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No big deal: Elliott and Gordon may find themselves backed into a corner

Ezekiel Elliott

(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Le’Veon Bell took to Twitter the other day to apologize to fantasy football fans who wasted a roster spot on him during the 2018 season.

“This is loooong overdue!! but I want to take a moment to apologize to all the fantasy owners who picked me last year, I’m sorry I couldn’t pull through for y’all…but trust me, this year’s about to be wayyy different,” wrote Bell.

You’ll recall Bell sat out the year in a nasty salary squabble with the Pittsburgh Steelers before finding his yellow brick road in free agency with the New York Jets.

So we have a question: Does this mean Ezekiel Elliott and Melvin Gordon will be asking for forgiveness next summer?

If nothing else, Bell taught these two that taking a militant stance about salary can ultimately pay off. Now the Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Chargers have to decide what they want to do about them. You know, every summer brings highlight holdouts in focus and this year is no different. Now it’s Elliott and Gordon who want lucrative extensions.

You could have added New Orleans Saints receiver Michael Thomas to the list of unsatisfied, but he ended his standoff on Wednesday signing a five-year, $100 million deal, the most lucrative contract at his position in NFL history.

Do you think Elliott and Gordon noticed?

The Chargers have already taken action against Gordon. When he did not show up at training camp last Wednesday they placed him on the reserve/did-not-report list. But his absence comes as no surprise; Gordon told the team weeks ago they would not see him unless it renegotiated his contract which is entering its final season.

Los Angeles general manager Tom Telesco told reporters the team had made an offer to Gordon, but did not specify what it was. Gordon wants an annual income equal to what Bell got and Todd Gurley is making ($13 million) with the Rams and his agent told NFL Network what the Chargers were offering was disrespectful.

What Gordon and Elliott are facing is rather complex. Teams have to keep multiple salary concerns in mind when considering how much to allocate for specific positions. And there is sense nowadays that running backs are more interchangeable than ever – and a good place for teams to economize – because they are so injury prone and less productive than quarterbacks and receivers.

Gordon signed a five-year deal when he was drafted in the first round in 2015. The Chargers are under no obligation to pay him and they may decide not to because Gordon must first honor his original rookie contract before being allowed to become a free agent. If he does not play the contract defers to next season, so he would not become a free agent until 2021.

The players must be aware of this. They also understand they likely have only one opportunity to strike it rich and that’s when they are 25 or 26 years old. No one is going to give a 30-year-old halfback $60 million over five years. So it’s now or never. According to the NFL, only 18 backs in the last 18 seasons have gained more than 1,000 yards after turning 30.

Let’s say the Chargers caved in and paid Gordon what he wants. How much money would that leave them under subsequent caps to take care of Philip Rivers and defensive end Joey Bosa. What would the Chargers be like without either of those two?

“We’ve got a lot of guys we’ve got to pay,” Telesco said. “My only thought process is that he’s (Gordon) an L.A. Charger. I’m not naïve. I know we’re better with Melvin Gordon.

“I see his side of it, but there’s also the team’s side. And that’s the way it goes sometimes.”

Melvin Gordon

(Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

The Cowboys have been a little less understanding about Elliott, who has two seasons left on his rookie deal.

Team owner Jerry Jones laid into him this week by pointing out the stark reality of his star’s situation: The first team to win a Super Bowl with the NFL’s rushing champion (Emmitt Smith) was the 1992 Cowboys. The first Super Bowl was played in 1967.

“The point there is you don’t have to have a rushing champion to win a Super Bowl,” Jones told the CBS affiliate in Dallas.

There’s more: It’s been 20 years since the last time a team won the league championship with the NFL’s top back – the 1998 Denver Broncos with Terrell Davis.

“That’s one of the dilemmas at running back, is that the league knows that you can win Super Bowls and not have the Emmitt Smith back there or the Zeke back there,” said Jones.

Like the Chargers, the Cowboys need to make decisions soon about Dak Prescott, linebacker Jaylon Smith and receiver Amari Cooper.

Elliott doesn’t seem like he’s troubled. He’s on vacation in Cabo San Lucas and seemingly enjoying himself.

“Consequently, when we’re looking at putting Zeke’s contract in place, we’ve got to realize that the ultimate goal is to win the Super Bowl,” said Jones. “So you got to do all of the things along with having Zeke that allow you to have other players so that you can win the Super Bowl. That’s what we’re going through.”