He returned bringing with him two Pro Bowl selections, a 1,000-yard season and 38 touchdowns, and that’s just over the past three years.
Melvin Gordon brought something else notable Thursday when he rejoined the Chargers.
“We got a little swag back in the room,” fellow running back Austin Ekeler said. “You know Mel. He’s got that factor to him. Good to see Mel back in the office. We got one of our playmakers back.”
Gordon ended his contract holdout after nine weeks, returning without the extension he was seeking but with plenty of time to further prove his value.
He passed his physical and worked out on the field with his teammates, the Chargers securing a two-week roster exemption to evaluate Gordon’s readiness to appear in a game.
He is not expected to play Sunday when the Chargers visit Miami. More likely, Gordon will make his 2019 debut on Oct. 6 against Denver at Dignity Health Sports Park.
“He’s in a good state of mind,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “His teammates were excited. Just can’t wait to see him get out there and play the game that he loves so much.”
Gordon didn’t address the media, choosing instead to wait until Friday after practice, and before the team heads to south Florida. Even if he isn’t going to play, Gordon could make the trip, something teams often don’t do with players who will be inactive.
“I just think more people, more distractions,” Lynn explained. “But this can be a good distraction. I like this one.”
Gordon lost nearly $1 million of his $5.6-million base salary for missing three regular-season games and is subject to additional fines that figure to top $1 million.
In the final year of his rookie contract, he’s in line to become an unrestricted free agent after the season, though the Chargers could franchise tag him, which would potentially become another chapter in this saga.
Negotiations on an extension stalled during the offseason and, when Week 1 arrived, the Chargers broke off talks and announced they wouldn’t revisit the topic until after the season.
But, despite all the business swirling about him, Gordon apparently returned to Costa Mesa mentally prepared to be a Charger again.
“He’s in a good place right now,” Lynn said. “He just wants to play football. … Melvin is a professional. He knows it’s all business aside. It’s time to play football.”
Without Gordon and missing some other offensive pieces, the Chargers have struggled to maintain consistent production. They are tied for fifth in the league in total yards but tied for 21st in points.
They haven’t had a touchdown after halftime since Week 1, the lack of scoring leading to back-to-back blown leads in losses to Detroit and Houston. Gordon has led the Chargers in touchdowns in each of the past three seasons.
With Ekeler and Justin Jackson filling in, they have averaged 111.7 rushing yards per game, ranking 13th league-wide.
“I think it was just kind of like relief,” Jackson said. “You could feel the energy. It was a little bit up today. … He’s one of our main players, one of our main guys, one of the best running backs in the league.”
Wide receiver Keenan Allen posted on social media a video of Gordon first entering the locker room Thursday morning. There was plenty of hooting and cheering in the background.
Ekeler said he wasn’t sure exactly when Gordon was going to show until the teammates crossed paths in the parking lot of the team facility.
“I was tired, just woke up,” Ekeler said. “He brightened my day a little bit. ‘He’s actually back.’ It was rumor before that. I feel like we’re complete again. ... We can move forward as a whole unit now.”
Lynn said the initial plan is to work Gordon back slowly in practice. But he did say, once Gordon is ready to go, he will return to being the No. 1 running back.
Gordon is coming off a season during which he carried 175 times for 885 yards and caught 50 passes for another 490 yards.
“I remember sometimes last year where it took four people just to get him down,” Lynn said. “And I remember how those moments just ignited the sideline, just his effort, his determination.”
Gordon did miss four games in 2018 because of injury and has appeared in all 16 regular-season games only once since the Chargers drafted him in the first round in 2015.
Even in his absence, he remained a popular figure among his teammates, many of whom kept in contact with Gordon throughout a dispute that officially began during the final week of July.
Gordon spent the past three Sundays watching the Chargers and offering his support via social media.
“Don’t get me wrong, at the end of the day, you love your team, but you’re trying to make the best decision for your team and for yourself,” safety Rayshawn Jenkins said. “No one’s mad at him. We welcome him back with open arms. We embrace him.”
The situation with Gordon never escalated into anything that was negative publicly. The Chargers dealt with not having him the same way they’ve approached the variety of injuries that have impacted their roster.
“We have a good locker room,” Lynn said. “We have some leaders in that locker room. It’s because of the leadership we have on our football team that it wasn’t ugly in the locker room.”
With Sunday approaching, the Chargers are again dealing with an abundance of ailing players. Among the starters who were unable to practice Thursday were wide receiver Mike Williams (back), cornerback Casey Hayward (back) and tight end Virgil Green (groin).
Kicker Michael Badgley (groin) was again held out as it appears punter Ty Long will double as kicker against Miami. Wide receiver Travis Benjamin (hip) also didn’t practice and Jackson (calf) was limited.
On the plus side, cornerback Michael Davis was a full participant. He suffered a hamstring injury early in the season opener and has been out since.