INDIANAPOLIS — The idea of Melvin Gordon returning seemed unlikely when the Broncos' season ended. It wasn't for a lack of production. He rushed for 20 touchdowns in 31 games for the Broncos after arriving in 2020, averaging 4.6 yards per carry.
It traces back to rookie Javonte Williams. He opened eyes and pierced souls as a rolling ball of butcher knives.
Williams remains ready for a bigger role. But would it make sense to keep football's best running back duo together for another season or two? General manager George Paton indicated that he would like to re-sign Gordon as a free agent, and Gordon told Denver7 in an exclusive interview on Wednesday that the feeling is "mutual."
"I have been wanting to come back. I would love to win championship in Denver. I made a lot of great relationships with the guys. I feel like we have a really good team. To leave a talented team and go somewhere else would suck," said Gordon, who rushed for 918 yards and eight touchdowns in 2021. "It’s a job unfinished, and we need to finish the job. I would love to stay. I talked with George. We spoke on it. He told me he thinks highly of me. I really like the way he runs things and does things."
No one is naive. It comes down to the contract. Can the Broncos fit Gordon in the budget as they attempt to fill needs at outside linebacker, right tackle and cornerback? Will a compromise be possible with multiple suitors expected for Gordon?
It is unclear. What is crystal is that Williams and Gordon worked well in tandem, serving as a neon light in an otherwise flickering bulb offense.
"They helped each other. Melvin was a total pro with Javonte, and I know Javonte appreciated that relationship. I’ve had really good discussions with Melvin. We’d like to have him back. We still think he’s a really good back," Paton said. "I think you need two or three runners in this league. They’re going to get nicked. It’s a tough position."
Gordon navigated a fascinating journey with the Broncos. He arrived unwanted by many fans who saw him as a threat to Pro Bowler Phillip Lindsay's playing time. As it turns out, the pair rarely played together because of injuries and illness. Last season, with Lindsay gone, Gordon formed a "Thunder and Thunder" duo with Williams, meshing seamlessly with the rookie who rushed for 903 yards and four scores.
"That comes from Danny Woodhead. To his credit, he always looked out for me no matter what. They drafted me in the first round with the Chargers, and anytime I asked Danny for anything, any help, he never held back. He always kept it real," Gordon recalled.
"He was a good vet, a good pro. I told myself that’s how I want to be. And I am used to sharing the ball, man. People thought it was a big problem with me and Phil. We didn’t have a problem. I was used to doing it. I did it in college. I did it with Austin Ekeler. I did it with Phil. I did it with Javonte. So it’s nothing new to me. We did work well together. We wanted to win more than we wanted individual success."
Gordon turns 29 in April. Running backs rarely age like Benjamin Button, but Gordon refuses to believe Father Time is peeking over his shoulder.
"They see backs, they think whatever, they get to 30 or high 20s, they feel like they've gotta decline. They don’t. I look at Frank Gore’s numbers almost every day. I have it saved in my phone. Year eight, he was still putting up 1,000 yards (1,214). Year nine, he still was putting up 1,000 yards (1,128). That’s kind of how I see my future. I love football. He’s a great person to model after," Gordon said. "Obviously, health is the biggest thing, and that is in God’s hands."
While there have been hiccups for Gordon in Denver, including some costly fumbles, he has impressed, representing the team's most productive offensive player over the past two years. He has not won over everyone, but he's come a long way from feeling unwanted in the sterile COVID season.
"I feel like the narrative changed some, as it should. They know that I mean business when I go out there. I want the best for the Broncos. Whatever team I am playing for, I hate every other team. That’s just how it is. That's just how I am. I will do whatever it takes to win," Gordon said.
"You are going to make mistakes. Football isn’t perfect. I am going to give my heart out there every play to win a championship, to try to win a game. I think some people started to realize that. I don’t hold back when I have conversations. I keep it real. I just want to do whatever for this team, for these fans to be happy. We came up short, the job was unfinished. I would like to come back and finish the job before I move on. Hopefully it works out for me."
Part of the reason Gordon seeks to run it back is coach Nathaniel Hackett. The new boss' energy is contagious, leaving Gordon hopeful even as the Broncos face an uphill challenge without an elite quarterback in the AFC West.
"The future is bright. Anytime you bring up his name, like George said, you bring up energy. It’s crazy. That’s the first thing I thought, too. I think (Hackett) is going to bring that to the locker room and bring that to the field. I think it’s going to be a big change around there, and I want to be around for it," Gordon said.
"We play (Patrick) Mahomes and the Chiefs hard every year. We just have to finish and get over the hump. We are going to get there. We have to limit mistakes. (Mahomes) even said it himself in pregame warmups, 'Man, bro, with you guys every year, it’s a close game.' It’s going to get done. You've got to be optimistic. We’ve got the talent. It all comes down to finishing, and I want to be around to help us finish the job."