Cap-strapped Rams release Gurley, Matthews

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — The Los Angeles Rams have released running back Todd Gurley, the team announced Thursday.

The Rams made the former NFL Offensive Player of the Year the highest-paid running back in NFL history before the 2018 season, awarding him a four-year, $60 million extension, that included $45 million in guarantees. At the time of the extension, Gurley had two seasons remaining on his rookie contract.

The transaction is accompanied by a heavy cost.

The Rams will absorb a $20.15 million dead-money hit if he was released with a pre-June 1 designation. They will save $2.9 in salary cap space.

With a post-June 1 designation, Gurley’s dead money cost will amount to $11.75 million and the team will save $5.5 million in salary cap space.

The Rams can spread the dead-money hit over the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

The decision to move on from Gurley, who turns 26 in August, comes as the Rams navigate a challenging salary cap situation, which was created, in part, by their decisions over the last 20 months to extend mega-deals to Gurley, quarterback Jared Goff, defensive tackle Aaron Donald and receiver Brandin Cooks, who also has been among players discussed in trade talks.

The timing to release Gurley also coincides with a rebranding effort ahead of the Rams’ opening of the 2020 season in SoFi Stadium, and what the team hopes will be a bounce back from a disappointing 9-7 season that left out of the playoffs following a Super Bowl run in 2018.

Gurley had been the face of the franchise since his selection with the 10th overall pick in 2015. Although it had grown increasingly apparent by the end of last season the relationship between the Rams and Gurley had soured.

Gurley’s usage last season was down from 2018, when he rushed for 1,251 yards and scored a league-high 21 touchdowns. Questions about the health of his left knee persist.

Gurley was sidelined for the final two games of the 2018 regular season because his knee, which was surgically repaired when he played at Georgia. He returned in a divisional-round win over the Dallas Cowboys and, even as he shared carries with C.J. Anderson, rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown.

However, following his performance against the Cowboys, Gurley never returned to form.

Gurley had 13 total yards, the fewest of his career, as he watched mostly from the sideline as the Rams defeated the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship game. Then he played a minimal role, rushing for only 35 yards, in a loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII.

Following the season, questions continued about Gurley’s health and his lack of production in the playoffs.

The situation only became increasingly muddied during the 2019 season.

Gurley and the Rams remained adamant his knee was fine. But his touches declined, he shared part of his load with backups Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson, and eventually, Rams coach Sean McVay called himself an idiot for not giving Gurley more touches.

When asked about his coach’s remarks, Gurley did not disagree.

After the season, in which Gurley rushed for a career-low 857 yards, it became increasingly apparent the Rams might move on from their star running back after they fired running backs coach Skip Peete, who was a holdover from former coach Jeff Fisher’s staff on Gurley’s recommendation. Peete has since taken over as the running backs coach for the Dallas Cowboys.

Gurley’s departure leaves the Rams with Brown and Henderson.

Last season, Brown rushed for a career-high 255 yards and five touchdowns on 69 carries. Henderson, a rookie from Memphis, was hampered by injuries. He rushed for 147 yards on 39 carries.