ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — It took half the season, but Melvin Gordon III seems to have shifted into his top running gear. He’s no longer a half-step slow to the hole as it opens; he’s bursting through it. He’s got his plant-and-cut rhythms on the second level where he’s even breaking a tackle or two.
The fear is he might already be at the finish line with the Broncos with the game Sunday against the Las Vegas Raiders wrapping up the 2020 season for both teams.
Gordon, 27, has a driving under the influence case scheduled for January 14 in Denver County Court. Any form of guilty plea would likely result in a three-game suspension from the league for violating its substance abuse policy. And if he’s suspended to start the 2021 season, the Broncos would have the right to void his $4.5 million fully guaranteed salary on his $7 million payout for 2021.
Essentially, the final year of the contract could be wiped out which would mean the Broncos and Gordon would to have to agree to a new deal. Which would also figure to be a new deal at reduced money. That’s one dot leading to another but leads to the reason why Gordon didn’t take his plea on December 14. Only a finding of not guilty would allow him to maintain his 2021 guarantees.
Gordon’s attorney told the court he had been discussing “significant mitigation and exculpatory evidence” with the Denver District Attorney’s Office and wished to continue those talks.
However it works out, Gordon hopes it works out for another season with the Broncos.
“I let my agent handle all that—the void and all that stuff,’’ Gordon said Thursday in a Zoom call with members of the Denver media. “Hopefully I did enough for them to want to keep me here. I do feel like they have something special here growing and I definitely want to be a part of it. Especially after this year, it just wasn't the year we wanted and I feel like we have a lot more proof to show.
“Being a part of this Broncos family, honestly I just really don't think I got the full experience of Denver as a whole just with the COVID rules and everything. I couldn't really bond with the guys as much as I wanted to or as much as I'd like as far as just being with the guys after we leave the facility. I didn't really get a chance to do that.
“Unfortunately, if I won't be here that'd be a little heartbreaking just because I didn't feel like I really got the full feel of being a Bronco. But like I said, I don't want to speak too much on the contract. My job is to go out there and run that ball. … So, we'll see, hopefully it works out, and hopefully they like me enough to kind of put all that stuff to the side. I guess in a couple months or so we'll see what's up.”
Through nine games (he missed one) this season, Gordon had 439 rushing yards on 107 carries (4.1 yards per carry) with four touchdowns.
In the next six games starting with the Broncos’ 20-13 win against the playoff-bound Miami Dolphins, Gordon has rushed for 454 yards on 82 carries (5.5 yards per) and four touchdowns.
He enters the final game Sunday needing 107 to reach the 1,000-yard milestone – which even Gordon says is not what it used to be.
“It's always an accomplishment to get 1,000 yards, but honestly I feel like my play is better than just 1,000 yards,’’ Gordon said. “It's not really the season I wanted. It's not the season I wanted individually or team-wise, but definitely looking forward to changing that next year. We have the young team—everybody knew that—it’s not an excuse. … I've got to 997 before and missed it (in 2016 with the Chargers), so excuse me if I'm not as amped as I should be, but I feel like I'm way better than that.”
The pronounced shift in Gordon’s season seemed to start when the Broncos started pulling left tackle Garett Bolles, left guard Dalton Risner and center Lloyd Cushenberry out in space to give Denver more blockers than defenses had tacklers in a particular area. Gordon started running hard to those areas.
“Them boys were just hungry,’’ Gordon said. “They were flattening people out there when you go put the film on. Everybody's feeling each other out, and I think they're starting to feel me out and starting to believe in me more in what I can do. I believe in them boys. I believe that they want to block for me, and they want me to be successful.
“That plays a big part with everything—with chemistry, with us out there. When you got a guy that you really want to play for and make something happen for, you go a little harder in the paint. It is what it is—shouldn’t be like that—but sometimes it is what it is. That's just how it is, and I feel like they started to go a little harder for me in the paint because they know that I'll do whatever for the team. I'll do whatever for the team starting with that chemistry and them boys are just some dogs. They're some dogs and I just respect that whole front, because the simple fact is there's no shot at us making the playoffs, but if you turn on the film and watch them boys put in that work and watch the film in practice, you'd think that we had a first week bye and we was on our way to the Super Bowl.
“That's just credit to those guys and how they work, man. That Miami game—they were just really flattening people out there and opening up lanes. I think they're just really getting into a rhythm. Unfortunately, we only got one more game left in the season, but I'm super excited and stoked to see what we can do as a unit with them boys up front next year.”
Broncos head coach Vic Fangio dropped another hint Wednesday as to why Gordon is running so well now after a slow start. Remember, it was difficult for any elite athlete to maintain top physical condition during the past COVID offseason.
“For any player, the new season starts a new season and he's going to have to work really hard in the offseason to get his body right— to get in the optimal shape that he can get in to be a running back in the league and the grind that it is for those guys,’’ Fangio said. “To me, it's a new season moving forward that starts for a guy like Melvin, especially as you get to his age. He's not old, but he has to do a great job of taking care of his body.”
SUGGESTED VIDEOS: Local stories from 9NEWS