Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon told reporters at SportsCon 2019 in Dallas (h/t Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk) that "you can't just replace a great back" in light of his current contract dispute with the Bolts.
"You can replace average backs," Gordon said. "Yeah, just plug them in. But a great back? You can't just replace a great back. People think you can do that. You can't. It will be a difference. It will be a difference, man. We do so much for people to even try to devalue us.
"We block. We've got to run the ball. We've got to pick up protections. We have to catch the ball. We have to do what receivers do. We have to do our thing. We have so much that goes through us.
"I tell people the hardest position outside of quarterback. ... That's the only position [that's harder] because you have to know so much. Outside of that, running back is the next hardest position on the field, and we should get paid as such."
Gordon also referenced the 2017 Dallas Cowboys' performance when running back Ezekiel Elliott sat six games due to a suspension. Dallas went 3-3 in his absence and 6-4 otherwise.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Gordon plans to sit out training camp and will demand a trade if he does not receive a new contract. Per Over the Cap, Gordon is set to make $5.6 million in 2019, the final year of his deal.
Damarius Bilbo, Gordon's agent, told Tom Pelissero of NFL Network that there's a "strong possibility" Gordon could sit into the regular season until his demands are met but that the back wanted to get something done before camp.
The Bolts hit the field for camp on July 25. Their first regular-season game is September 8 against the Indianapolis Colts at home.
Running backs aren't guaranteed a decade-plus in the league given the incredible wear and tear on their bodies, and Gordon has largely been tremendous for the Bolts.
He has every right to call for a far more lucrative contract given the potential that his career has a shorter shelf life coupled with his past success. The two-time Pro Bowler has amassed 4.372 scrimmage yards and 38 touchdowns in his past three years.
However, star NFL running backs have proven to be replaceable.
With Le'Veon Bell engaged in a holdout, Pittsburgh Steelers backup running back James Conner gained 4.5 yards per carry and 1,470 scrimmage yards alongside 13 touchdowns in 13 games last season.
Kansas City Chiefs running back Damien Williams stepped in for the released Kareem Hunt and gained 322 yards from scrimmage and scored four touchdowns in three straight regular-season games as the Chiefs averaged 31.3 points per outing.
C.J. Anderson came off the street in place of the injured Todd Gurley and ran for 299 yards and two touchdowns in the Los Angeles Rams' final two regular-season games. Playing as part of a committee alongside Gurley in the playoffs, Anderson toted the rock 23 times for 123 more yards and two scores in the divisional playoffs.
And the Chargers sported a 4-0 record with Gordon on the sidelines last year.
Granted, there can be very few exceptions to that rule. Running backs like the Chicago Bears' Walter Payton, the Cleveland Browns' Jim Brown and the Detroit Lions' Barry Sanders were truly among the game's best athletes and were invaluable to their teams. That soon may be the case for New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley, who had 2,028 scrimmage yards and 15 touchdowns in his rookie year.
But by and large, running backs are replaceable in a pass-happy league, and that may hurt Gordon's leverage in this spot.
Still, the Bolt back is one of the NFL's better offensive players, so it's certainly possible he ends up landing the deal he desired.