The Chargers have significant decisions to make regarding their pending unrestricted free agents, a group that numbers 13.
They also have to decide what — if anything — to do with another key player, one who is under contract: their No. 1 running back.
Melvin Gordon is entering the final season of a deal he signed after the Chargers took him with the 15th pick in the 2015 draft.
“He’s a three-down back and puts a lot of balls in the end zone for us, [scores] a lot of touchdowns,” general manager Tom Telesco said Thursday. “He’s a great player.”
Gordon is scheduled to make $5.6 million in 2019 after the team picked up his final-year option last offseason.
Last season, he led the Chargers with 885 yards and 10 touchdowns and also caught 50 passes for 490 yards and four touchdowns. But Gordon also sat out four games because of knee and hamstring injuries.
In January, Telesco said that he was open to considering an extension for Gordon this offseason, the timing similar to the Rams extending their top running back, Todd Gurley, at the opening of their 2018 training camp.
Gurley became the NFL’s highest-paid running back with his four-year, $60-million deal.
During Super Bowl week, Gordon said he that would not sign an extension until Le’Veon Bell had signed. After sitting out last season with the Pittsburgh Steelers in a contract dispute, Bell is set to become the top free-agent running back on the market.
Gordon, however, later recanted his claim about waiting on Bell and suggested he’d be open to re-signing with the Chargers immediately.
“We’ve got him and a number of other guys that we’ll look at extending at some point,” Telesco said. “I don’t have a timetable on those guys. But we’ve gotten to the point if we’re going to say our philosophy is to draft, develop and re-sign, we want to extend the guys we’d like to have back long-term.”
Telesco added that he doesn’t have “too many concerns” regarding Gordon’s durability. Gordon, who will turn 26 in April, appeared in all 16 games in 2017, finishing with career highs of 284 carries and 1,105 yards.
Most of his productivity last season came earlier in the season, before he injured his hamstring.
He and Austin Ekeler made for a formidable duo as coach Anthony Lynn attempted to ease the load on Gordon by sharing the carries. That’s a philosophy that Lynn, a former running back, plans to continue employing.
“I think any back in the league that touches the rock as much as he did, they’re going to have some injuries,” Lynn said. “That’s why I like to go with a tandem backfield.”
Gordon’s situation is particularly delicate because he is a popular player in the locker room and Chargers officials understand how they deal with him now could impact how his teammates view management’s fairness.
Lynn expressed confidence in how Gordon approaches his conditioning, noting that he is at the team’s facility in Costa Mesa daily.
He also said that, despite the running back finishing the season wearing two knee braces, it was undetectable from the sidelines.
“He does a good job taking care of himself,” Lynn said. “That’s what’s encouraging about Melvin. … When it’s time to play, he will be ready and he makes a difference. We missed him when he wasn’t out there.”
The Chargers have one of the NFL’s most electric performers in safety Derwin James, who earned All-Pro honors as a rookie.
This week on social media, a video surfaced of another rather electrifying moment from James. He was seen soaring through the air and dunking a basketball.
“That was a hell of a dunk, wasn’t it?” Lynn said, laughing. “I just saw that yesterday. I haven’t had a chance to talk to him yet. We’ll save some of those [conversations] for during the season.”
James appeared to be playing in a pickup game at a local fitness center. He dunked two-handed after taking a pass off the backboard, the assist coming from Casey Hayward, one of the Chargers’ starting cornerbacks.
“I encourage my guys to cross-train,” Lynn said. “But there are just some things I’d rather you not do. Like ski, ride motorcycles, dunk off the backboard. He’s a young, athletic young man, so he’ll learn.”
The Kansas City Chiefs recently asked quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the NFL’s 2018 most valuable player, to stop playing basketball after a social-media video emerged of him showing off his ball-handling skills.
“I think NFL players have probably been playing offseason basketball since before Vince Lombardi, so I know it happens,” Telesco said. “I’m not thrilled about it. But you just want guys to be educated in what the risks are, and hopefully they stay safe.”
Telesco said that he would talk to representatives of tight end Antonio Gates while at the NFL combine.
The veteran said after the season that he would like to re-sign with the Chargers for another season, but with the return of Hunter Henry from injury and the presence of veteran starter Virgil Green, the Chargers might not have room for Gates.
Telesco also said that he has talked to Jason Verrett and his agent and said the Chargers could re-sign the former Pro Bowl cornerback. Verrett sat out last season after suffering a torn Achilles and has appeared in only five games over the last three seasons because of injuries.
“We’ll kind of see where it goes,” Telesco said. “The fact of us knowing him — knowing the type of player he is and knowing the type of person he is — certainly it would [factor in Verrett returning].”