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Free-Agent Spotlight: Running Back, Melvin Gordon

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Could a free-agent addition be the key to fixing Tampa’s running game?

Los Angeles Chargers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

In 2019, Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon held out in an effort to force the team to sign him to a new and better deal than the one which expires next week. Instead, the team found out they had a very good running back in Austin Ekeler, who they signed to a new four-year deal, signaling the end of Gordon’s time with the franchise.

So, Gordon will be on the move, and it’s possible the Tampa Bay Buccaneers might take a look at the running back to secure their own running attack, in 2020.

MELVIN GORDON’S CAREER THUS FAR

Minnesota v Wisconsin Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

Selected in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the then San Diego Chargers, Gordon was an accomplished runner coming out of the Wisconsin Badgers program and had plenty of upside to justify the team’s trade up to get him.

He and Todd Gurley were the only two running backs taken in the first round that year, and each of them would eventually end up playing in the same city as their respective franchises relocated to Los Angeles, California.

While Gurley remains in L.A., Gordon is likely to be on his way out after rushing for over 4,000-yards on just over 1,000 carries.

He’s also chipped in with nearly 2,000-yards receiving and has played in twelve or more games each season in his five-year career.

However, he’s only had one thousand-yard rushing season, coming in 2017 when he hit a career high with 1,105-yards on the ground.

Ironically, 2017 wasn’t a Pro Bowl season for Gordon, while 2016 and 2018 were.

His holdout in 2019 certainly didn’t do him any favors. Austin Ekeler’s ability to anchor the running game, and the lack of a big drop-off while Gordon was absent, resulted more opinions to lean towards the Chargers not needing the running back as much as he thought they did.

The fact nobody came offering a compelling trade offer while he and his agents had the freedom to seek new playing partners, also doesn’t help the outlook of this talented, but limited ball-carrier.

WHY IT WORKS

If you’re in the market for a running back who can carry the rock and catch it as well, then Gordon is a name who should be on your list.

We don’t need to rehash the stats listed above, but if you turn on the game film of any Chargers game with Gordon in the backfield, you can see the wrinkles having a player with his versatility brings to the field.

In Tampa, Ronald Jones II has grown before our very eyes into a more versatile, and more dynamic NFL running back. But there’s still an overarching thought he needs to be part of a complimentary backfield, rather than becoming a workhorse like we see out of guys like Christian McCaffrey with the Carolina Panthers.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v San Diego Chargers Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

BUT...

Gordon isn’t going to come cheap, unless it’s against his will. Again, he held out for an extension and better financials. Spotrac.com projects Gordon to command a price tag just north of $8M per year on a four-year deal.

With Bruce Arians’ emphasis on bringing back the 2019 defensive unit as intact as possible, and with a looming quarterback expense to add to the 2020 salary cap, it may not be feasible for the franchise to pay close to $10M for a veteran back. Especially if they plan on building Jones’ role from what he was able to accomplish in 2019.

An $8M+ deal for a running back in 2020 all but requires the team to begin training camp with Jones falling back to the second-spot on the depth chart.

WHAT’S THE COST?

We already gave this away, because the money spent on a veteran running back is always a subject of conversation when figuring out the value of doing so.

Through recent history, it’s almost always turned out the wiser decision to roll with a cheaper veteran option, or a young player drafted to carry the role for his team.

Of the player comps listed on spotrac with Gordon’s contract estimate, only Ezekiel Elliott’s can’t be looked at as a potential over-investment in the position.

Mark Ingram certainly had some noteworthy moments in 2019, but finished second on the team in rushing, behind quarterback Lamar Jackson. Still, Ingram at least had 1,000-yards on the ground, and is earning the lowest of those compared to Gordon with a $5M per year average.

Devonta Freeman signed a five-year deal at the age of 25 with the Atlanta Falcons, and most agree he hasn’t proved to be worth the investment, making an average of $8.25M per year on the deal.

Even the Chargers themselves, chose to stick with Ekeler on a deal averaging about $2M per year less than Gordon’s projected number. Despite the fact he’s two years younger and gained an average of 4.2 yards per carry in 2019 (Gordon averaged 3.8 ypc).

WHAT WE DON’T KNOW

We don’t know if the Buccaneers plan on adding a veteran free-agent to the running back group or not, and we also don’t know how 2019 has impacted Gordon’s stance on his own value.

Again, to basically everyone outside of the situation, it would appear Gordon’s market value is lower than he at least thought it should have been to his own team. If he truly goes into free-agency seeking north of $8M, he may not find a team willing to meet him there as soon as he’d like.

For what it’s worth, what we do know, is the Buccaneers and Gordon’s camp were not in talks to possibly trade for the running back during his holdout with the Chargers. This, according to a brief phone conversation I had with his agent, during the holdout.

MAKE THE DECISION

NFL: DEC 04 Buccaneers at Chargers Photo by Tom Walko/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It would be hard for me to believe Gordon would not be signed to a new deal before the NFL Draft. But I suppose we can never say never in these situations.

So, if you could whisper advice into Jason Licht’s ear about Melvin Gordon, what would you want the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to do?

Poll

When it comes to Melvin Gordon, what would you have the Buccaneers do?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    Sign him, no matter what.
    (18 votes)
  • 47%
    Make an offer, but keep it reasonable.
    (109 votes)
  • 18%
    Invite him for a cup of coffee and see where it goes from there.
    (43 votes)
  • 13%
    Call him up if there’s a need after the draft.
    (31 votes)
  • 12%
    Don’t need him.
    (29 votes)
230 votes total Vote Now