It’s the subject that some members of the media keep tiptoeing around the edges of.
In his fairly brief but productive career, Todd Gurley established himself as one of the best players in Rams franchise history. That undeniable excellence led to him signing a massive, record-breaking $60 million contract extension. It was massive. It was indeed record-breaking. And it was also heavily criticized. “Never pay up like that for a running back,” they crowed!
In hindsight, they would appear correct. That said, when you pay someone big bucks, irrespective of position (or even sport for that matter), you’re hoping that they don’t get hurt or otherwise suffer a major drop in production. The thought process is, you wouldn’t make an investment like that in someone unless you were certain they were bought in.
Year one went fine. They probably shouldn’t have lost to the Falcons in the playoffs but multiple special teams turnovers is a hard thing to overcome. Year two was going swimmingly until what appeared to be a minor knee injury hit Gurley late in the season. Out of what seemed like an abundance of caution, the team rested Gurley for the end of the regular season, and leaned on late season addition CJ Anderson to lead the rushing attack.
Is this when it went wrong?
Anderson played well, and Gurley didn’t get significant playing time for much of the playoffs, including the Super Bowl loss to the Patriots. That Anderson played well shouldn’t have surprised anyone. He is a veteran, terrific in pass protection, and the Rams had one of the best offensive lines in the league. The surprise was that he basically Wally Pipped Gurley.
Gurley maintained from day one that his injury was minor, and nothing to worry about. The team played coy with his condition, of course, and that led to rampant speculation by internet pundits with the combined orthopedic experience of a garden gnome and stone moss. He needs another ACL repair! It’s chronic arthritis! They’re gonna amputate! It’s CTE of the KNEE!!! Ok, I just made that last one up because it rhymes, but you get the point.
And he was asked. A lot. Why aren’t you playing if the knee is ok? Are you hurt more than you’re letting on? Does it bother you that CJ is getting more reps? Verbally, Gurley always said the right thing. As long as the team wins, etc. etc. But his tone contained an edge.
Fast forward to the Super Bowl, we all know what happened.
Is THIS where it went wrong?
Gurley claimed to be healthy yet he was barely involved in the game plan. Overall, head coach Sean McVay’s game plan was criminally inept for someone who has the reputation of being an offensive genius, and backed that up by taking largely the same offensive roster that the brutally incompetent Jeff Fisher had, and putting up consistently gaudy point and yardage totals. But in the Super Bowl, by his own admission, he “overprepared,” got too complicated and let a very average Patriots defense shut the offense down almost completely. Was Gurley thinking, “they rode me like a horse the last two seasons to get here, and now they do me like this?”
Enter the offseason, the team still remains coy about Gurley’s medical status, offering tepid platitudes like “we’re just managing his offseason work,” and “he’s a big part of our plans.” Meanwhile, Gurley certainly appeared to exaggerate a kind of modified limp to keep the narrative going. Was he enjoying it, all the speculation?
He sat out the preseason, but that wasn’t weird – virtually all Rams veterans did. Then he split carries with Malcom Brown in week 1.
Is this where it went wrong? Was he now upset that he was basically being platooned? The injury narrative wouldn’t stop coming up. He also didn’t look as explosive as he had in the good old days, but one also couldn’t be blamed for wondering if Gurley was really trying. Field vision was never really Gurley’s strong suit, as he frequently ran right up his offensive lines’ backs as gaping holes were left unused mere feet to either side. But get him into the open field, he’s virtually impossible to bring down with his combination of size and speed. But middling effort to break the first level didn’t often result in that.
There were games like the shocking loss to Tampa Bay, where the unprepared Rams basically got boatraced by the Bucs, and Gurley got only six touches. There were games where Gurley was actually very effective, but underused, such as the shocking loss to a Steelers team led by Mason Rudolph, and without James Conner. Sure, an unconscionable fumble call and even more egregious upholding of said call by the replay booth on a Jared Goff pass that traveled nearly 15 yards down the field led to the Steelers’ only touchdown, but trailing in the fourth quarter Gurley wasn’t used once despite averaging nearly six yards a carry and not being hurt.
Was Sean McVay sending a message?
There were other games Gurley was good. He was a workhorse in a key win over the Bears. Dominated a hapless Seahawks defense in a crucial division matchup. But the season fizzled, the team missed the playoffs, and Gurley ended up with career worst numbers.
Did he care? The man had been paid, after all.
And here we are today, and we know what happened. The Rams decided to absorb a massive amount of dead money on their cap rather than pay an unmotivated malcontent to share time in their backfield. He’s now a motivated happy camper back in Atlanta in the state where he rose to college prominence at Georgia.
We may always wonder when it went wrong, and why it went wrong, but there’s little doubt who was captaining that ship. Still, Gurley gave Rams fans some of their best memories in recent times, and we should thank him for that. It’s probably a little nicer than his last message on social media to the team. “@Rams Thanks for the check.”