When will NFL teams learn?
Todd Gurley was released by the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday, a move he laughed off even though his teammate Aaron Donald was mad about it. His sudden free agency comes two years after he reportedly signed a four-year extension worth $60 million, of which $45 million (!!!!) was guaranteed.
The season after he signed? At 24 years old, he averaged 4.9 yards per carry and caught 59 passes, scoring 21 times and helped lead the Rams to a Super Bowl. But a serious knee issue before the 2019 season led L.A. to cut down his workload and now he’s back on the market.
That’s it. Four years of incredible production! That feels like it’s on the low end for running backs, but we’ve seen studies — like this one from FantasyPros — that show the decline starts around age 26. And let’s take a moment to say how frightening and awful that is.
So of course the New York Jets gave Le’Veon Bell $35 million guaranteed last year after he sat out all of 2018, and at 27 years old, he totaled just 52.6 rushing yards per game. Blame it on the Jets’ awful line if you want, but there were rumblings last year that the franchise could jettison him this offseason.
22 running backs were taken in the 2015 NFL Draft.
After Todd Gurley was released by the Rams today, not a single one of them is still with the team that selected them.
This is why everyone’s shocked that the Houston Texans got back David Johnson in the awful DeAndre Hopkins trade. In 2018, he got $30 million guaranteed, had a bounce-back season that year and then, at age 28, only started nine of the 13 games he played due to injury.
As for Ezekiel Elliott? He got a humongous extension last year and although he was productive, it’s that deal that has completely screwed up the Cowboys’ cap situation.
The right move is to go with young talent or cheap options — we just saw two Super Bowl teams compete against each other with an undrafted free agent (Raheem Mostert) and an inexpensive free agent (Damien Williams). If you really must get a year out of your stud? Use the franchise tag like the Steelers did with Bell twice, although he held out the second time. The Titans just did it with Derrick Henry (who just turned 26) and the Cardinals used it on Kenyan Drake (same). It may not make the player happy, but it’s smarter than giving out a big deal.
The test will be with Melvin Gordon. Per the NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo (via Pro Football Talk), “Gordon hasn’t received ‘anything remotely close’ to the offer he could have had with the Chargers last year,” when he averaged 3.8 yards per carry at … age 26.
Or we’ll just see NFL teams continue to make the same mistakes over and over.