The Los Angeles Rams field one of the most potent offenses in the NFL. Head Coach Sean McVay’s scheme is the envy of the league. They have a young elite quarterback, multiple receiving threat, and running back Todd Gurley is a two-time All-Pro. Gurley’s productivity was rewarded with a four-year, $60 million extension that included $45 million in guarantees. But now, only one year into the deal, the Rams may be regretting their decision. The star running back is at a career crossroads.
According to Jeff Howe of the Athletic, he’s battling arthritis. Todd Gurley’s knee injury could end his status as an elite playmaker in just four years. He’s gone from a potential MVP to an albatross on the salary cap. General Managers going forward must seriously consider changing their tactics. Giving running backs big-money deals is no longer a smart way to allocate cap dollars. Gurley’s status is a lesson for the New York Giants and Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys and Le’Veon Bell with the New York Jets.
Todd Gurley Facing Career Crossroads
Gurley’s Knee Injury In College
Todd Gurley gained national attention in his freshman year as a Georgia Bulldog in 2012. He played in 14 games, amassing 1,385 yards on 222 attempts while finding the end zone 17 times. Gurley battled injuries over the next two years of his collegiate career. As Tim Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported at the time, Gurley tore his ACL in his left knee during a win over the Auburn Tigers in 2014.
Todd Gurley In the NFL
The Rams drafted Todd Gurley in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Los Angeles drafted him even though his knee injury would delay the start of his rookie season in the NFL. Gurley was one of the best backs in the entire league for two seasons. His production dramatically decreased late in the 2018-19 regular season. Gurley missed games due to left knee soreness and inflammation and was even shut down for the final two games of the regular season.
During the season and right after the Rams’ Super Bowl loss, reports of the severity of the Gurley’s knee injury gained tons of buzz. When did Gurley sustain his latest knee injury? Is it arthritis? Were the Rams contemplating drastic stem cell treatments to alleviate his pain? Because Gurley couldn’t stay on the field, the Rams signed veteran running backC.J. Anderson last season. Anderson was a major contributor to the Rams offense and earned a free-agent contract from the Detroit Lions. Rookie running back Darrell Henderson is expected to split carries in the McVay offense.
On Borrowed Time
Gurley’s knee may end his career as an elite offensive weapon. But to be frank, Gurley, whose 24, was on borrowed time. According to the NFL Player’s Association, the average length of an NFL career is 3.3 years. The length of a running back’s career is even shorter–2.6 years. For all intents and purposes, running backs abide by the law of diminishing returns. By 30 their productivity falls off a cliff. The list of top running backs who hit the 30-year-old wall includes Jamal Lewis, Thurman Thomas, Edgerrin James, and Shaun Alexander.
Other Teams Must Beware
The New York Giants signed Saquon Barkley to a four-year rookie contract in 2018. The former Penn State Nittany Lion will be 26 when he becomes a free agent in 2022-23. There is a fifth-year player option, but his contract negotiations will not be easy. Barring injury, Barkley will merit a big contract with tons of guaranteed money. But can the team afford to guarantee at least four years to a running back who will be 30 by the time his second contract ends? If NFL running back history is the Giants guide, the answer will be no.
The Dallas Cowboys face the same crisis with Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott will be an unrestricted free agent in 2021 at 25. What will Cowboys ownership do about the second contract for their own star running back?
But the team that could suffer the most from their running back becoming less productive with age is the New York Jets. Le’Veon Bell is 27 and signed a four-year free agent contract with Gang Green this off-season. Although Bell sat out the 2018-19 season in a contract dispute, he’s had more than 200 carries in a season four times in his five-year career. There’s a lot of tread off his tires. Can a devastating injury be far behind?
The Rams are hoping for a miracle cure and ultimately Todd Gurley’s knee injury could extinguish a burgeoning NFL career. But the real shame is the decision-making process by the Rams. How do you give $45 million in guaranteed money to a running back with a history of knee issues? The more sound financial decision would be to save that money for quarterback Jared Goff‘s upcoming contract negotiations and the Rams elite defensive players.
Let’s hope general managers finally learn their lessons and realize the careers of elite NFL running backs end almost as quickly as their 40-yard dash times.
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