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Rams

Column: Rams have only one option left with Todd Gurley: Trade him

Todd Gurley runs off the field following the Rams’ season finale against the Cardinals on Dec. 29. 2019, at the Coliseum.
Todd Gurley runs off the field following the Rams’ season finale against the Cardinals on Dec. 29 at the Coliseum.
(John McCoy / Getty Images)

They tried resting him, and it didn’t work.

They tried running him, and it didn’t work.

The Rams exhausted seemingly every option this season in attempting to operate their offense through Todd Gurley, yet his sore and slowing legs could not carry them past mediocrity.

The inconsistency of his usage was a constant distraction. His production didn’t warrant the team jumping through hoops. In the end, slowed further by a makeshift offensive line, the hero actually became a hindrance, forcing the Rams into an unsettling limbo while waiting for the burst that rarely came.

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They enter this offseason desperately needing to revitalize a scoring attack that precipitously fell from 12th in NFL history to 11th in the league, meaning there’s only one thing left to do with their declining star.

For the first time under coach Sean McVay, the Rams will miss the playoffs and will try to figure out what moves they can make to become contenders again.

The Rams need to trade Todd Gurley.

It is not going to be easy. It’s not going to be pretty. They won’t reap a huge return.

Another team will have to agree to assume a chunk of the $60-million contract extension Gurley signed two summers ago. That narrows the field.

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Another team will have to believe that Gurley, even if he passes the requisite physical, can overcome the restrictions caused by his arthritic left knee. That narrows the field even further.

Gurley would be a nice fit for a playoff club looking for a specialty complementary backfield piece who still can throw out a stiff arm and carry a tackler a couple of yards into the end zone.

There are not many of those teams. The Rams need to find one. This will be a tough sell. The Rams need to sell it hard. This might take some time. The Rams need to do it before next season.

From Andrew Whitworth to Dante Fowler and Greg Zuerlein, the Rams have to figure how to reconfigure their roster so they can get back into the playoffs next season.

They cannot endure another autumn of Waiting For Todd, Hoping For Todd, Testing Out Todd, Talking About Todd ... then looking up one day to see Gurley ranks 37th in the league at 3.8 yards per carry and they’re out of the playoffs.

They can’t play another game after which coach Sean McVay calls himself an idiot for not running Gurley, and Gurley doesn’t disagree with him. Yet the real idiots were those of us who thought this odd arrangement could work. It couldn’t. It didn’t.

The load-management stuff turned out to be a load of you-know-what. When they finally unleashed Gurley in the final seven games of the season, they went 4-3. In their two biggest games during that stretch, against the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers, he accounted for 86 total yards on 29 touches.

Two seasons after being named NFL offensive player of the year, one season after leading the league in rushing touchdowns, Gurley finished this season as the league’s 20th ranked running back, failing to gain 100 yards in any game.

During his annual postseason interview session Tuesday, I asked Rams general manager Les Snead if Gurley was the same running back as in the past.

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“This year he wasn’t,” Snead acknowledged.

Todd Gurley picks up yards against the Bears during a game Nov. 17 at the Coliseum.
Todd Gurley picks up yards during a game against the Bears on Nov. 17 at the Coliseum.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

He later clarified his statement to note that Gurley’s performance was vulnerable to many factors, including an injury-riddled offensive line and defenses that focused on him.

“If a runner doesn’t have space early in the down ... to accelerate ... maybe there was less room this year,” Snead said. “You felt that as you juggled the O-line, as teams adjusted to try to stop the run.”

Snead also noted that just because Gurley gained only 857 yards — nearly 500 yards fewer than his peak season in 2017, with nearly one yard fewer per carry — doesn’t mean his greatness is finished.

“I think we’ve seen players have years that were less than the past come back and actually get back to where they were,” he said.

But Snead’s initial point was valid. Gurley was not Gurley. Can the Rams really afford to take the chance that he will ever be Gurley again?

The answer is no. The Rams can’t afford to be content with 9-7. They can’t afford the sort of inertia that will drive away their hard-won fans, not now.

They are moving into a new stadium. Their two cornerstone players — Aaron Donald and Jared Goff — are moving into the primes of their career. They have a roster still loaded with players just one year from appearing in the Super Bowl. They’re in a suddenly strong division where simply a winning record will not guarantee the playoffs.

The Chargers must choose whether to bring back quarterback Philip Rivers next season, but Anthony Lynn is in no rush to make that decision or others.
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They need to get better, and stay better, but how? They don’t have the salary-cap space to add top free agents. They don’t have a first-round draft pick for a couple of years. They don’t have a lot of options other than draft well in later rounds and hope their current group of kids will grow up.

They need a quick jolt, the recharging of what was once a nearly unbeatable battery, and trading Gurley would provide that shock.

It would create cap space. It might net another late-round draft pick or two. Most important, it would clear out the backfield and allow Snead to plug in a veteran running back — or two — to consistently re-open the playbook for Goff.

If you don’t think that’s possible, then you weren’t paying attention late in the 2018 season to the acquisition of a guy named C.J. Anderson. There might not ever be a replacement for a prime Gurley, but the Rams have proven there are certainly viable and more consistent substitutions for the current Gurley, and who knows, maybe Darrell Henderson also starts figuring it out.

Some member of the community-minded Rams front office might worry about the fallout from trading Gurley, but they must understand something. He is not Clayton Kershaw. He is not Mike Trout. Gurley began his career in St. Louis, he starred here for a couple of years, but his quiet demeanor has kept him from making the necessary quick Los Angeles connection. Here’s guessing most Rams fans would understand.

Will Snead actually pull the trigger? Isn’t this the same guy whose bold trades helped land them in the Super Bowl?

When asked Tuesday whether any Rams player besides Goff and Donald were untouchable, Snead played coy.

“I don’t want to get into that … because it can be misconstrued in many ways,” he said. “At this point, I’d rather go, ‘Hey, let me and our staff sit together and try to come up with the best plan on that.’”

That best plan should already be obvious. Trade Todd Gurley.


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