The Los Angeles Rams have entered their final week of organized team activities to prepare for the upcoming NFL season. While this early offseason preparation marks the start of the team’s quest to return to the Super Bowl, possibly the most significant aspect is who is missing: most importantly among that group, star running back Todd Gurley.
Gurley has been a subject of mystery and concern for the last several months. In this year’s Super Bowl, the three-time pro-bowler received only 10 carries — just three more than supposed backup CJ Anderson — after a season in which Gurley took on a large portion of the Rams’ offensive duties. The number of touches was underwhelming and seemed inexplicable, given the obvious stakes and the team’s offensive woes at the time.
After the game, Gurley maintained that he was healthy. But months later, The Athletic reporter Jeff Howe revealed that Gurley had arthritis in his left knee.
For Rams fans, news of Gurley’s condition brought both welcome clarity and immense concern.
On the positive side, head coach Sean McVay’s sanity was reaffirmed. Gurley’s lack of touches during the Super Bowl was bewildering, and McVay provided little explanation. However, the future of the Rams’ former NFL Offensive MVP is reason for concern.
Gurley, 24, is no stranger to knee injuries. Despite tearing his ACL in 2014 at the University of Georgia, Gurley was drafted 10th overall in the 2015 NFL Draft and garnered Rookie of the Year honors. He didn’t look back for the following three seasons until pain in the same knee sidelined him at the end of 2018 and limited him for the rest of the Rams’ postseason run.
That’s the problem. Gurley’s surgically repaired left knee does not appear to have fully recovered from 2014.
In fact, it’s getting worse.
In an article on Rams Wire, Jesse Morse, a specialist in musculoskeletal injuries and arthritis at Florida Orthopedic Specialists, wrote that though Gurley could still be productive in the future, his peak is likely well in the past.
Last month, Gurley would not confirm nor deny whether he had a degenerative knee condition. The Rams appear to have already begun to take cautionary action.
After Howe reported on Gurley’s arthritis in March, McVay indicated that the team was considering a stem cell procedure to treat Gurley’s injury. The treatment would involve injecting bone marrow from his pelvis into the affected area of his knee, which would work as an anti-inflammatory to help accelerate the healing process. The treatment usually requires several weeks of recovery.
Evidently, the 24-year-old’s future is now a significant question mark.
The team’s apparent concern for Gurley’s injury was further demonstrated by their second selection in May’s draft. The Rams traded up 24 spots to select Memphis’s Darrell Henderson, a versatile, workhorse type of back with a skillset similar to Gurley’s.
Teams do not usually sacrifice draft capital that early unless they feel a glaring need to do so.
The long-term financial consequences of Gurley’s condition are even more alarming for the Rams. Gurley signed a four-year, $57.5 million contract extension with the team before the season.
That’s a major cap hit, and if Gurley can’t play, he could become a deadweight loss of almost $15 million per year. Given that the median salary for an NFL player is approximately $860,000, the Rams would lose out on the opportunity to sign numerous players who could add depth to their roster.
Considering the Rams’ spending spree during the prior season and the sizeable extension quarterback Jared Goff is likely to receive, the deal may severely limit the organization’s flexibility in years to come.
Despite all the concern surrounding Gurley’s knee, the Rams’ offseason has been a quiet success. Releasing safety Mark Barron shaved $6.33 million off the team’s financial commitments. Acquisitions of veterans Eric Weddle and Clay Matthews, coupled with a strong draft class, leave much to be hopeful for.
Still, the reality of the star running back’s fragility remains.
For a team that hopes to compete for a championship this season, Gurley’s knee is Rams fans’ biggest concern.