Best Potential Landing Spots, Trade Packages for Chargers Star Melvin Gordon
Melvin Gordon III will not report to training camp and will demand a trade if he doesn't get a new contract, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. The Los Angeles Chargers should oblige and ship the running back elsewhere.
Gordon's agent Damarius Bilbo told NFL Network's Tom Pelissero a "strong possibility" exists the running back sits out into the regular season without a new, market-value deal.
"But we want to focus on getting something done before training camp," Bilbo added. "There's a long way to go to Week 1."
The emphasis on a "market-value" deal is the crux of the issue. Gordon will enter the final year of his rookie contract as the NFL's 11th-highest-paid running back, according to Over the Cap. He watched the running back market reset over the last two years as Devonta Freeman, Todd Gurley and Le'Veon Bell signed deals over $41 million in total worth. Gurley and Bell's contracts both broke the $50 million barrier.
Gordon is an elite running back.
According to Pro Football Focus, Gordon received the only grade over 80 against stacked boxes (eight or more defenders near the line of scrimmage) last season. The 2015 first-round pick amassed 3,628 rushing yards, 182 catches, 1,577 receiving yards and 38 total touchdowns in his first four seasons. Since 2016, Gordon ranks fourth in yards from scrimmage and tied for second in rushing touchdowns, per 247Sports' Allan Bell.
The Chargers, meanwhile, feature quality backfield depth in Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson and Detrez Newsome. In fact, Ekeler graded among the top seven running backs last season in overall grade (83.6), elusive rating (67.6), yards per carry (5.23) and yards per target (7.62), per PFF's Scott Barrett.
The organization could recoup a significant asset, likely a draft pick or two, in exchange for Gordon. Five other franchises should already be on the phone to see if they can pry the two-time Pro Bowler from the Chargers.
"If we'd gotten a respectable offer, we wouldn't be here," Bilbo told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport (via NFL.com's Kevin Patra). "But he felt disrespected."
The Buffalo Bills feature a deep, albeit aging, backfield. LeSean McCoy (who turns 31 on Friday) and Frank Gore (36) are no longer the runners they once were, and the Bills shouldn't go into the regular season with those lead options if another possibility exists.
McCoy put up career lows last season with 514 rushing yards, 3.2 yards per attempt and 36.7 rushing yards per game. Age and a decline in production are only parts of the problem, though. McCoy remains one of the league's highest-paid backs. The 10-year veteran holds a $9.05 million salary-cap hit this year, according to Spotrac. The Bills can save $6.43 million by releasing McCoy and put it toward other options, like the possibility of trading for Gordon.
General manager Brandon Beane signed Gore this offseason to serve as a mentor and tone-setter. He's not going to be a featured portion of the Bills offense.
Buffalo acquired a pair of younger options this offseason in T.J. Yeldon and Devin Singletary, the latter of whom the organization drafted in the third round. Neither is expected to be a featured back as training camp looms.
The Bills own a strong running back stable, but it could be drastically better with Gordon's acquisition. A Pro Bowl runner in his prime will help take the onus off second-year quarterback Josh Allen and provide a legitimate weapon opposing defenses must account for on a down-by-down basis. The Bills lack an offensive player of that caliber.
Gordon Compensation: 2020 fourth-round draft pick, offensive lineman LaAdrian Waddle and defensive end Shaq Lawson
In return, the Chargers receive competition at right tackle, depth behind Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, and an early Day 3 draft pick, much like the Miami Dolphins received for Jarvis Landry.
The Chicago Bears serve as a perfect example of how the running back market has drastically changed in recent years. The Bears' leading rusher last season, Jordan Howard, demanded little on the trade market. In March, general manager Ryan Pace sent Howard to the Philadelphia Eagles for a 2020 sixth-round draft pick.
The Bears didn't negotiate from a point of strength because Howard didn't fit their offensive scheme.
"It gives you options," head coach Matt Nagy told the media of his current stable of running backs. "They're all weapons. They can play on every down. You feel good about where they're at, and as coaches we've got to figure out exactly what [they're best at], and then there's only so many touches, so we have to balance that."
Tarik Cohen, Mike Davis and this year's third-round draft pick, David Montgomery, are versatile options who will benefit from a wide-open offense that will use all three as runners and receivers.
Why not invest in one of the league's better dual-threat backs? In his first four seasons, Gordon has averaged 45.5 receptions, including a pair of 50-catch campaigns in 2017 and '18.
