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Los Angeles Rams release RB Lance Dunbar in preview of compelling RB battle in training camp

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It may not get top billing with RB Todd Gurley atop the depth chart, but the backup RB spot is going to be a fight in camp.

Los Angeles Rams RB Lance Dunbar scores a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 17
Los Angeles Rams RB Lance Dunbar scores a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 17
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

There’s an alternate universe in which 2017 goes very differently.

Across the void in this dimension, Los Angeles Rams RB Lance Dunbar never injures his knee in the offseason and never gets placed on the PUP list and takes a decent portion of the RB snaps and asserts himself as a valuable role player in Coach of the Year Sean McVay’s offense while RB Todd Gurley puts together a solid yet unspectacular season as the primary running back while getting little done as a receiving back.

But no. The Butterfly Effect hit Dunbar early on in this timeline and none of it was ever to be. Today, the Rams released Dunbar with just days left before his contract expires on Wednesday.

What’s interesting here is the fact the Rams signed him in the first place. I’d point to this small yet telling quote from McVay on August 1 last year as part of where the intrigue comes from:

(On if RB Lance Dunbar’s injury affects Gurley’s involvement in the passing game)

“It does. I think what it has done is, with (RB) Lance (Dunbar) not being able to practice it’s allowed us to see Todd in maybe a couple more of those passing situations where you realize that, man, this guy is very functional in the pass game as well. But I think going into it, regardless of whether Lance is available or not, we always knew that Todd would be the lead dog and it is just kind of us figuring out what is that fine line between him being at his best, while making sure that he gets his touches necessary and then also being mindful of giving him, having somebody that can spell him so that when the fourth quarter roles around and to finish the game he feels good, as well.”

So while Dunbar may be gone, the Rams clearly wanted to be able to spell Gurley with a dynamic backup, especially in passing sets. Do they want that capability in 2018? Gurley was absolutely electric as a receiver in 2017. Having taken 794 snaps on offense last year (76.4% of the total offensive snaps and 80.3% of the snaps taken by Rams RBs) and logging 279 carries (78.8% of the carries from RBs), how do the Rams want to keep Gurley fresh into December...and beyond?

The Rams certainly don’t have an easy answer. The primary backup in 2017 was RB Malcolm Brown. He’s currently an ERFA. Also logging snaps were Dunbar and UDFA rookie Justin Davis who picked up a single carry.

There’s a fair assumption that the Rams could just bring back Brown and stack up either Day 3 talent in the 2018 NFL Draft or another UDFA and sort through it in camp...but I wouldn’t dismiss the Dunbar signing. The Rams brought him in on a one-year, $1.476m deal. That’s not a small contract in the depressed RB market. Philadelphia Eagles RB LeGarrette Blount got less on his one-year deal. Blount carried the ball 173 times for 766 yards and two rushing TDs in the regular season along with a 14-carry, 90-yard effort in Super Bowl LII capped off with a TD. Former Rams RB Benny Cunningham signed with the Chicago Bears for half of what the Rams spent on Dunbar. In fact, Dunbar was the 40th-highest paid RB in the NFL for 2017.

So I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rams make a minor add in FA akin to Dunbar. They were interested in as much last year. It just never came to fruition. So while we can bid adieu to Dunbar, I wouldn’t do the same for the motivations that brought him to LA in the first place.