With their playoff chances waning and receiver Mike Williams and running back Justin Jackson already ruled out, the Los Angeles Chargers are considering taking a drastic risk in their Week 4 game against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
Head coach Anthony Lynn said on Friday that the Chargers are considering using star running back Melvin Gordon in a limited role, just three days after he ended his 64-day holdout and reported to the team.
While Gordon will be considered the No. 1 back when he’s back to full strength, the team would still want to lean on his replacement, Austin Ekeler, for most of Sunday’s workload. However, they would be taking on a big risk to do so.
How badly do the Chargers need to win?
After tying for the best record in the AFC last season, the Chargers had high hopes heading into the 2019 season. Even without Gordon for an indefinite amount of time, they were confident they could stay in the playoff hunt.
And to be fair, they’ve easily been able to replace his production. Ekeler has picked up 160 yards on 38 carries plus another 208 yards on 19 receptions. Second-year back Justin Jackson has been even more efficient with 142 yards on 18 carries.
But despite being fifth in the league with 5.2 yards per carry, that has not translated into team success. The Chargers have dropped back-to-back games against middling teams, first losing 13-10 to the Detroit Lions before losing at home to the Houston Texans, 27-20.
Still, the Chargers have as close to a gimme game as you’ll find in the NFL with a trip to face the winless Dolphins. Miami's -117 point differential is 80 points worse than any team in the league, and they've scored only one touchdown all season. Why the Chargers think they need Gordon to win this game is a tad confusing.
Is it worth the risk to play Melvin Gordon?
Gordon is currently on the NFL’s two-week exempt list, and the Chargers can remove him from at any time. But another key factor is that he’s eligible to travel with the team to Miami, which would make it even easier to activate and play him.
The question is why the Chargers would want or need to do so. Gordon has been working out during his holdout, but he isn’t taking the same hits as he would during practice, and he isn’t quite up to speed. If he were, the Chargers wouldn’t have leaned towards benching him in the first place this week.
Bringing Gordon back early only to have him pull up with an injury would be a nightmarish, albeit plausible, scenario. It may not be worth it to bring him back for a handful of carries — especially since Ekeler has proved more than capable — when the team is heavily favored to win without him.
Chargers happy to have Gordon back, reduce fines
No matter how long it takes for Gordon to get back and how the season has gone to date, the Chargers are happy to see an end to the holdout and get their star player back. So happy, in fact, that Gordon said the team halved the fines he earned for not reporting to the team.
Melvin Gordon said the Chargers reduced his fines in half: “It comes with consequences siting out,” he said. “To think the fines would be completely washed away, I knew if I got in this situation, it wouldn’t be. You do something against the rules, you pay the consequences.”— Eric Williams (@eric_d_williams) September 27, 2019
As ESPN's Eric D. Williams reported earlier, the CBA allows the Chargers to fine him up to $30,000 per day for missing training camp, as well as one week’s regular-season salary for each preseason game missed. Missing three regular-season games also could cost him up to $989,118 in base salary.
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