When the Los Angeles Chargers picked Melvin Gordon III with the 15th pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, the organization assumed it had (in baseball terms) hit a grand slam with the stout All-American running back out of Wisconsin.
After all, at that time, Gordon was coming off a monster year his senior season. He had won the Doak Walker Award, given annually to the best college running back. He finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting. And in many instances, Gordon was in a neck-and-neck duel with Georgia stud Todd Gurley to be considered as the Alpha of running backs coming into the draft.
As it turned out, the Los Angeles Rams nabbed Gurley with the 10th pick the same year the Chargers picked up Gordon. The Chargers wound up selecting Gordon five slots later. The expectations were high that Gordon would finally put to bed the revolving running back door the Chargers had been dealing with in seasons before his arrival.
“We’re excited about him. He brings a dynamic presence to our offense, something we’ve been looking to add the last couple of years,” said Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco at that time. “We just felt he was a player…what he could bring to us is his impactibility, and that we had to go get him.”
Gordon never reached the buzz and hype surrounding his arrival and five-year stay as a Charger. In his first season, Gordon put up modest numbers, rushing for 641 yards. The big blank was that he didn’t produce a single touchdown on the ground. The next season, Gordon erased that big, fat zero mark with 10 TDs and nearly 1,000 yards rushing (997 yards), showing flashes of what was to come.
In his third season with the Chargers, Gordon finally broke the 1,000-yard rushing plateau, going for 1,105 yards on the ground and producing eight touchdowns during the 2017 season. It would be downhill after that for the 2-time Pro Bowl running back. In 2018, Gordon went for just 885 yards rushing.
In 2019, after a lengthy holdout in which he missed all of four games, Gordon rushed for just 642 yards.
That holdout by Gordon, more or less, was probably the final kicker for the Chargers and eventually led to the separation of the two parties. Gordon had just seen that the Rams had reportedly given Gurley a four-year, $60 million contract extension in 2018. He wanted Gurley money or at least something in the neighborhood.
Going into his final season, Gordon simply wanted more money on the table than what the Chargers offered him. There was an offer and then a counteroffer. Gordon decided to stay home and missed training camp. He missed the team’s first three games of the 2019 regular season and did not play in the fourth after he decided to come back.
That didn’t help either Gordon or the Chargers. As a team, the Chargers played .500 ball in Gordon’s absenteeism, going 2-2 without him taking gameday handoffs.
But with playing with rust because of the missed time from training camp, Gordon didn’t begin to hit his groove until midway into the season. By that time, the Chargers had lost three games in a row and was staggering to salvage their season. The Chargers finished the 2019 NFL campaign with a 5-11 record.
As for Gordon, besides missing some hefty game checks, he returned without getting the money he was seeking. Gordon reportedly was fined over $1 million and lost out on close to another $1 million ($989,000) in game checks for the first games he missed during the regular season.
Once Gordon made his arrival back to the Chargers he admitted some regret about his unfruitful holdout.
“Nothing came out of it, so I try to not think about it,” Gordon said. “Obviously, there is no contract so there’s really not one to speak on. All I can do is come here and just play ball and just kind of let my skills take place and determine my future.”
Gordon’s immediate future will be playing running back for the Denver Broncos, one of the Chargers’ main AFC West Division rivals. Gordon (via free agency) reportedly signed a two-year deal with Denver.
As for the Chargers, Los Angeles is content with having versatile running back Austin Ekeler taking over for Gordon. The Chargers gave Ekeler a multiple-year extension on his contract.