Gordon was an expensive accessory. | Photo by Rob Leiter via Getty Images
The money spent by the Denver Broncos to land running back Melvin Gordon was a poor allocation of resources.
The Broncos stated goal this off-season was to build a playoff contender in 2020. Immediately following the week 17 win over the Oakland Raiders, John Elway said it’s a realistic expectation. They entered free agency with pressing needs at a number of positions and the hope that Drew Lock can go from promising rookie to franchise quarterback with a full off-season to work.
Things started out with a lot of promise. Applying the franchise tag to Justin Simmons ensures an All Pro caliber safety returns. Graham Glasgow provides versatility along the interior offensive line and give the offense a new dimension. Looking beyond the sack totals, Jurrell Casey was a better pass rusher than Shelby Harris in 2019 and has been far more durable than Derek Wolfe. He’s a versatile chess piece that can move around the line and create havoc. Even Jeff Driskel should be a more capable backup than Brandon Allen would have been.
Then they signed Melvin Gordon.
If you haven’t already read it, I did an extensive film study on Gordon last weekend and wrote about him here. The long story short is that I do believe he has the potential to be a more complete running back than anything Denver previously had on the roster. He’s a good pass protector, solid receiver, and possesses good vision that should improve the outside running game.
So what’s the problem?
The biggest issue with Melvin Gordon is that he represents a poor use of cap resources. Because every team has a finite number of space to add talent and bolster positions in the NFL, proper allocation of money is one of the unsung skills that separates the consistent Super Bowl contenders from the shooting stars. Look no further than the Los Angeles Rams for a recent example of a team that built their roster for a short-term window and now look like a cautionary tale. One of the bigger mistakes they made was paying their star running back Todd Gurley.
The biggest problem with paying Gordon $16 million over the next two seasons is the opportunity cost it creates. I recently looked at the Broncos’ biggest remaining needs following their first wave of free agency. It should come as no surprise that the offensive line was one of the first positions I mentioned. Even with Glasgow signed, either the Center or Right Guard position will be a big question heading into the NFL Draft. Behind Garett Bolles and Ja’Wuan James, there are bad or completely unproven depth players.
This is important because Gordon averaged just 4 yards per carry running the ball during his Chargers career. By Football Outsider’s advanced stats, he’s been one of the 25 most efficient runners once in his entire career. Like all running backs, his production carrying the ball is very dependent on his blocking. This is evident when you watch the tape, and there’s mountains of research that has been used to prove it. It’s hardly controversial at this point.
Now consider this: Connor McGovern made $1 million more per year than Melvin Gordon did. Easily within reach, and his return would have provided the Broncos a degree of certainty across the offensive line while locking Elijah Wilkinson into a sixth offensive lineman role.
Hate McGovern? Well, for what the Broncos paid for Gordon, they also could have brought in Munchak’s former backup Center B.J. Finney and guard/tackle Mike Remmers, who worked with Pat Shurmur in New York and Minnesota. None of these moves are Flash-y, but it’s fair to wonder if they would do more to improve the Broncos’ offense in 2020.
Maybe the rumors about Munchak’s belief in Patrick Morris at center are true. He held his own in the Detroit Lions game, after all. I would argue that even if that is the case and Glasgow does lock down right guard, there were better positions to address than running back. Yesterday I reached out to Broncos’ Country to see what groups beyond the offensive line most concerned them going forward.
Which of the #Broncos‘ following position groups concern you most?
— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) March 25, 2020
The vote is pretty split, which suggests that all four of them bring some degree of concern going forward. Well, here are just a few of the players that will count for less than Gordon’s $8 million cap hit in 2020:
- LB – Nick Kwiatkoski – $7 million
- DL – Gerald McCoy – $6.1 million
- CB – Jimmy Smith – $6 million
- CB – Eli Apple – $6 million
- DL – Maliek Collins – $6 million
- DL – Danny Shelton – $4 million
- CB – Mackensie Alexander – $4 million
- CB – Kevin Johnson – $3.5 million
- DL – Andrew Billings – $3.5 million
The problem with Gordon isn’t as simple as the fact that he’s only played in 16 games in a season once, or that he’s only been a top 10 running back once, or that he’s nothing special as a receiving back. Instead, it comes down to the fact that he plays running back in general. As Jeff Essary has mentioned on Cover 2 Broncos, they’re maybe the fourth or fifth most important position to a quality rushing offense, and studies have shown their receiving value is fungible.
It is the easiest position to find immediate impact at in the NFL draft. John Elway of all people should be well aware of this. Terrell Davis was a 6th round pick who helped him win two Super Bowls, and Phillip Lindsay was an undrafted rookie sensation.
Compare that to receiver or offensive line, where a rookie is just as likely to struggle to see the field as make an immediate impact in his first professional season. The learning curve at both positions is steep, so counting on the Broncos’ first round pick to make a huge splash is a blind hope more than a safe bet. If the playoffs were the expectation in 2020, it would have made more sense to spend Gordon’s cap space on one or even both positions and grab a rookie running back.
Which brings me back to what will remain my biggest issue with Melvin Gordon’s time with the Broncos. His jersey will be a new one to buy, he’s a name for fantasy football players to follow and casual fans to celebrate, but the cost of signing him may have actually hurt the Broncos in the win-loss column.
