Just a week before the season opener, the discord between the Chargers and Melvin Gordon grew even colder Sunday when the team announced it was ending negotiations on a contract extension.
General manager Tom Telesco said he informed the running back’s representatives that with Week 1 beginning, any such talks would be suspended until after the year.
“When, or if, Melvin reports,” Telesco said, “he’ll play under his current contract and then we’ll just revisit it after the season.”
Without Gordon, the Chargers will go into their Sept. 8 opener against Indianapolis with Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson as their top running backs. Ekeler had been Gordon’s backup and proved a capable complement to the 2018 Pro Bowler. He finished last season with 554 yards rushing and 404 yards receiving.
Jackson, entering his second year, played on special teams as a rookie before he emerged as an option on offense and made notable contributions toward the end of the season.
“This is the group we’ve had all through OTAs and through training camp,” Telesco said. “We’re confident and excited about them with the opportunity they have.”
Gordon is scheduled to make $5.6 million in the final year of his rookie deal. He is seeking an extension that would pay him closer to what the NFL’s top backs are paid, a figure approaching $13 million per year.
The Chargers have been offering something in the $10-million range and neither side has shown much willingness to budge.
As has been his custom, Gordon missed the team’s offseason program but reported for minicamp in early June. Though he has remained in contact with some teammates, that’s the last time many of them saw Gordon.
On Saturday, the club gave his representatives permission to seek a trade as his holdout stretches into its sixth week.
The Chargers also will enter the season without left tackle Russell Okung and safety Derwin James. Okung has been sidelined since suffering a pulmonary embolism in June and will miss at least the first six weeks on the non-football illness list. James will miss several weeks after suffering a stress fracture in his foot.
“There is no season you’re going to go through 17 weeks not having an injury issue, not having a player issue,” Telesco said. “It’s inevitable. ... These are ours right now.
“But we’re going to be just fine. Between [coach] Anthony Lynn, our coaching staff, our players, they are very focused. ... Any obstacle that we face, we’ll find a way to hurdle it and get on to the next one.”
The contract impasses of Gordon and Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott have remained league-wide stories throughout the preseason, each running back trying to use his absence as leverage.
But while Elliott’s situation has shown signs of softening, Gordon and the Chargers remain entrenched in their respective positions.
Under terms of the collective bargaining agreement, Gordon must be on the team for six games this season to accrue another year for free agency purposes.
That means, unlike Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell last season, he is unlikely to sit out the entire year.
Gordon has led the Chargers in rushing attempts in each of his four seasons. He reached his career high of 284 in 2017.
While suggesting that he was comfortable with the idea of Ekeler serving as an every down back, Telesco explained that both he and Jackson will play.
“Those two guys are going to work in tandem with each other,” Telesco said. “I think the day and age of having one running back carry it 300 times is probably not the smartest thing in the world anyway.”
The Chargers will continue to monitor Okung on a weekly basis. His treatment includes blood thinners, which makes playing football an impossibility.
Though Telesco said the team is “encouraged” by Okung’s progress, there is no guarantee that the veteran will play this season.
“We’ll just continue to listen to the doctors and see where he is,” Telesco said. “This type of injury is unique. We don’t see it very often in football. It’s very open-ended right now.”
Derwin James placed on IR
The Chargers placed James on injured reserve and re-signed Jaylen Watkins.
An All-Pro last season, James had surgery Aug. 22. The initial timeline for his return is three to four months, meaning at the earliest, he’ll be back in the second half of November.
Watkins was released Saturday but remained a valuable option because of his ability to play multiple positions in the secondary.
The Chargers signed the following players to their practice squad: wide receivers Andre Patton and Jason Moore; offensive linemen Chris Brown and Spencer Drango; running back Detrez Newsome; cornerback Kemon Hall; defensive end Anthony Lanier and tight end Matt Sokol.
They also are expected to sign wide receiver Artavis Scott to the practice squad Monday.