Forget Odell, Should Rams Pay Todd Gurley?

With all this talk of Odell Beckham Jr potentially being traded to the LA Rams, one question that kept coming up was whether the Rams could afford his contract with the expiring contracts coming up. Guys like Aaron Donald, Marcus Peters, LaMarcus Joyner, and franchise quarterback Jared Goff will all look to get huge contract extensions in the next 1-3 years. But also mentioned in that list is Todd Gurley, and I am asking why.

His talent and production certainly merit being paid big bucks. He lead the league in yards from scrimmage, and would have lead the league in rushing yards had he not been rested in the final, meaningless regular season game. He was the centerpiece of the biggest season to season offensive turn around in NFL history. So LA would be crazy not to resign him right? Well….

Fact of the matter is that he is a running back. And while Gurley himself proved that running backs are enormously valuable while they are on the field, they simply don’t stay on it for too long. Looking back at the greatest running backs of the last 20 years, they don’t have the career longevity of other positions. They touch the ball more than anyone who isn’t a quarterback, and get hit more than anyone. Reality is that running backs almost never give a team more than 7 good to great seasons. Priest Holmes had a 9 year career, and in just three of those years he had 56% of his rushing yards 65% of his career TDs. Tiki Barber had 6 above average years. Marshawn Lynch also had 6. Shawn Alexander had 5. Edgerrin James had 5 years with a yards per carry over 4. Adrian Foster had 4. From guys like Maurice Jones-Drew to Jamaal Charles, there is just a limit to how good they can be for how long. Even the all time greats like a Marshall Faulk or an Adrian Peterson can stretch it out to an extra year and have 8 good to great seasons. But Walter Payton is the poster boy for a long career as a running back, and he made it 10 years while retiring over 30 years ago. Those days are gone. (For those St Louis fans who are howling right about now, Steven Jackson had 8 good years and absolutely has a hall of fame case that wont be heard)

Which brings us back to Todd Gurley. Even if he is an all time great, and has 7-8 good to great seasons in him. Max Kellerman, talking about Le’veon Bell made a very good point that due to the pay structure and franchise tags, he will not be paid what he is worth. This is an even bigger problem for high draft picks like Gurley. With the rookie pay scale. Teams can control elite running backs for below market rate for the first 5 years of their career. If they only get 7-8 great seasons, its likely that 4-5 of those years will be under a rookie pay scale. So you are expecting 3-4 more good season at a maximum. Far more likely you are looking at 1-3. So why issue a massive contract extension for 1-3 good years left? Why not use that franchise tag twice, get 7 years and the vast majority of the production out of a running back, and then let him walk? Using a tag twice will give a team 7 years of control over a position that only has 7-8 good years in him. Almost a worst case scenario is you cut a guy too early rather than too late, which is always better than being locked into a bad contract. The tag has little risk since its a one year deal. Bell’s two tags combined will cost the steelers $26m over two years. Even the tag is good value for the production an elite running back can bring.

I love Todd Gurley. But the NFL is a business, and from a business standpoint, he should never get a long term contract.

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