Melvin Gordon is not running the 2018 Le’Veon Bell playbook, as the Los Angeles Chargers running back officially returned to the team Thursday following a holdout that began over the summer and continued through L.A.’s first three games of the season.
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported earlier in the day that Gordon would reacquaint himself with the club in the days leading up to Sunday afternoon’s road game against the Miami Dolphins, and the two-time Pro Bowler was greeted by teammates in the Chargers facility Thursday morning. Head coach Anthony Lynn addressed the media with an impromptu press conference in the afternoon, confirming Gordon’s return.
The 26-year-old running back, who had been seeking a new contract ahead of 2020 free agency, is not expected to play against the Dolphins, per Rapoport, but could potentially make his 2019 debut against the Denver Broncos in Week 5.
Had Gordon reported to the team earlier, he may have been more likely to play this weekend. With only one more full day of practice slated ahead of Sunday’s game, Rapoport noted, there simply isn’t enough time for the star runner to get caught up. In the meantime, backup Austin Ekeler is scheduled to start in Miami. Ekeler has racked up 368 yards from scrimmage in three starts during Gordon’s absence, though he’s historically averaged fewer yards per carry as a first-stringer than when he rotates with Gordon.
The return of Gordon to the Chargers would seem to indicate the running back is OK playing without assurance of a new contract, as team general manager Tom Telesco said before the season he would not negotiate a long-term deal for the former first-round draft pick until after the year. Gordon, of course, was also required to report by Nov. 29 to become eligible for 2020 free agency, as missing more time than that would have stripped him of an officially accrued NFL season.
Previous reports indicated the Chargers had offered Gordon a contract worth $10 million per year, with Gordon seeking a deal more in line with the salaries of players like Bell, Todd Gurley and David Johnson — all of whom make between roughly $13 and $14 million per season. The running back had reportedly also requested L.A. trade him in the event of no contract agreement, but the Chargers were evidently unable or unwilling to find any legitimate takers.