Todd Gurley has become the latest player to illustrate why NFL teams are often reluctant to hand out big money to high-usage running backs. On Thursday, the Los Angeles Rams released the 25-year-old just two years after giving him a massive extension.
Gurley’s contract was supposed to last through 2023, but injuries have slowed down the two-time All-Pro running back. He was set to earn more than $14 million per year.
The Rams reportedly tried trading Gurley, their first-round pick in 2015, but his contract was too pricy for another team to take on. His deal trailed only Ezekiel Elliott’s — which was signed last offseason — in total value.
Gurley had $7.5 million in guaranteed money owed to him next year. The Rams will have to eat between $11.75 and $20.15 million in dead money depending on whether the release is made official before or after June 1. Gurley is free to find a new team immediately, though.
The Rams dubiously made Gurley the highest-paid running back in the NFL with two years left on his rookie contract in 2018. He made the All-Pro team in consecutive years in 2017 and 18, rushing for 2,556 total yards and 30 touchdowns in the two seasons.
Last season, Gurley ran for 857 yards on 223 carries. His 3.8 yards per carry was the worst average he managed since 2016.
The Rams and Eagles share some similarities financially. Both teams are coming to grips with a high-priced quarterback after the 2016 NFL draft, which sent Jared Goff to Los Angeles and Carson Wentz to Philadelphia. Goff counts for $36 million against the cap next season, while Wentz’s cap hit will be $18.7 million next year and more than $34 million the year after.
Both teams also entered the offseason with decisions to make about fixing a bleak contract situation. The Rams chose to cut Gurley, but the Eagles still have to figure out what to do with injured and possibly disgruntled receiver Alshon Jeffery.
Jeffery counts for more than $15 million against the cap next season. The Eagles could save $10 million in cap space and spread out $16 million in dead money over three years if he’s released before June 1.
Gurley wasn’t the only Rams player cut for salary cap space Thursday. Linebacker Clay Matthews joined his teammate on the free-agent market after being released one season after signing with the Rams.
Los Angeles was hoping to rejuvenate the former Packers edge rusher, but the 33-year-old struggled against the run. He managed eight sacks as part of a potent Los Angeles pass rush, but he missed 12 tackles on 44 opportunities last year, according to Pro Football Focus.
Matthews, a six-time Pro Bowler, signed a two-year, $9.25 million contract last offseason, and will count against the Rams’ salary cap for $2 million next season.
Like Matthews, Joe Flacco is hitting the open market after signing a multiple-year contract last offseason. The Denver Broncos cut the former University of Delaware star after signing him to a three-year contract worth more than $66 million last offseason to be their starting quarterback.
Flacco, from Audubon, N.J., hurt his neck midway through the season, giving way to rookie Drew Lock’s emergence as the team’s starter.
Flacco went 2-6 as the Broncos’ starter, while Lock went 4-1 after the 35-year-old’s injury. The Broncos signed Jeff Driskel to back up Lock for next season, closing the door on Flacco’s tenure. Flacco will count for $13.6 million against Denver’s cap space, but the team saved $10 million for free agency.
Even ignoring Flacco’s regression last season, he will have a difficult time finding another starting job for next year. Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Teddy Bridgewater, and Marcus Mariota have all found new teams. Jameis Winston is the top free agent available, while both Cam Newton’s and Andy Dalton’s teams are looking for trade partners.