Cohen is an excellent receiver out of the backfield with 124 receptions in his first two seasons, but he's not an every-down back. Davis is more of a downhill runner, while Montgomery has yet to establish himself.
Nagy and senior offensive assistant Brad Childress saw Gordon twice a year during their time as assistants for the Kansas City Chiefs. They know exactly what the running back can bring to their offense.
Gordon Compensation: 2020 second-round draft pick
A year ago, the Bears leaped at the opportunity to add a defensive difference-maker in Khalil Mack. Gordon won't command nearly as much, but the Bears have an extra second-round pick to use if they feel the same about the running back.
Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers don't need Gordon, per se, but his presence in the lineup will help solve some uncertainty in the backfield.
Much like the Bills and Bears, starting options are already on the roster, but the opportunity to add a Pro Bowl runner to an improving offense is tempting.
Aaron Jones appears on the verge of big things in Matt LaFleur's new offense.
"We've run outside zone in previous years here, so that's what we're running, and I feel good in this scheme," the 24-year-old back said, per ESPN's Rob Demovsky. "It's a lot of things I've seen before, so it's nothing new to me. We take a look on film and see how it's worked in other systems, so it just gets me very excited."
But the third-year back hasn't shouldered the load, and LaFleur told reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine: "What we want to do is assemble or offense through the running game. I think it takes a lot of pressure off the quarterback."
The first-time head coach did exactly that last season as the Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator. The team shifted midseason toward a run-first approach to feature Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis. The two-back approach is important because the Packers can add Gordon and still utilize Jones.
With an emphasis on the ground game and running back rotation, Gordon can help make the Packers offense far more dynamic.
Gordon Compensation: 2020 third-round pick and safety Josh Jones
The Chargers' safety depth is arguably the league's best with Derwin James, Rayshawn Jenkins, Adrian Phillips, Jaylen Watkins and this year's second-round draft pick, Nasir Adderley, but Jones presents more position flexibility as a safety/linebacker hybrid.
While Miller has averaged 981 rushing yards per season since the start of the 2014 campaign, he is far from a top running back. Gordon came into the league in 2015, and the two have averaged nearly the same rushing yards per game with a slight edge to the current Charger, while Gordon has 43 more receptions and 10 more scores.
Two other factors favor Gordon.
First, he's two years younger than Miller. The Texans' current starter turned 28 in April and isn't under contract for the 2020 campaign.
The final point leads to the second issue: Miller isn't a long-term solution. The Texans can cut ties this year and save $6.2 million to offset the acquisition of a possible replacement.
The biggest selling point for acquiring Gordon is his ability to make defenders miss. The Texans featured the NFL's worst offensive line last season, and the group didn't receive significant additions, at least in the short term. The Texans offensive line isn't a powerful unit at the point of attack. That's not going to change with the additions of Matt Kalil and rookies Tytus Howard and Max Scharping.
Gordon created 41 missed tackles last season. He can provide a different element since Miller isn't nearly as elusive.
Gordon Compensation: 2020 third-round pick and tight end Jordan Akins
Hunter Henry's return makes the Chargers offense significantly better, but Akins' inclusion—thanks to the Texans' impressive tight end depth—provides an insurance policy if Henry experiences a setback from last year's torn ACL or suffers further injury.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Head coach Bruce Arians plans to lean on the duo of Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones II. Arians went as far as telling reporters Barber is "the kind [of back] I want to build around." The coach also identified Jones as a standout performer during organized team activities.
Maybe the duo flourishes in the new offensive scheme, but the Buccaneers would be far better served by acquiring a proven veteran in his prime to solidify the running game.
The Buccaneers haven't had a 1,000-yard back since the 2015 campaign. Barber's 871 rushing yards were the most by an individual over the last three seasons.
Tampa Bay's lack of financial flexibility is the biggest obstacle to trading for Gordon. The Buccaneers have $8.36 million in available salary-cap space, which likely isn't enough to take him on at his preferred price.
As such, some roster manipulation is necessary to make something happen. It'll likely come through the inclusion of a significant contract that still appeals to the Chargers.
Gordon Compensation: Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and 2020 sixth-round pick
The deal serves as a swap of former top draft picks. Hargreaves is only 24 years old, plays a premium position and remains under contract through the 2020 campaign (since Tampa Bay exercised his rookie fifth-year option). The Chargers are strong in the secondary, but a team can never have too many talented corners, and Hargreaves could use a change of venue after three up-and-down campaigns.