With the NFL draft just a couple days away, the Rams made two moves Tuesday with ramifications for star players selected in the first round in 2015.
The Rams exercised their fifth-year options on running back Todd Gurley, the reigning NFL offensive player of the year, and cornerback Marcus Peters, a Pro Bowl cornerback acquired in March.
NFL teams have the option of adding a fifth, fully guaranteed year to first-round rookie contracts after a player’s third season. Players selected with the first through 10th picks can earn a fifth-year salary that is the average of the 10 highest salaries at their position. For players drafted 11th through 32nd, the fifth-year salary is the average of the third- through 25th-highest salaries for a player’s position.
Gurley, the 10th pick in the 2015 draft, will earn $9.6 million in 2019 if he does not receive an extension. Peters, the 18th pick, will earn just more than $9 million.
Rams general manager Les Snead said Gurley’s performance “speaks for itself” after the 23-year-old running back, the NFL offensive rookie of the year in 2015, bounced back from a bad 2016 and led the league with 19 touchdowns.
Peters intercepted 19 passes in three seasons for the Kansas City Chiefs, making the 25-year-old a potential cornerstone on defense.
“When we made the trade for Marcus, we do foresee a long-term future with him so we’re definitely going to check that box as well,” Snead said during a news conference to discuss this year’s draft, which begins Thursday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
The Rams do not have first- or second-round picks in the draft. Barring a trade to move up, they will not be active until Friday’s third round, when they pick at No. 87. They also have three fourth-round picks and four sixth-round picks.
The Rams originally held the No. 23 pick but sent it to the New England Patriots for receiver Brandin Cooks earlier this month. It was the fourth big acquisition by the NFC West champions during an offseason that also netted Peters, cornerback Aqib Talib and defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh.
McVay was happy to give up his first-round pick for Cooks, who has topped 1,000 receiving yards in each of his past three seasons.
“If you told me we would get a player like that at 23, I’d be throwing a pool party,” McVay said Tuesday.
Cooks is in the fifth and final year of his rookie contract; the Patriots exercised the option before last season. Cooks, the 20th pick in the 2014 draft, will earn about $8.5 million this season and the Rams have indicated they are interested in extending his contract.
The Rams are in the process of negotiating a big extension for defensive tackle Aaron Donald, the reigning NFL defensive player of the year who is entering the final year of his rookie contract and not participating in voluntary offseason workouts at the Rams’ Thousand Oaks facility. Exercising fifth-year options on Gurley and Peters positions the franchise for similar scenarios next year.
After the Rams made the playoffs for the first time since 2004 in their first season under McVay, Snead has said they aim to keep their nucleus of core players together for a long time. That includes Donald, a first-round pick in 2014, Gurley and quarterback Jared Goff, the No. 1 overall pick in 2016.
Gurley originally signed a four-year, $13.8-million contract that included an $8.3-million signing bonus. He will earn a $2.3-million in base salary and carries a salary-cap number of $4.4 million this season, according to overthecap.com. It’s a relative bargain for a player who rushed for 1,305 yards last year, caught a team-best 64 passes and was selected to the Pro Bowl for the second time in three seasons.
Asked a few weeks ago whether he would like to start contract talks, Gurley said, “Anyone would love to talk about contract situations.”
“Just keep doing what I’m doing,” he added. “Been doing the same thing, and like I said, the rest will take care of itself.”
Peters, voted to the Pro Bowl in each of his first two seasons, is scheduled to earn slightly more than $1.7 million this season. McVay said he has been impressed by Peters’ attention to detail and his communication with coaches, teammates and the strength and training staffs.
“He’s doing all the little things the right way,” McVay said.