The Denver Broncos have a loaded roster heading into 2021. The young Broncos are ready to compete with the AFC elite over the next few years. However, they will have some tough decisions to make after the season.
How each pending free agent plays this season will heavily influence the type of contract they are offered next offseason.
As he stated in his introductory press conference, general manager George Paton believes this team is a “sleeping giant.” But to wake the team up and keep them formidable for years to come, Denver must keep their core together.
And that seems to be Payton’s M.O. Identifying and retaining key free agents has been a priority so far for the new GM as evidenced by the resigning of Justin Simmons and Shelby Harris. Additionally, the team was able to bring back Kareem Jackson on a short-term deal when it seemed like the safety would move on.
Who else could Paton keep around?
This series takes a look at pending free agents and the likelihood of a return in 2022. First up, we have running back Melvin Gordon
Why could the team want Melvin Gordon to return to the Broncos?
Melvin Gordon is a pending free agent following the 2021 season as the veteran running back is in the final season of his contract. Although the bruiser came on strong to finish the 2020 season, he is definitely not guaranteed to return in 2022.
Gordon arrived in Denver with little fanfare, despite being a productive, all-around running back throughout his career.
Per Spotrac, the former 1st-round pick of the (then) San Diego Chargers signed a two-year deal worth $16 million with the Broncos last offseason. A large portion of that contract was guaranteed, which was a shock to most fans at the time.
That criticism was well-deserved. This is especially true for Gordon coming into last season needing to compete for playing time with fan-favorite Phillip Lindsay. Of course, that also caused a rough transition.
Then, Gordon came out of the blocks slowly and fumbled the position away. The new addition coughed up the ball three times, losing them all in the first five games.
However, as the season wore on, Gordon showed himself to be the Broncos’ most consistent offensive weapon. To finish the 2020 campaign, Gordon compiled nearly 1,000 yards for a hefty 4.6 yards-per-carry. More importantly, Gordon was solid in 3rd-and-short situations and provided a team-leading nine touchdowns.
Melvin Gordon’s first TD as a Bronco 👏
Denver takes the lead
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 15, 2020
Additionally, Gordon was solid in pass-protection and fit the bill of a Pat Shurmur running back. Shurmur likes a running back who can remain on the field for all three downs, and Gordon did just that.
Simply, Gordon is a talented back. He’s more than adequate running inside and out the tackles, which is huge. The narrative heading into 2020 made most believe Gordon was incapable of making a big play. He made several “wow” plays for the Broncos last season, including a game-clinching run against the New York Jets for the team’s first win.
Melvin Gordon for SIX ‼️
Broncos lead 37-28 with less than two minutes to play.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 2, 2020
It is fair to believe he can even be better in 2021. With the natural progression of the offense, the back will continue to feel more comfortable and that should result in a more consistent hole recognition game-in, game-out.
The offensive line should be improved and expected to perform well this year, too. Also, Shurmur has another year to be more acclimated to what Gordon does well and eliminate run calls that do not fit his skill set.
All in all, there are several indications that Gordon could remain a good back in NFL this season, and no signs he is slowing down.
Why this could be the end of Gordon’s time in Denver
Gordon’s contract puts him in the crosshairs. The allocation of resources (NFL dollars) is rarely spent on a running back, especially when the player is not considered elite. One can expect Gordon will want a similar deal if he performed well this season. Although, it is unlikely the Broncos agree with that valuation of his services.
No. 25 is solid but has not consistently put up top-tier production. For instance, Gordon has produced a 1,000-yard rushing season just once in his six-year career. Additionally, his issues with fumbling have yet to resolve themselves as he averages three fumbles per season.
Heading into the offseason, it seems Paton may have his eye on other options beyond this season.
Paton, in fact, moved up to draft Javonte Williams on Day 2 of the 2021 draft. That move would indicate Williams is the future of the position and not Gordon, especially because Williams provides three-down skill set and will push for playing time.
Additionally, Williams could be a real challenger out of the gate. Though it may be a stretch to see the rookie win the job out of training camp, he may take over by mid-season.
Javonte Williams appears to be the favorite to start over Melvin Gordon in Denver. https://t.co/r9FoquWMZS
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) July 7, 2021
Adding in Gordon’s age next season (29), and it seems the team will look to remain young at the position and Williams looks to be the guy.
Look for Gordon to have a solid 2021 season and push for a starting job…in a different uniform in 2022. As we discussed in the Orange and Brew Podcast, Gordon is unlikely to return.
It is not out of the question Gordon could welcome a co-op role with Williams next year and decide to remain with the club. This narrative could become even more true if the team pushes for the playoffs and appears to be a winner for years to come.
However, that scenario seems highly unlikely. Gordon would need to see a very dry market for himself next season with little to no opportunity for a starting position. With an increase in the salary cap expected next season, he should receive better offers than he would in Denver.
Since Gordon still offers good all-around play, another team will likely bring him in to challenge for a starting role.
If Williams is who many believe he can be, Gordon’s return does not look good.
Verdict: There is a 10% chance Gordon returns in 2022.