Chargers’ Melvin Gordon is playing for a contract: ‘I don’t know if I’ll be here’
The future seemed bright for Melvin Gordon on that late-September day when the running back returned to the Chargers after a 64-day holdout.
The lengthy contract dispute that failed to net a new deal was in the rearview mirror, a minor setback in Gordon’s mind. Most of a season that began with the Chargers losing two of three games still lay ahead.
Gordon, who racked 1,375 all-purpose yards and 14 touchdowns in 2018 to help the Chargers go 12-4 and reach the second round of the playoffs, felt he could spark the offense with his gashing power runs and yards after the catch. He planned to show the NFL he deserved to be paid as a top running back.
Two months later, the Chargers are 4-8, out of playoff contention with four games left, and Gordon’s future with the team seems as murky as it did in late August, when the Chargers granted Gordon’s agent permission to seek a trade.
Gordon couldn’t find his sea legs for a month, rushing 44 times for 112 yards — an average of 2.5 yards per carry — in his first four games. Three of those games were losses, including the Oct. 20 heartbreaker when Gordon fumbled the ball away at the Tennessee one-yard line in the final seconds of a 23-20 loss.
Derwin James hadn’t played a snap since he was injured during the Chargers’ preseason opener, so against the Broncos, he was ready to issue some hits.
Gordon found his stride in November, rushing 76 times for 356 yards (4.7 yards per carry) and catching nine passes for 86 yards in four games, but the Chargers lost three of the four games — to Oakland, Kansas City and Denver — by a total of 12 points.
“It kind of sucks because a lot of the goals I wanted to reach, individually and as a team, will not be attained this year,” Gordon said as the Chargers began preparations for Sunday’s game at Jacksonville. “It’s unfortunate. A lot of hard work, in a sense, is wasted.”
As demoralizing as this season has been, Gordon won’t let the frustration taint his effort in the final four games.
Although the Chargers have been reduced to playing for pride — a powerful motivator for many — Gordon, who forfeited nearly $1 million of his $5.6-million base salary for missing three regular-season games, also will be playing for his next contract.
“You are what you put on film,” Gordon, 26, said. “Whether you want a deal here or you want to get a deal somewhere else, they’re going to bring up that film, and it might come back to haunt you. So save yourself and go all out.”
Gordon, in the final year of his five-year rookie contract, sought an extension that would pay him at least $13 million per year. The Chargers, who weren’t willing to go much beyond $10 million per year, broke off negotiations after Week 1 and announced they wouldn’t revisit talks until after the season.
Gordon isn’t sure if he has helped or hurt his cause. In eight games, he’s rushed for 468 yards and four touchdowns in 120 carries and caught 20 passes for 123 yards and one touchdown, mediocre numbers by his standards.
If the Chargers allow Gordon to leave as a free agent, they have an attractive, less expensive running back option in Austin Ekeler, who has 1,098 all-purpose yards and 10 touchdowns this season.
“I just have to do my job. No one knows their situation. It’s the business side of things. I don’t know if I’ll be here or somewhere else. Hopefully it is here.”
— Melvin Gordon on whether he will be on Chargers in 2020
Gordon has looked far better in his last four games than he did in his first four, but has he done enough to warrant the kind of contract he’s looking for from the Chargers or anyone else?
“I don’t know, man,” Gordon said. “It’s hard to look and say you warrant anything when you’re losing. I just have to do my job. No one knows their situation. It’s the business side of things. I don’t know if I’ll be here or somewhere else. Hopefully, it is here.”
Gordon is no stranger to playing out the string. In 2016, his second year in the NFL, the Chargers lost four of their first five games en route to a 5-11 season.
Gordon accumulated 1,416 all-purpose yards and 12 touchdowns, earning Pro Bowl honors for the first time, but missed the last three games because of knee and hip injuries.
“A lot of times in college, you know you’re not playing for a national championship, but you still go out there and give it your all,” said Gordon, the former Wisconsin star. “I really don’t see what the difference is now. When I go out there, I still want guys to respect me.”
After Sunday’s game against the Jaguars (4-8), the Chargers play Minnesota (8-4) and Oakland (6-6) at home and Kansas City (8-4) on the road. The Chargers have the talent to win all four games. Of course, a team that has suffered eight one-score losses this season easily could lose all four.
“Going 8-8 is definitely better than 4-12,” Gordon said. “It’s a pride thing. If you’re a competitor, you’re not going to go out there and let somebody run over you. You don’t want to go out there and lose purpose. There’s no fun in that.”
If there is any loss of effort or focus in practice this week, you can bet Chargers coach Anthony Lynn won’t let it slide.
“We’re going to finish. We’re going to fight,” Lynn said. “Football is like life. We’ve been knocked down, but we’re going to get the hell up. It’s very important we finish the season. It says a lot about our character as a coaching staff and a team.”
And how Gordon finishes could say a lot about his paycheck next season.
Philip Rivers knows the Chargers’ playoff prospects are virtually gone, but that’s not hampering the quarterback’s outlook for Jacksonville on Sunday.
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