fifth in the NFL in yards from scrimmage in 2017 and 10th in 2016, showcasing his value to the Chargers. When Gordon missed his four games in 2018, the Chargers went 4-0 in his absence. 

The Chargers were productive without Gordon in the lineup, but his value is also important to franchise quarterback Philip Rivers. Los Angeles had just 84 rushing yards per game when Gordon wasn't in the lineup, compared to 128.1 when Gordon was on the field. That's a huge difference and takes all the pressure off Rivers to carry the Chargers to a win, creating a more balanced attack for a run-first coach like Lynn. 

Taking Gordon out of the equation impacts the Chargers' game plan, which results in more passing yards and touchdowns from Rivers. The Chargers had 376.6 pass yards per game in 2017 and 372.6 in 2018, with Gordon playing in 28 of those 32 games. Rivers can carry the offense without Gordon, but keep in mind he's thrown just 22 interceptions over the past two years compared to 21 in 2016. Rivers may be willing to take more risks without Gordon in the fold and the run game taking a drop off. 

According to SportsLine, the Chargers are 18/1 odds to win the Super Bowl without Gordon. The same number as the Dallas Cowboys without Ezekiel Elliott. If the Chargers want to compete for a first-round bye in the AFC and beat the Kanas City Chiefs for the AFC West title, they're going to need Gordon this season. 

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