In 2018, Gurley signed a $60 million contract with the Rams. He quickly was signed by Atlanta after his release.
Then, Gurley was coming off his best season yet. He thrived in Sean McVay’s first year as coach, winning the 2017 NFL Offensive Player of the Year after leading the league in scrimmage yards. The Rams rewarded Gurley with a $60 million contract that made him the highest-paid running back in the NFL.
However, that was the peak of his time with the Rams. A knee injury at the end of the 2018 season overshadowed LA’s run to the Super Bowl, and a drop in both usage and production followed in 2019. He rushed for a career-low 857 last season.
That wasn’t the only factor in his release. Gurley was also set to cost the Rams $10.5 million if they didn’t trade or release him before 4 p.m. on March 19. The Rams failed to find a trade partner, so they parted ways with their one-time offensive star.
The good news is that Gurley, at just 25 years old, didn’t have to wait too long to find a new team. Just over 12 hours after his release from the Rams, he signed a one-year deal with the Atlanta Falcons.
Gurley was one of the best running backs in his first few seasons in the NFL
The Rams selected Gurley with the No. 10 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. A torn ACL at Georgia the year prior meant the Rams were tentative on getting him into the game, and he didn’t make his first start until Week 4. Despite that, he rushed for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns that season, earning a Pro Bowl invite and the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year Award.
The following season, Gurley hit a sophomore slump in Jeff Fisher’s final year as head coach. Gurley finished with just 885 yards and six touchdowns in the Rams’ league-worst offense.
Gurley bounced back under McVay in 2017, picking up a career-high 1,307 yards while leading the league in rushing touchdowns with 13. He also had more receiving yards (788) than he did in his first two years combined (515). His efforts won him the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year Award, All-Pro honors, and a trip to the Pro Bowl.
After signing his extension, he scored a career-high and league-leading 17 rushing touchdowns during the 2018 season. He was named to the Pro Bowl and was again an All-Pro selection.
But Gurley’s health has been a concern throughout his career
Gurley’s had issues with his knee throughout his career, starting with the ACL tear he suffered in college. In 2018, he missed the last two games of the season due to a left knee sprain. He returned for the playoffs and after a 115-yard game against the Cowboys, his playing time shrunk. He carried the ball just four times against the Saints in the NFC Championship Game and 10 times in the Super Bowl loss to the Patriots.
Gurley’s absence in the Super Bowl raised questions about his health, but Gurley and the Rams insisted he wasn’t injured.
A month later, Gurley’s trainer revealed the former All-Pro back had an arthritic component to his knee. The Rams oddly never really said directly that they were limiting him, though.
Through the first eight weeks of the season, he was held to fewer than 20 carries a game, and there were three games during which he had 10 carries or fewer. Overall, his 223 carries in 2019 was 38 fewer than his season average of 261 per season over the first four of his career.
Gurley’s lack of carries was noticeable throughout the season, but the most glaring example came during a Week 8 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. In the fourth quarter, the Rams didn’t run Gurley at all, instead using backup Malcolm Brown.
“The Steelers game stands out in terms of where we were running the football well and you didn’t really give him a chance to get back going based on how that thing played out,” McVay said later in the season. “You always try to learn from your previous experiences.”
McVay was upfront about regretting how he didn’t use Gurley, but he still never gave a specific reason as to why.
Gurley had just three games with 20 carries or more through the season. Unsurprisingly, he finished last season rushing for a career-low 1,064 yards from scrimmage.
For his part, Gurley took the release in stride:
What’s next for Gurley in Atlanta remains to be seen
At just 25, Gurley is young enough to keep playing in the league, especially for someone who’s averaged over 1,000 rushing yards per season in his career. When he’s fully healthy, he’s one of the most dangerous backs in the league. Whether he is fully healthy is uncertain for now.
While they were reports that the Dolphins, Seahawks, and Bucs were interested in Gurley, the Falcons pounced. They desperately needed running back help after releasing Devonta Freeman earlier in the week. This is a pretty cool homecoming for Gurley, too — Atlanta has a huge Georgia Bulldogs fanbase.
It hasn’t been easy for NFL running backs recently. Their value and production have dwindle significantly. Gurley had looked like the exception to that trend. Instead, he went from being one of the highest-paid running backs in the league to released two years later. It’s a disappointing way for his Rams career to end after it started off with so much promise, but Gurley has a chance to prove he’s not done just yet with the Falcons.