Raiders vs Rams

Raiders vs Rams :Gridiron Digest: Running Backs at the Crossroads as NFL Training Camps OpenIt’s the start of the 2019 season. Do you know where your best running back is?If you are a Chargers, Rams or Cowboys fan, he may be holding out for a new contract, battling a lingering knee injury and “bad energy” or…maybe in Mexico?

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An all-new season of Gridiron Digest kicks off with Melvin Gordon, Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott and some other running backs whose health or contract issues could have massive implications for their teams—not to mention your fantasy team.

But Digest is also as jam-packed with its usual assortment of other topics and features, including:The camel-ridin’, cliff-divin’, armored-truck-drivin’, triumphant return of Point-Counterpoint.

Futures bets that you’ll want to get a piece of. Training camp previews for the Falcons and Broncos. (Don’t yawn. They were the first teams to report. What else is there to watch?)A look at what to expect from Hall of Fame weekend, from an all-new stadium to Imagine Dragons.

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The Cowboys assigned Ezekiel Elliott a seat on their team flight to training camp, perhaps hoping he would get it mixed up with his rumored trip out of the country (maybe another Mexican holiday?) and show up at the terminal by mistake. But it didn’t work: Elliott is a no-show at Cowboys camp.

Elliott has two years left on his rookie contract and wants a couple of Jerry Jones’ big sacks o’ money. But Jerrah already paid defensive end Demarcus Lawrence some sacks o’ money this offseason and has other sacks earmarked for Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper.

Even Jerrah only has so many sacks to go around, and Elliott’s status as both a high-mileage running back and a constant blip on the NFL’s disciplinary radar leaves him at the back of the lunch line.

Rookies Tony Pollard and Mike Weber give the Cowboys some alternatives to Elliott. And frankly, a box turtle should be able to gain about 1,000 yards behind the Cowboys offensive line. But suggesting that a two-time rushing leader can be replaced by a pair of later-round draft picks would be taking the “running backs don’t matter” debate to illogical extremes.

Elliott is irreplaceable for the Cowboys because they made it that way. The team whose solution to its tight end problem was “let’s bring Jason Witten out of retirement” isn’t about to suddenly adhere to analytics’ best practices.

Head coach Jason Garrett wants to run early and often and use Elliott as a screen and checkdown threat in the passing game, and Garrett isn’t exactly renowned for his ability to adjust tactically

Elliott is likely to get a Todd Gurley plus-sized contract from the Cowboys, but he may have to wait until Jerrah’s check-writing pen cools off after the Prescott deal is worked out.

Elliott can safely lay low at the start of camp, but he cannot fall too far off the grid. Last year’s abrupt Dez Bryant dismissal revealed that Jerrah’s eagerness to spend, spend, spend on his stars—and his patience—is more limited than it used to be.

Melvin Gordon is in the fifth and final year of his rookie contract and wants an extension. The Chargers, whose team motto should be “Penny Wise, Dollar Foolish,” have been playing contract hardball with running backs since LaDainian Tomlinson’s day and are unlikely to be the first ones to blink in a holdout stare-down.

Yahoo’s Charles Robinson reports the two sides are $2-3 million apart on annual salary. But the Chargers appear to want to lock Gordon into a longer deal (probably with backloaded money he’s unlikely to see), while Gordon wants something shorter but meatier.

Philip Rivers said it best late in the week, per Matt Szabo of the Los Angeles Times: “We love Marvin, but we’re going to go with what we’ve got. It’s a pretty dang good group.”

Backup Austin Ekeler has been more productive on a per-touch basis than Gordon for two seasons, and Justin Jackson also had a few impressive games last year. The Chargers added training camp depth by signing Derrick Gore* last week, too.

So, Gordon doesn’t have a great deal of bargaining leverage. Then again, the Chargers offense is most dangerous when mixing and matching Gordon and Ekeler, often with one in the backfield and one in the slot.

Also, the Chargers are the NFL’s hardest-luck team: They’re tempting fate that they will miss the playoffs because Ekeler gets tripped up at the 1-yard line in a game or something.

The Chargers aren’t bluffing. They don’t even play poker. That Chargers offer won’t get any better, so Gordon must either buckle up for a Le’Veon Bell-level holdout or report to camp. Despite reports that contend this might last into the season, look for him to show up after the dog days of camp have ended, whether with a new deal or without.

*No, Derrick Gore is not Frank Gore’s son. But you would not be surprised at all if he was.

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