Chargers' Austin Ekeler Shares the Moment He Knew Melvin Gordon Would Leave L.A.
Jason B. Hirschhorn
Though the Los Angeles Chargers parted ways with longtime starting quarterback Philip Rivers and pursued free agent Tom Brady garnered most of the attention this offseason, the team also made a decision on another star player: Melvin Gordon. The running back departed this offseason after a five-year run with the club that saw him rack up 6,113 yards from scrimmage and 47 touchdowns, earning two trips to the Pro Bowl in the process.
However, with Gordon reaching free agency this year and fellow running back Austin Ekeler breaking out this past season, the Chargers effectively had to choose between the two. In the end, they sided with Ekeler, signing the former undrafted free agent to a four-year, $24.5 million contract to keep him in Los Angeles for the foreseeable future.
With a deal for Ekeler secured, the Chargers watched as Gordon hit the open market. After drawing interest from several teams, he settled on the division-rival Denver Broncos. Gordon will earn $16 million over the next two seasons while splitting backfield duties with fellow Pro Bowl back Phillip Lindsay.
While Gordon's ex-teammates in Los Angeles will now have to face him twice a year, at least some of them feel more concerned about the inevitable narratives that will arise out of those matchups.
"I'm glad that he signed with a team but I was like, 'Man, why did you sign in our division?'" Ekeler said with a laugh Friday on CBS Sports Radio. "Just because I know, I already know the first time we play Denver, it's going to come from the reporters. Everyone's going to be talking like, 'So, is this going to be a test between you and Melvin about who's the better running back?'"
Ekeler didn't know when the offseason began whether he and Gordon would play together in 2020. For a time, he believed the Chargers might re-sign both running backs and see how the offense would improve with another year together. That changed as Ekeler's negotiations with the team unfolded.
"I thought maybe with coach [Anthony] Lynn firing [offensive coordinator Ken] Whisenhunt and maybe having more of a say in the offense or something like that -- he was a running-backs coach for like 20 years -- and maybe he'd want Melvin being a bigger back, a pound-it-between-the-tackles back, maybe they'd want him back," Ekeler said. "But there was no telling. I had no idea. That came across my mind one time in a conversation, but that was just briefly. Literally, I was talking to my agent and we're trying to get a deal. So we're like, 'Well, if they're doing a deal with us, I don't really see how they can do a deal with Melvin and me and the same time.' So when we started talking numbers, that's kind of where it became apparent to me they might not be signing Mel back."
Now, Ekeler has to prepare for the inevitable twice-yearly re-litigation of the Chargers' decision to prioritize him over Gordon.
-- Jason B. Hirschhorn is an award-winning sports journalist and Pro Football Writers of America member. Follow him on Twitter: @by_JBH