ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos general manager George Paton has said "the door is open" for some of the team's free agents to return to the team, even well more than a month into free agency
On Tuesday night, running back Melvin Gordon III agreed to walk through that door. The 29-year-old, eight-year veteran agreed to terms on a one-year deal to return to the Broncos in a package that includes performance incentives.
Gordon is the third unrestricted free agent to re-sign with the Broncos on a one-year deal in recent weeks, joining safety Kareem Jackson and defensive tackle DeShawn Williams. The contract terms were first reported by NFL reporter Jordan Schultz.
The veteran's return -- just days away from the NFL draft -- indicates he knows he will share carries with Javonte Williams once again. It also shows the Broncos don't believe enough help could be found at that position in this weekend's draft. As a result, the Broncos are expected to open the season with the same three running backs as last year: Williams, Gordon and Mike Boone.
To signify the move Tuesday night, Denver tweeted out a postgame photo of Gordon with quarterback Russell Wilson when the latter was with the Seattle Seahawks. Now, of course, they'll be backfield mates.
Williams, who was the Broncos' second-round pick in the 2021 draft and was named to the league's All Rookie team following the season, was asked after Tuesday's minicamp practice about the prospect of Gordon's return to the team if Gordon didn't get a better offer somewhere else later in free agency.
"I've been talking to Mel lately, seeing how he is and seeing what he's been doing," Williams said. "Whatever (general manager) George (Paton) has planned, I'm ready. If I have to split carries, or if I'm the starter, it doesn't matter. Whatever it is, I'm just trying to win the Super Bowl."
Gordon had said as last season drew to a close that he believed Williams had the skills to be the team's top back, and because of that Gordon hoped to find a situation where he could be the unquestioned No. 1 option in an offense's run game.
Last season, Gordon and Williams each had 203 carries and Gordon led the team with 918 yards rushing to Williams' 903 yards. Gordon battled hip, shoulder and thumb injuries down the stretch, but missed just one game this past season -- the Broncos' Week 13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
First-year coach Nathaniel Hackett has said he likes what he has seen from Williams as well as Williams' potential as a lead back. But Hackett also said when minicamp opened Monday he wants depth at the position.
From the time Gordon signed a two-year, $16 million contract with the Denver Broncos before the 2020 season, he always seemed to be the target of criticism from the team's faithful no matter how he performed. He has led the Broncos in rushing in each of the past two seasons and scored 20 touchdowns in 31 games.
But when asked about the potential of leaving in free agency as last season wound down, Gordon added:
"Hell yeah I'm thinking about it. I would love to be here. I don't think many people want me here, as far as the fans. I want to be here. I've been seeing a lot of stuff. And I understand. I get it. But I love it here. I love the guys here. I'd love to be here. Regardless of the hate right now. I think it's mostly because of fantasy. The fantasy football get people a little tight in the rear end."
In 2020, he was considered by many to be the veteran most responsible for taking carries away from Phillip Lindsay, a Denver South High School graduate and fan favorite. And last season, it was Williams whom some fans wanted to see carry the ball more.
But Gordon has persevered. He has rushed for 6,144 yards and 53 touchdowns and has 284 receptions for 2,244 yards and 14 touchdowns in seven seasons.