Barnwell: Why the Chargers shouldn’t extend Melvin Gordon’s contract


The following text is excerpted from Barnwell’s story in February on what all 16 AFC teams should do this offseason. With the agent of Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon telling ESPN that Gordon will not report to training camp and will demand a trade unless he gets a contract extension, we’re bringing it back:

Don’t sign Melvin Gordon to an extension

The running back is entering the fifth-year option of his rookie deal at $5.6 million. Gordon has been an asset to fantasy teams, scoring 38 touchdowns over the past three seasons. After fumbling six times on 217 touches as a rookie, he has responded by fumbling just four times on 862 touches over the ensuing three campaigns. His ability with the football makes him a three-down back, and he had his best season as a runner in 2018.

All of those things are true, but the Chargers have to give serious thought to letting Gordon leave after the 2019 season. For one, there are concerns about paying any veteran running back significant money after his rookie deal. Gordon doesn’t have as many carries as other backs after their first four seasons, but that’s because he already has struggled to stay healthy; he has completed just one 16-game season and missed nine games in four campaigns. Gordon has suffered knee injuries in three different years in addition to a 2016 hip sprain and a 2018 hamstring issue.

His on-field play hasn’t been quite as impressive as those fantasy totals, either. Gordon’s 28 rushing touchdowns have been the product of sheer volume near the goal line. He has 39 carries inside the 5-yard line in the past three seasons. Backs score on 41.8 percent of those carries, which would suggest Gordon should have scored 16.3 touchdowns on those rushes. He actually scored 18, which amounts to about one extra touchdown every two seasons, and that’s without including his zero-touchdown season in 2015.

The former Wisconsin star doesn’t have the cumulative numbers we would expect from a star back because of the injuries. He also hasn’t been all that efficient on a per-carry basis. Here’s Gordon’s rank in yards per carry and expected point success rate (EPA+%), which measures how frequently a back’s carries increase his team’s chances of scoring, among backs with 150 carries or more in each of his four seasons:

In Gordon’s four pro seasons, 19 backs have racked up 600 carries or more. Gordon ranks 11th in yards per attempt (4.0) and eighth in success rate (38.5%). He has been about a league-average back when healthy, and he hasn’t been healthy for extended stretches of time. Gordon is unquestionably talented, but if he’s looking for a Devonta Freeman-sized deal — let alone something in the Le’Veon Bell or Todd Gurley ballpark — the Chargers are probably better off letting him leave.

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