Bright spot for Melvin Gordon after trying season? He's healthy entering free agency

Despite missing a quarter of the season, Melvin Gordon wasn't missing his nose for the end zone, scoring nine touchdowns. Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

COSTA MESA, Calif. -- If he had to do it all over again, Melvin Gordon would have showed up to Jack Hammett sports complex for the start of training camp instead of holding out in an effort to get a new deal.

"With me starting so slow, I would have wanted to start with everyone else and just build up," Gordon said. "And then you kind of get into a rhythm when everyone else is getting into theirs, not getting thrown into the fire and taking four games.

"It just messed up a lot of chemistry I feel like, just because I'm trying to catch up to everyone. That's what I didn't like most about it, just me trying to catch up, and that's why I would have came back."

Instead, Gordon missed training camp and the first three games of the regular season over the contract impasse with the Los Angeles Chargers. Gordon was offered a multi-year deal that would have paid him $10 million annually but believed he deserved a contract that paid him among the top running backs in the league -- around $13 to $14 million annually.

Gordon dealt with a forgettable season that included a slow start, including fumbling at the goal line in a late-game loss to the Tennessee Titans in which he held back tears on the sidelines afterwards.

Gordon also had a difficult season off the field that included the death of two uncles and a close friend.

"Never let mistakes or adversity break you," Gordon said during locker room clean out when asked what he learned this season. "You have to overcome it at some point. The pain and disappointment that it brings, it only lasts for so long. And you've just got to keep fighting and push through it.

"At the end of the day, people care, but no one really cares because it's life and it hits everyone. Everyone has their thing, or something that's going on with them. It is what it is, so you can't let it break you."

While he might have struggled early, Gordon performed once he got into a rhythm.

The Wisconsin product finished with 612 rushing yards and nine total touchdowns in 12 games, averaging 3.8 yards per carry. He also added 42 catches for 296 receiving yards. Gordon did lose three fumbles, the first time he lost a fumble since 2016.

But overall, Gordon showed he can still produce. His 35 touchdowns over the last three seasons rank fifth in the NFL. He also has 3,864 scrimmage yards during that same time frame, ninth in the league.

However, the most important thing for Gordon is finishing the season unscathed for the first time in his five-year career.

"I'm glad I made it out healthy, so now I can really get valued off my worth instead of being banged up," Gordon said. "It was on my mind, staying healthy, but then I was telling myself don't think about that, I've just got to play hard because [being careful is] when you get hurt. You've just got to play the game, and I came out healthy."

Now that the season is over, Gordon can turn his attention back to his contract status. And he's hopeful that opportunity remains with the Chargers.

"That's the thing, I'm comfortable with everybody here, but the money's got to be right," Gordon said. "Money talks, and I need it, man. It's not like I'm Keenan [Allen] or a defensive end where you can make a $60 million deal, or $200 million deal, and then come right back and get a $60 million deal. This is it for me, and I've got to make the best of it."

Despite the holdout, Chargers GM Tom Telesco did not dismiss the possibility of Gordon returning.

"I can tell you this -- obviously, Melvin held out, and that doesn't make me very happy," Telesco said. "I think it affected our team early, but you have to get over that. Despite all of that, I love the kid.

"On a personal level and a professional level, I love the kid. Even watching him play against Kansas City [in Week 17], I don't think his statistics were great, but I thought he had a great game. I mean, toughness and heart. That's how I feel about him. However, we have to really look at everything. Let's see how everything fits together. He's an excellent football player."

Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn also seemed receptive to Gordon remaining in the fold.

"I love Melvin Gordon," Lynn said. "He's fun to be around, he's a hard worker. He's a high-character young man. Who wouldn't want Melvin Gordon on their team?"

Gordon is among 15 pending free agents for the Bolts, including Philip Rivers and Hunter Henry. As far as new deal with the Chargers, Gordon would like that to happen before free agency opens in March.

Gordon said he plans on going back to San Diego to train with Todd Durkin, then he will take a trip to South Florida to train in February.

"The market is set," he said. "I want to get something done. I'm tired of waiting. I had a whole offseason to wait leading up to this. I've waited a long time. So if we can get something rolling early, that would be cool with me. I'm not in the business to be waiting any longer. I'd like to know what's going to be going on.

"I hate the anticipation of wondering if I'm going to be here or not. It's stressful, so hopefully we get something done, sooner than later."