During one of his first visits to Los Angeles as a Rams player, Todd Gurley stopped traffic on Hollywood Boulevard while starring in a fashion photo shoot.
It was the summer of 2016, and the Rams had returned from St. Louis after a two-decade absence. Gurley was their beacon, an exciting young running back the franchise envisioned as a marquee attraction to ignite a region yearning for NFL football stars.
“It’s definitely been crazy,” Gurley said as he watched the bustle of the teeming boulevard. “Just going from St. Louis to L.A. It’s like a 360.”
On Thursday, the Rams set Gurley’s world spinning again. They cut him less than two years after lavishing him with one of the biggest contracts for a running back in NFL history.
It was an unceremonious move for a player who was the NFL’s 2015 offensive rookie of the year, the 2017 offensive player of the year, and a key component for a Rams team that made it to the playoffs in coach Sean McVay’s first season in 2017 and the Super Bowl in 2018.
Gurley seemed to take it in stride.
“Damn I got fired on my day off,” he tweeted with a laughing-so-hard-it’s-making-you cry emoji, adding the hashtag “QuarantineAndChill”
Others appeared shocked.
“Wow,” tweeted cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
“Welp, there goes the neighborhood,” tweeted former Rams offensive lineman Rodger Saffold.
Gurley, 25, was not the only player cut by the Rams as they sought to ease the weight of their massive financial commitments to Gurley, receiver Brandin Cooks, defensive lineman Aaron Donald and quarterback Jared Goff — and to prepare for what is expected to be a record-breaking deal for Ramsey.
Veteran linebacker Clay Matthews, who signed with the Rams last year after 10 seasons with the Green Bay Packers, also was released in a cost-cutting move.
At the start of training camp in 2018, Gurley signed a $60-mllion contract that included $45 million in guarantees. He had a salary-cap number of $17.3 million for the upcoming season and was due about $10.5 million in injury guarantees Friday, according to overthecap.com.
By releasing Gurley before June 1, the Rams will have a $20.15-million dead-cap hit. They will spread that over two years. They will save about $10 million in each with him not on the roster.
Matthews’ departure saves the Rams $3.75 million.
In statements released by the team, McVay said Gurley would “always be remembered as one of the all-time great Rams,” and general manager Les Snead, who used the 10th pick of the 2015 draft to select Gurley, said, “We knew he was going to be a one-of-a-kind talent that would create special moments.”
Gurley’s flashy style and production in three of his first four NFL seasons put him on track to be one of the main draws at new SoFi Stadium. The venue is scheduled to open this season and will host the Super Bowl after the 2021 season. Now, Gurley could play there for a visiting team.
That had seemed like a possibility even before the Rams cut him.
During the run-up to and the after the start of the NFL’s new league year Wednesday, the Rams tried to trade Gurley. But they apparently found no takers for a player whose huge contract, waning performance and balky left knee caused possible suitors to shy away.
Gurley underwent major reconstructive surgery on the knee in 2014 while in college at Georgia. In 2018, a knee problem forced him to sit out the final two games of the regular season, and slowed him in the NFC championship game against the New Orleans Saints and the Rams’ 13-3 Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots.
In 2019, McVay attempted to manage Gurley’s workload by utilizing Malcolm Brown and rookie Darrell Henderson. The strategy, combined with injuries suffered by the offensive line, produced an offense that seemed a distant cousin to the high-scoring units of the previous two seasons. A year after playing in the Super Bowl, the Rams finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs for the first time in McVay’s three seasons.
Gurley finished the season with a career-low 857 yards rushing and scored 14 touchdowns.
It seemed a long way from 2017, when Gurley ran for a career-best 1,305 yards and 13 touchdowns. In 2018, he rushed for 1,253 yards and 17 touchdowns. In his five seasons with the Rams, he rushed for 5,404 yards and scored 70 total touchdowns, which rank fifth and fourth, respectively, in team history.
Now the Rams will attempt to get back to the playoffs without him, a player they considered a cornerstone only two years ago.