How Broncos backs Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay could fit together

Broncos spend big money on Gordon (0:45)

Jeff Legwold says Denver is making moves in free agency but spent the bulk of its money acquiring Melvin Gordon. (0:45)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Of all the players the Denver Broncos added this offseason to rejuvenate their offense, surrounding quarterback Drew Lock with far more options than the previous five guys who started behind center had, none raised more eyebrows than running back Melvin Gordon.

After all, the Broncos had Phillip Lindsay, who has back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons, to go with Royce Freeman, a former third-round pick who -- according to two different head coaches, Vance Joseph and Vic Fangio -- should get more involved in the offense.

Yet Gordon signed a two-year, $16 million contract with the Broncos.

As team president of football operations/general manager John Elway put it: "We thought it was important to have two really good backs. With the opportunity of landing Melvin, we thought it was a good combination with Phillip. Obviously, there's always concerns and there's always issues when you bring somebody in, especially with the two years Phillip has had. We'll continue to work with that."

What the team's offense actually will look like is still a question given the virtual-only offseason being conducted by the NFL because of the coronavirus pandemic. But first-year offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, whose offensive roots can largely be found in the 10 years he spent as an assistant on Andy Reid's staff, has most often used one-back looks, either with three wide receivers or two tight ends.

One back, as in one at a time.

That would be a departure for the Broncos, who have made splitting carries an almost annual tradition. In the past two seasons, with two different head coaches and two different offensive coordinators, Lindsay led the team in carries both years. He had 54.8% of the carries last season to go with 48.9% of the carries in 2018. Freeman, who now appears to be the odd man out, had 32.3% of the carries in 2019 and 33% in 2018.

Gordon was in a similar situation with the Chargers and running back Austin Ekeler.

"I think we can be a great one-two punch," Gordon said in recent weeks. "Me and Austin were kind of that one-two punch. I feel like we were one of the better tandems in the league. I just hope to continue that with Lindsay."

If there will be a "1" and a "2" is the question, especially with Lindsay and the Broncos trying to work toward a new deal. Lindsay signed with the team as an undrafted rookie, and his two 1,000-yard seasons plus a Pro Bowl selection far surpass the value of his current deal. He is also as a graduate of Denver's South High School and one of the most popular players on the team.

To this point, Elway has given a potential thumbs-up to a new deal, but also has tempered it with "we'll see what we can do later on."

In Shurmur's offense with the Giants over the past two seasons, Saquon Barkley was clearly the hub of the wheel in the running game with 217 carries last season to go with 261 carries (and 91 catches) the prior season. And in the past six full seasons when Shurmur has either been a head coach or offensive coordinator, his team's offense has had two backs top 100 carries twice -- the 13-3 Vikings in 2017 and the 7-9 Eagles in 2015.

Earlier this year, both Fangio and Shurmur said one of the chief directives for Shurmur was to get more explosive plays into an offense that scored 16 or fewer points nine times last season. Shurmur has said it's important for any running back to be involved in the passing game as well.

"If you can't catch the ball out of the backfield or you can't have an impact in some way," Shurmur said, "... then it's hard to be a full runner."

That would favor Gordon, who has four 40-catch seasons to go with two 50-catch seasons. Lindsay has had 35 receptions in each of his two seasons.

But as Gordon put it just after he signed: "I know people are wondering what is [Lindsay's] position with getting carries and things like that. Right now, it's about winning football games. We'll worry about that later. We're just trying to put the team in the best position to win football games and score points."