John Elway's Message to Phillip Lindsay on an Extension Takes on New Tonality
One of the unfortunate collateral effects of the Denver Broncos giving Melvin Gordon $16 million over two years is the kybosh it puts to Phillip Lindsay garnering a pay-raise. Despite John Elway saying publicly in his end-of-season presser that the team would take a hard look at offering Lindsay an extension, the GM's message on Tuesday was basically, 'Sorry, but you're going to have to wait.'
"I’ve talked with Phillip’s agent," Elway said during his Tuesday conference call with local media alongside head coach Vic Fangio. "We’ll see what happens [with] what we can do later on. That’s not a guarantee either way, but we’ll see what we can do later on.”
Elway went from showering Lindsay with praise on December 30 and openly acknowledging the possibility of an extension to offering no guarantees that one will ever get done. So, what changed?
NFL teams rarely pay a player until they absolutely have to, which is one of the reasons Elway's comments on December 30 caused me to raise my eyebrows. That begs the question, when will the Broncos have to pay Lindsay?
The third-year back is under contract for 2020, set to make a base salary of $750,000. Next spring, he'll be a restricted free agent. Following the 2021 season — two years from now — Lindsay will hit unrestricted free agency.
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He's under team control for the next two seasons, so if indeed Elway never planned on giving Lindsay a raise until he had to, why did the GM not only keep the issue alive in the court of public opinion but also arguably breath life into it?
The only logical explanation is the change at offensive coordinator. When Elway made his initial comments about being open to giving Lindsay a raise, Rich Scangarello was the Broncos' OC. Three weeks later, Scangarello was fired and Pat Shurmur replaced him.
Shurmur's offensive school of thought venerates the pass-catching running back. Fitting that reality over the Lindsay framework, it was Lindsay himself who talked about his desire to vastly improve as a receiver during this offseason while he was cleaning out his locker.
In two NFL seasons, Lindsay has caught a total of 70 passes. Meanwhile, at Shurmur's last stop as head coach of the New York Giants, RB Saquon Barkley caught 91 passes in 2018 as a rookie and 52 this past season alone. You can go back to all of Shurmur's NFL stops as either a head coach or offensive coordinator and you'll find that more often than not, his running back caught at least 50 passes.
But here's the thing; while Gordon is a solid receiver out of the backfield, he's no Austin Ekeler. Receiving is not Gordon's strong suit. It can be argued, however, that Gordon is a more accomplished receiver than Lindsay, and there's the rub.
In a perfect world, Shurmur would like for his running back to be well rounded and able to meet any and all expectations or possibilities as a runner, a receiver and a pass blocker. It's a good bet that Shurmur wasn't confident Lindsay could check all three boxes competently, so the Broncos brought in reinforcements and did so at a premium.
Lindsay is taking the Gordon addition in stride, though. The Colorado Kid has already embraced Gordon as a teammate while laying down the gauntlet in an interview with KUSA's Mike Klis on Monday.
“When camp comes around it’s going to be a battle," Lindsay told Klis. "I’m not just going to sit there and give somebody the job. They can. But I’m going to go out there and I’m going to battle."
When it comes to any rumor about Lindsay perhaps demanding a trade in the wake of the Gordon acquisition, Lindsay tamped that down as well.
"Nah. If you’re hearing that stuff I don’t know where you’re getting that from. Nothing like that going on," Lindsay told Klis.
One thing is clear; Lindsay believes he's outplayed his modest college free-agent contract and his back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing campaigns reinforce that belief. Elway got Lindsay's hopes for a raise up but it sounds like the young back is going to have to show patience and keep his nose to the grindstone.
If Lindsay's career continues on the trajectory it's been on, he's likely in line for another productive season (even with Gordon eating into his touches), especially with the promise of playing with a stable and dynamic quarterback like Drew Lock.
Lindsay can at least look forward to a significant one-year raise on an RFA tender next spring, which would, at worst, more than double the salary he's set to earn in 2020. Meanwhile, Gordon — who's earned one more Pro Bowl berth while posting one less 1,000-yard rushing season than Lindsay through his five-year NFL career, will make nearly 10 times what Lindsay will in 2020.
If that doesn't sound right to you, you're probably not alone in that belief.