Your Broncos’ Links
a historical and statistical look at what we should reasonably expect from a 27 year old running back
Melvin Gordon has some eye popping touchdown numbers, but those are mainly a result of opportunity.
What does the former Los Angeles Charger bring to the Denver Broncos and the Pat Shurmur offense? Let’s break things down here.
Elway brings in another former Lion.
The MHR Radio Podcast thinks they have a shot at the postseason in 2020.
It’s cheating to include Gordon on this list. He’s a push-notification guy. His fantasy football status and holdout make him far more relevant than his production for the Chargers would normally warrant. Aside from 2017, Gordon has never rushed for more than 1,000 yards or started more than 13 games in a season. Last year Gordon held out for more money but was outplayed by running back Austin Ekeler, who went undrafted in 2017. The Broncos have their own undrafted gem in Phillip Lindsay, but Lindsay seems to now be in a rotation with Gordon, who will likely take a lot of touches from 2018 third-round pick Royce Freeman. If Gordon has one thing going for him, it’s that the Broncos line is likely to be a lot better in 2020 than the Chargers in 2019.
We break down the recent happenings in free agency before opening the first fantasy mailbag of the 2020 season
2020 NFL Free Agency: Best and worst move made by all 32 teams | NFL News, Rankings and Statistics | PFF
Best move: Almost everything
Denver had a near-flawless free agency. We’ll dive into what prevented them from having that perfect week in our eyes below. But for now, let’s talk over the numerous great decisions they made. They placed the franchise tag on Justin Simmons after he had an incredible breakout year in his first season with Vic Fangio, raising his coverage grade rank from 85th in 2018 to second in 2019 en route to taking home honors of being the league’s most valuable safety. Denver also made two great trades in acquiring A.J. Bouye, the third highest-graded outside corner in coverage from 2016 to 2018, and Jurrell Casey, who has ranked among the 25 highest-graded interior defensive linemen in each of the past five years. The Broncos lost Connor McGovern to the New York Jets but signed Graham Glasgow, who has shown he can play anywhere on the interior at a high level.
Worst move: Signing Melvin Gordon to a two-year, $16 million deal with $13.5 million guaranteed
As said above in the Dallas Cowboys’ worst move section, the running back position is invaluable and replaceable. Denver actually already had one of the top backs in the league In Phillip Lindsay, and he is on the books for under $1 million for 2020. Instead of rolling with Lindsay and using their remaining cap space on perhaps a wide receiver, they decided to pay Melvin Gordon $8 million per year over the next two seasons. Since Lindsay emerged onto the scene in 2018, he’s actually recorded a higher PFF overall grade than Melvin Gordon and has produced the exact same PFF WAR figure. This is no slight to Gordon as an athlete — but again, that’s too much money to hand out to a running back who hasn’t even outproduced your previous running back.
NFL Draft Links
If a quarterback slides down the board, the Denver Broncos could benefit.
2020 Post-Free Agency Mock Draft: Chargers address quarterback concerns, select Justin Herbert | College Football and NFL Draft | PFF
15. DENVER BRONCOS — WR HENRY RUGGS, ALABAMA The Broncos have addressed a lot of other needs recently, but speed across from Courtland Sutton is still lacking. You don’t come by 4.27 speed with ball skills like Ruggs’ every day. He dropped only five of 103 catchable passes in his career.
As we inch closer to the 2020 NFL Draft, mock drafts and scouting reports are coming out at a high rate. The usual names — Joe Burrow, Chase Young, Jeffrey Okudah, among others — mentioned at the top, but this is the point in the process where a lot of others become lost in the shuffle.
Do running backs matter the least out of those five skill players on the field? More and more evidence is pointing to the answer being “Yes.” People fighting against that answer — especially people who argue that running backs matter the most out of those five skill players on the field — are potentially still holding onto a version of football that has not existed in quite some time.
Over and over, 2018 has indicated that the key to a good rushing offense isn’t having a star running back, but putting decent personnel and play-calling around a serviceable one. As this reality becomes more and more clear, the market for star running backs will only continue to shrink.
But here’s the thing. Targets to running backs are by far the least efficient type of pass. This is important, so let’s say it again. Relative to passes intended for other positions, running back targets are not efficient.
It’s hard for an RB to claim success rate on targets as his own.
The Cowboys have bolstered their defensive front this offseason after losing Robert Quinn in free agency, and after signing McCoy last week, they’re adding depth by taking a chance on Poe, who is coming off a season-ending torn quadriceps.
An $8 million commitment over just one season is nothing for a team now facing a two-year window to make things happen. Suh will get to return to play for defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who got the most out of his rising defense in the second half of 2019, and he won’t have to worry about finding a new place to live. Sweet deal.
The Panthers wanted him to pass the physical, and Newton wanted to pass it. The physical, as reported by ESPN, was “coordinated by the Panthers and his agency.” Wink. Nod. Cam is passing the physical. This doesn’t mean he’s “healthy,” even though ESPN understandably had to make that declaration in exchange for getting the scoop. Newton’s next team will decide on its own whether he’s healthy, ideally before signing him to a new contract.
The bottom line is that if Newton is healthy — though that’s a big if at this stage — and if he’s put in the right scheme, he can be a reliable option at quarterback. So, with that in mind, these are the five landing spots that not only fit Newton the best but also are the most likely.