January 31st 2022
Amid welcoming new coach Nathaniel Hackett to the Broncos and preparing for an afternoon news conference Friday, Broncos general manager George Paton had a visitor to his office: Running back Melvin Gordon.
“I had a great talk with him,” Paton said during an interview with The Denver Post. “Melvin wants to be here. I’m a Melvin fan.”
Gordon is scheduled to become a free agent March 16 and his status will be one of the key decisions for Paton and Hackett.
Keep Gordon and continue to pair him with Javonte Williams? Let Gordon walk and commit to Williams being the featured back? Or let Gordon walk and find a backup who signs understanding Williams will get 60-70% of the work?
The Broncos’ running back plan in 2021 worked well, which would suggest sticking with it.
Gordon and Williams each had 203 carries (tied for 15th in the NFL) and the Broncos were the only team with two players who rushed for at least 900 yards — Gordon was 11th (918) and Williams 13th (903). They combined for 12 touchdowns and each had 16 “explosive” carries (gain of at least 12 yards).
“We have these coaches who are going to learn these players, but I was really impressed with the way Melvin handled himself and worked hard every day in practice,” Paton said. “He brings a lot of joy to this game and to this football team.”
Throughout the final part of the season, Gordon said he would “love,” to stay with the Broncos.
“I want to be here,” he said on Dec. 9. “I don’t think many people want me here as far as the fans. I understand and I get it. But I love it here and love the guys here. … We’ve got some young guys who are really talented. I’ve had quite a few years where my (offensive) line wasn’t as great (with the Chargers) so when you see something blossoming, you want to be a part of it. Hopefully, God-willing, I am.”
Gordon in particular knows the mechanics of contracts, though. He boycotted all of his final Chargers training camp in 2019 and the first three regular-season games and never got the extension he desired. He left for the Broncos in March 2020.
The days of signing another two-year, $16 million deal are long gone and Gordon undoubtedly understands that when declaring the Broncos as Plan A.
But what is the right price point for the Broncos and Gordon?
Gordon, whose NFL earnings are more than $31.28 million, could view the Broncos as a way of extending his career in the work-share set-up and thus be fine with a two-year contract that could be followed by another contract somewhere in the future.
The Broncos, knowing they have Williams on his rookie contract for the next three years, could view retaining Gordon at their price as the best way to maximize Williams’ effectiveness instead of making him a 300-touch player.
Las Vegas could provide a guide for both sides. Last March, the Raiders signed Kenyan Drake to a two-year, $11 million deal ($8.5 million guaranteed) to join Josh Jacobs, who had a $3,254,563 hit in ’21 and a will have a $3,796,990 hit in ’22 to wrap up his rookie contract.
Williams’ salary cap hits are $2,014,944 in ’22 and $2,417,937 in ’23.
If the Broncos sign Gordon to a two-year, $10 million contract and split it right down the middle — $5 million cap hit in each season, the Broncos would get two tailbacks for a combined cap hit of around $7 million — they get plenty of production for a more-than-affordable price.
A look at Hackett’s running back usage in his three full years as a play-caller is appropriate when projecting Gordon’s future:
2013 (Buffalo): Fred Jackson had 206 carries and C.J. Spiller 202 attempts and had a combined cap hit was $7.4 million.
2014 (Buffalo): Jackson had 141 carries and Anthony Dixon 105 attempts. The Bills allocated a combined cap hit of $9.7 million to Jackson and the injured Spiller.
2017 (Jacksonville): Leonard Fournette had 268 carries and Chris Ivory 112 attempts and had a combined cap hit of $10.9 million.
Also, as the offensive coordinator in Green Bay, Hackett wasn’t the play caller, but the Packers had two players with at least 100 carries in all three seasons.
Gordon has at least eight rushing touchdowns in six consecutive years and brings all-situation value. Now it’s up to the Broncos to decide if he is a fit for Hackett’s offense and at the right price.