That sound, off in the distance? That low rumble you hear reverberating throughout the winter air is the collective cackles of the “Running Backs Don't Matter” truthers reveling in the latest blow to the case to pay running backs top-line contracts.
That, of course, being the latest in the saga of the Los Angeles Rams and running back Todd Gurley, and ESPN’s Lindsay Thiry predicted they could look to trade Gurley this offseason.
The development would serve as a stunning shift for the Rams, given that they inked Gurley to a four-year, $60-million extension in the summer of 2018. What's most fascinating about that extension? It was signed two football seasons ago — 2020 will actually be the first year of Gurley's extended contract — which means he's entering into the new deal with the Rams already showing some buyer's remorse given their salary cap situation.
Trading Gurley will be extremely difficult. The Rams are rumored to be entertaining a trade of Gurley in part because they are strapped for cap space. Moving on from Gurley now would hardly save Los Angeles from salary cap hell and getting a deal done may further minimize the team's savings.
Can it be done? Sure. But for as much as the Rams would probably like to trade their 25-year old running back, they're going to have a difficult time finding a suitor. Why?
- Gurley's knee issues are well established and create a layer of uncertainty to how much longevity he has to perform at a high level — or if he's already fallen off the cliff.
- Financially speaking, Gurley's cost (and positional value) is going to shrivel his trade market.
- The 2020 NFL Draft is stocked full of talented runners — all of which will come for pennies on the dollar compared to the contract of Gurley.
- Offset language in Gurley's contract will force a team trading for him to absorb significant guaranteed money as early as March 20, 2020, when a $5 million 2021 roster bonus becomes fully guaranteed (you read that right). Gurley is already due a $7.55-million roster bonus for 2020, which was triggered on the third day of the NFL's 2019 calendar year last March.
Who is going to sign themselves up for this? What NFL team is possibly going to readily absorb over $13 million in guaranteed cap space for a depreciating back who may or may not have already hit the cliff? Gurley has touched the football 1,483 times in five seasons — there's a lot of miles on his legs.
While teams like the Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Houston Texans or any others would probably love the idea of trading for Gurley doing so comes at the risk of multiple seasons of eight-figure cap hits for a player that may never be the same.
What exactly do you charge for that if you're the Rams? A reasonable offer for the financial cost and health risk would be nothing of note, and the Rams may have to eat some additional cap space in order to facilitate a deal.
If Los Angeles is able to move Gurley this offseason — that's a big if too — expect it to be for nothing more than a Day 3 draft selection. And even then, the Rams may have to agree to eat some of Gurley's $13.05 million in guaranteed cash for 2020 to get it done and marginalize their savings even further.
Gurley, as of now, is due a cap hit of $17.25 million — trading him results in $12.6 million in dead cap space. Taking on more cash to ease the burden for any new team acquiring Gurley would likely leave the Rams in an unenviable spot: paying nearly the same amount of money to not have Gurley as they would be otherwise paying to actually have him on the roster.