For those of you who've just crawled out from under your rock for your morning coffee, Melvin Gordon would like his bag, please.
As such, for today's Would You Rather column, I debate paying yet another running back -- but still an interesting and unique piece in the tumultuous debate over running back value.
Yeah, I'd Pay Him
When you're making the case for paying Melvin Gordon, it really comes down to paying Philip Rivers. Everything is always about the quarterback, isn't it?
Philip Rivers is due $23M in this, his age 38 season. That's a lot, and that's old -- if you're not competing for a championship right now, then that's a mistake, and you need to move on to your next generation of quarterback. With Tyrod Taylor as the backup and Easton Stick as a late-round flyer, the Chargers don't seem to be building for a life post-Rivers.
So it's ride-or-die with Ol' Phillip, which means there isn't much time to muck about with young running backs, who could potentially destabilize the offense and put more pressure on Rivers' shoulders. Now, what Austin Ekeler's done in his young career is admirable and exciting -- the Chargers certainly think so -- but Gordon is proven good.
It's rarely a good idea to overpay for proven good -- but when you're on the cusp of a championship and in the dusk of a QB era, that overpay can be worth it. Remember, the goal isn't to sign good contracts -- it's to win a Super Bowl. Good contracts are obviously preferable to bad ones, but extending Gordon isn't inherently bad, and even if it isn't great, it's not Super Bowl prohibitive. It may even be Super Bowl generating.
And when we talk about the Gordon contract, we have to remember that running backs are already a bear market, so he's not actually asking for that much -- at least, from my read on the room. Gordon's camp can't make a legitimate case that he's in the Le'Veon Bell/Todd Gurley/David Johnson tier of contracts. Once you get out of that tier, you're in seven figures, and looking at the $8M/year figure set by Devonta Freeman and Jerick McKinnon (Jerick McKinnon?!) in recent cycles.
So we're looking at an $8M APY, with $10M in space this year and a whopping $54M in 2020 (remember, Philip Rivers is unsigned, as well as players like Hunter Henry and Mike Pouncey) they have the room to carry Gordon.
So the pitch for Gordon is stability, consistency, and the absence of drama -- a nasty holdout can infect the locker room and put the front office in a testy spot with agents in future deals. Sign me and forget about it: the offense will stay effective, we'll beat the Chiefs again, we'll push for the division crown, we'll get our shot at the Super Bowl once again.
Running Backs Don't Matter
Second-contract running backs are a bad business, folks. Like I said, it's a bear market, and there's a reason for that -- second-contract running backs are not doing well.
God tier: Le'Veon Bell is an unknown after an aforementioned gnarly holdout; David Johnson is coming off of a season-ending injury; Todd Gurley might be dealing with career-ending injury. Next tier: Devonta Freeman is coming off of a season-ending injury, LeSean McCoy has remained effective, and Jerick McKinnon has been...not that.
We could have more success stories this time next year -- but as of now, it doesn't look good.
What does look good is the situation behind Gordon -- and that's likely why he's decided to hold out. The Chargers got a look at the future with Austin Ekeler as their primary back last season, when Gordon lost a(nother) stretch of games to injury -- and it didn't look shabby at all. If Gordon played another fragmented season, and Ekeler and second-year Justin Jackson continued to look good in relief, Gordon's value with the Chargers would sit right beside nil.
If the team likeliest to give him a big second deal is the Chargers, then the time is now -- and if it's another team, why waste another snap of health in Los Angeles?
But for the Chargers, those strong backups -- cheap, cost-controlled, healthier backups -- illustrate a future that could save them $8M per year. Another cheap, one-year rental RB (Chris Ivory, Corey Grant, Jay Ajayi) can fill the Melvin Gordon void this year as you develop a long-term plan at the position.
Can you be sure that the offense won't skip a beat in his absence? That's the big, final question -- remember, it's the winning window that matters. There are many who would argue yes, and if the offense can continue to keep pace with the Chiefs and the Browns and the Steelers, then that $8M certainly can help elsewhere.
Man, I don't know. I tend to have no issue with overpaying for home-drafted players, as that breeds good standing among the players in your locker room and a strong reputation among free agents. You want to protect your good players.
But you also don't want to sign bad contracts. It is unlikely that Gordon will return on the value of being the sixth- or seventh-highest paid running back, and you can't guarantee that his contributions and presence on the offense hold in the balance a Super Bowl berth.
That said, unless you have a better plan for the money, I'd pay Gordon the $8M. Worst case scenario, you end up giving reps to the players you would have played anyway, you eat some bad money, and you're still trying to win in the Philip Rivers window.
Running backs may not matter, but Gordon's an objectively good football player. I tend to pay those.