Just two years ago, Todd Gurley and the Los Angeles Rams looked like a marriage made in NFL heaven. The dual-threat running back signed a massive contract extension after earning 2017 NFL Offensive Player of the Year honors. And in the first year of his new deal, the team advanced all the way to Super Bowl LIII.
Yet, the lust quickly faded after Gurley’s production sharply declined due to recurring knee troubles. Already strapped with several top-of-the-market contracts, Los Angeles faced a tough decision this offseason. Last month, the team divorced itself from Gurley’s exorbitant contract. Though the three-time Pro Bowler already signed a new deal in Atlanta, he’s still waiting for a significant bonus from his former team.
Todd Gurley signed $60 million deal in 2018
Dating back to his days at Georgia, Todd Gurley looked like a transcendent talent. Capable of catching the ball out of the backfield and running over linebackers, he overcame a devastating knee injury in college and managed to go 10th overall in the 2015 NFL draft. He quickly alleviated concerns about his damaged knee by rushing for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns as a rookie. His production took a slight hit in his second season. However, the Rams smartly moved on from Jeff Fisher and brought in offensive mastermind Sean McVay.
The hire proved to be a career-altering move for Gurley and the Rams. In his first season in McVay’s offense, he exploded for 1,305 yards and 13 TD on the ground. More impressively, the former Georgia star racked up 788 receiving yards and six TD on 64 catches. His standout season resulted in his second Pro Bowl selection and his first of two consecutive first-team All-Pro honors. At that point, he reminded some of former NFL and fantasy football star LaDainian Tomlinson because of his dual-threat abilities.
Even though he still had multiple years left on his rookie contract, the Rams decided to lock up their star offensive weapon to a long-term deal. In July 2018, Los Angeles handed Gurley a record-setting $60 million contract extension. The deal included $45 million guaranteed and made the budding star the highest-paid running back in NFL history.
Rams cut three-time Pro Bowler in March
After going 11-5 in his first season, McVay and the Rams had their sights set on a Super Bowl run. With former No. 1 pick Jared Goff behind center, Gurley in the backfield and a cast of weapons at receiver, the Rams had all the components to become NFL champions. Los Angeles maximized their talented roster and went 13-3 during the regular season. Gurley earned All-Pro honors after scoring 17 rushing touchdowns, but the Rams fell to Bill Belichick and a stout Patriots defense in Super Bowl LIII.
What proved more problematic was Gurley’s troublesome knee. He received just 11 touches in the Super Bowl defeat—a worrying sign for a player who should have been the focal point of the offense. It only got worse last season, as the Rams’ top weapon regressed mightily. The 25-year-old averaged 3.8 yards per carry and finished with just 857 rushing yards. He even got phased out of the passing game. Gurley’s 49 targets were his lowest total since his rookie season.
For all of his impressive accomplishments, it was clear that there were long-term concerns about Gurley’s knee. Los Angeles faced a difficult decision before ultimately cutting their former top draft pick in March.
Gurley calls out his former team for not paying $7.55 million bonus
NFL teams don’t pay for past production. And in the case of Todd Gurley, his contract simply became too much of an albatross to carry on the books. Los Angeles had to trade or cut the former MVP candidate before the new league year began if it wanted to avoid a serious financial burden. Because of his contract structure, Gurley’s $5.5 million base salary for 2020 and his $5 million roster bonus for 2021 would have become guaranteed by the start of the new league year. The financial implications of keeping a banged-up running back made it an easy call.
Despite his decline, Gurley quickly signed a one-year deal with the Falcons, adding another first-round pick to their stacked offense. Even after moving on from each other, however, that hasn’t stopped a bitter divorce from playing out on social media.
On Wednesday, Gurley and former teammate Clay Matthews blasted the Rams on Twitter for failing to pay bonus money from their contracts. The former believes he should still get his $7.55 million bonus from the Rams. However, ESPN reported that his new contract included offset language that saves the Rams $2.5 million.
It seems even divorces between NFL players and teams still come down to money. Let’s see if this bitter battle ends up in court, or if each party goes their separate ways. Either way, Todd Gurley is still a very rich young man.