And while Gordon was away, it allowed rookie Javonte Williams to play. And free-agent signee Mike Boone to play. And Royce Freeman to play. A lot. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said the offense got "almost a half season worth of reps'' during the team's organized team activities and minicamp. Gordon missed most of them.
How much Gordon lost -- carries, playing time, his role -- remains to be seen, but when Gordon participated in last week's mandatory minicamp he saw a far different landscape on the depth chart than when he exited last season.
"I'm very confident, man," Gordon said. "... I'm just going to go out there and just do my job and compete. Wherever the cards fall, they fall. I can't really worry about that too much. I know that's kind of the talk. The media is making it Javonte versus Melvin. Who's going to start? This and that. It's not really about that."
Well, it might be about that. The Broncos hired general manager George Paton in January, just a few weeks after Gordon had concluded a somewhat choppy season that had included a DUI arrest during a pandemic, a team-leading four lost fumbles to go with a team-leading 986 yards rushing and nine rushing touchdowns for the league's 28th-ranked scoring offense.
Paton then made Boone the team's first free-agent signing on offense and used a second-round pick on Williams out of North Carolina. Williams was consistently ranked by evaluators around the league as one of the top two, or three, running backs in the draft and Paton traded up in the second round to acquire him.
Williams is a finisher as a runner -- Paton called him "probably the most physical runner in the last couple years" -- has shown the ability to contribute in the passing game and is a willing blocker in blitz pick-ups. Toss in Boone, who Paton knows from his time with the Vikings, and the math gets interesting for Gordon.
"Well I think there's enough work to be had for everybody if everybody proves they're worthy," is how Broncos coach Vic Fangio answered the question about workload for the backs. "I think you have to throw Mike Boone in that when you talk about that position, too. ... We'll carve out a role for them. Obviously Melvin is an established back in this league, played good for us last year, and we like him. We obviously like Williams and we like Boone. So you never have enough backs, and I'm confident that there will be enough work for all of them."
Work, yes. But perhaps not the kind of work Gordon, who signed a two-year, $16 million deal in 2020, had last season. Phillip Lindsay was supposed be part of the proverbial 1-2 punch with Gordon last season.
But Lindsay, who had wrist surgery after each of his first two seasons before battling knee and hip injuries as well as a concussion, missed five games and had six games with nine or fewer carries last season. So Gordon, who missed the game immediately following his October arrest (he eventually pleaded guilty to reckless driving and excessive speeding), went into the primary back role and stayed there.
Lindsay is now out of the picture. His tender as a restricted free agent -- the lowest at right of first refusal -- was rescinded this offseason and he eventually signed with the Houston Texans.
Paton has said he sees the potential for Boone to have a bigger role in the Broncos' offense than he did playing behind Dalvin Cook with the Vikings. Boone and Williams combine to count roughly $3.4 million against the team's salary cap in 2021 while Gordon counts $8.94 million.
When Gordon did not attend the Broncos' OTAs or any other part of the voluntary portion of the Broncos' offseason program, Williams and Boone were routinely the first two backs through the drills. For his part, however, Gordon was unbothered the day before the Broncos adjourned for the offseason.
"We're competing, but it's early, and we still have a lot of work to do," Gordon said. "I think both of them have really good feet and good hands. I think they're going to be -- we could all be special. We're definitely going to come out here and compete. ... You can tell Boone been in the league for a while, and you can tell that Javonte has potential. We're going to grow as a group, and we're looking to be the best running back group in the league."