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The Detroit Lions should trade for Chargers’ Melvin Gordon

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Not often does a running back of Gordon’s caliber get traded, but this is the right opportunity.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Buffalo Bills Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The hot trend in the NFL is for star players to publicly complain about their current contract situation and to hold out in hopes of a trade or new deal. The latest to join this worrisome phenomenon is Chargers running back Melvin Gordon, who is apparently willing to follow in the the footsteps of Le’Veon Bell.

Our friends over at Bolts From The Blue targeted the Lions as a potential trade partner, sending Gordon in return for Rick Wagner and a sixth-round pick. While this would represent an upgrade for Detroit at the running back position, the cost does not seem quite right. Instead of weakening the offensive line and adding yet another body in the backfield, the following trade could make more sense:

  • Lions receive: Melvin Gordon
  • Chargers receive: Kerryon Johnson, seventh-round pick
  • Trade conditional on Lions’ ability to secure long-term deal with Gordon

This is probably controversial, but all big trades are. Johnson had an impressive rookie season and won the hearts of many fans. He is on a very affordable rookie deal and is clearly someone the organization values. But this trade is not a criticism of Johnson’s ability; rather, it speaks to the strength of a player like Gordon.

Melvin Gordon is better than Kerryon Johnson

Gordon was drafted 15th overall in 2015 and has basically led the Chargers backfield since then. He has averaged 907 yards a season on the ground with an additional 395 yards through the air, and he has scored 38 combined touchdowns over the past three seasons.

Since entering the league, he is sixth in rushing yards and seventh in touchdowns among all running backs. He is great between the tackles and is also a real weapon as a receiver. Whether through numbers or the eye test, Gordon is a top-10 back in today’s NFL.

Johnson could someday reach this level, but there are still more question marks than answers. He looked solid at times during his rookie season and is definitely an improvement over recent Lions running backs. However, he only rushed the ball 118 times, which is not nearly enough to make any guarantees. He did fine as a receiver, but it is clear that this is not his strong suit.

There is a lot of hype around the second-year player in Detroit, and for good reason, but there is no evidence that he is a better player than Gordon. Johnson may go on to have a successful career, but it is hard to imagine him matching the type of results Gordon has produced during his rookie contract.

The Lions can afford Gordon

Given Gordon’s impressive first four seasons, it is not surprising that he is looking for a pay day. A $2.6M AAV is far below his market value, and he is looking for a big increase. For the Lions to make this trade, a four-year deal in the $10-12M AAV range seems fair. This would make him the fourth-highest paid running back by AAV, which is in line with his current numbers.

Of course, Johnson is making just $1.6M per year on his rookie deal, but this becomes a question of value. Runners like Gordon do not come around every day, and expecting Johnson to reach this level is a gamble. The Lions have cap space to spend more at the position, and swapping Gordon for Johnson might make Theo Riddick expendable, thanks to the former’s ability as a pass catcher.

The inclusion of the seventh-round pick in the trade is more or less a throwaway. This shows just how close Gordon and Johnson are in value. While one has a much more favorable contract, the other is the better player on the field. For the Lions to truly compete for the playoffs, they need to find every way to bolster the roster, and doing so comes with a cost.

Gordon is the perfect fit for Darrell Bevell

When the Lions brought in Darrell Bevell as the new offensive coordinator, all eyes immediately turned to the run game. Bevell has a history of heavily leaning on the ground attack, and all indications are that Detroit is ready to continue this pattern. With improvements along the line and at tight end, the pieces are in place for a heavy run game.

The two main backs Bevell has featured are Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch. While neither Gordon nor Johnson are quite at this level, one of them looks much closer to the part. Based on his history, Bevell is not a fan of the running-back-by-committee approach, and he is more than willing to leave his bell cow out there for all three downs.

Does this sound like Johnson? Based on the sophomore’s history, skill set, and own preferences, it does not seem like it. Meanwhile, Gordon is a complete running back that is built to be the focal point of an offense. If the Lions want to feature one of the league’s top rushing attacks, they need to have the right RB1 leading the way.


This trade would be a gamble and could define the tenure of general manager Bob Quinn. Early returns show Kerryon Johnson as an excellent draft pick and someone around whom the future could be built. But the current offense—and run game specifically—are not quite at the level of other top competitors in the league.

To accomplish goals like winning the division and moving on in the playoffs, Detroit needs a stud in the backfield. Melvin Gordon is exactly the kind of player who has been missing on this team for so many years. Trades are risky, but to get something of quality there has to be quality going out the door as well. This is an opportunity the Lions cannot afford to miss.

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Should the Lions make this trade?

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  • 70%
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