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What the Rams would get in trading Todd Gurley now

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Arizona Cardinals v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

I remember talking to Joe McAtee before and during the 2015 draft, really just as the “running backs don’t matter” takes were bubbling up, and agreeing that using a top-10 selection on a running back was potentially a huge mistake. Few doubted Todd Gurley’s abilities, many doubted his positional value.

Gurley answered by being the team’s best player in 2015 save Aaron Donald, then rebounding from 2016 to finish as a first team All-Pro in back-to-back seasons. But despite being the NFL’s most accomplished back for those two years, scoring a league-leading 40 touchdowns in that time even though he missed three games, doubts soared again about any potential contract extension simply because overcoming the positional devaluation of running back is damn-near improbable. Theoretically.

And once again, the Rams acted contrary to any doubts about Gurley and running backs, giving him a four-year, $57.5 million deal in 2019. That contract has not even kicked in yet, but Gurley is thought to be a viable trade rumor based on a number of factors worth considering.

The most important, I think, is that the Rams need some cap relief. Current projections have them at around $21 million in space for 2020, which itself is already a pretty low amount of space at this point of the year, but that doesn’t yet take into account how LA will secure key starters like Andrew Whitworth, Dante Fowler, Jr., Cory Littleton, Michael Brockers, Greg Zuerlein, Austin Blythe, or their potential replacements should they leave in free agency. The Rams will no doubt lose important players based on their cap restrictions, but should Gurley be the sacrifice over someone like Littleton or Fowler?

Though the Rams save nothing by releasing Gurley, they get about $4.65 million in relief if traded because another team will take on his base salary. The first year cap hit for Fowler moving Gurley: it could let you keep Fowler.

Were Los Angeles not in their cap situation — which was of course in part caused by the Gurley deal — then I probably wouldn’t suggest trading him. Probably just best to use the $5 million on Gurley if keeping him didn’t cost you another player of that caliber. So that’s why the money angle is the only reason the trade suggestions make sense.

I personally believe that the “running backs don’t matter” argument has gotten weaker by the season and needs some people on that side of the debate to be willing to admit some faults before it can grow into something worthy of discussion again, but I do still think that running back is less important than a number of other positions and re-loadable after the first round of the draft based on those recent perceptions. When people say that you can get a great running back in the third round, they aren’t lying, but the only reason that’s true is because GMs have set it up that way by recognizing those same perceptions. Alvin Kamara was a third round pick, but in a re-draft of 2017, would Kamara still go 67th overall or would he go 6th overall? Find me one person who says that “running backs don’t matter” who would still take Obi Melifonwu over him. Or Adam Shaheen. Or John Ross. Or even Mitchell Trubisky.

That class had Kamara going 67th, Kareem Hunt 86th, Joe Mixon 48th, Dalvin Cook 41st, Chris Carson 249th, Aaron Jones 182nd, and Marlon Mack 143rd. GMs almost have to wait on running backs because their draft value has dictated them to do so, but by in large their post-draft value has often out-performed where they were slotted in April. I also think that because of that, and because almost every good running back seems to be on his rookie deal now, you might see running back value in the draft go back up again.

But value being where it is right now, the Rams could potentially trade Gurley, save $4.65 million, keep Fowler or one of their extra key free agents, and draft a good running back who costs less than $1 million per season over the next four seasons. The cap savings between Gurley and a rookie back over the next four years could be an average of $5 million per year in base salary, if not more based on my own bad math.

And because of Gurley’s potentially degenerative knee or other common injury concerns with running backs, Darrell Henderson or an incoming rookie could also be better than Gurley over the next four years. That’s just an unfortunate reality of the position and of Gurley’s 2019 season, in which he had zero 100-yard games and only four games all year where he averaged more than four yards per carry. His receiving totals have gone down from 788 to 580 to 207 in the past three years. Gurley was 22nd in DYAR and 25th in DVOA, per FootballOutsiders, and almost all of the players ahead of him were on their rookie deals.

So was Gurley in some respect, but now his extension is kicking in. What team would like to make a move for Gurley?

The first thing to look at is the inverse of LA’s problem: Which team has the cap space to try out a $5 million running back with injury concerns? (Why does “COLTS” pop in my head before I even start researching? Oh yeah, because of Trent Richardson, but Ryan Grigson isn’t their anymore so let’s give them a break.)

These teams are set to have $25 million or less: Vikings, Jaguars, Steelers, Bears, Falcons, Saints, 49ers, Chiefs, and Panthers. Let’s just scratch them off for now.

Let’s look at the teams who have embarrassing riches of at least $60 million in space: Colts (oh jesus), Dolphins, Bills, Buccaneers, Cowboys, Broncos, Giants. Let’s keep them in our thoughts and prayers for now.

Gurley needs to go to a team that doesn’t have an obvious starter at RB in 2020 and that would want one of a decent caliber. He may “only” be set to get $5.5 million in salary next season, but that’s actually more than all but 7 teams will pay for their best running back, not including the Rams’ league-leading $17.25 million commitment to Gurley. A team acquiring Gurley will be paying him more than the cap hits of Christian McCaffrey, Mark Ingram, and James White. Almost every team is putting out a back making less than $5 million, so the one that plays Gurley will have to really like him and think that their offense needs a player like him.

That plan recently worked for LA, but can it work for another offense in 2020?

The Colts have Mack (realizing another reason I thought of the Colts is the Marshall Faulk trade), the Cowboys have Ezekiel Elliott, the Giants have Saquon Barkley, and the Broncos are getting good value out of Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman. The other three teams do make some sense to me.

The Dolphins have $91 million in cap space, three extra draft picks on days one and two, and RYAN FITZPATRICK LED THEM IN RUSHING YARDS AND RUSHING TOUCHDOWNS. Yes, Miami’s leading rusher last season was Ryan Fitzpatrick at 243 yards and four scores. The Dolphins are completely ballage barren at the position, so what would stop them from acquiring Gurley?

Honestly, maybe not much.

Not only does Miami have the financial and draft capital potential to trade for Gurley, not only do they have a need, and not only does new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey probably like the idea of having a back like Gurley on the roster, but the Dolphins need something to sell. Sure they could draft a quarterback and potentially sell a franchise identity around him, but what about all that time he needs to develop into a good player, if he ever does? What about the impact that Gurley had on Jared Goff in his second and third seasons? What about the fact that Rams fans love Todd Gurley and Miami fans so little left to love after the Dolphins traded everyone?

I kind of think Gurley to Miami for the 2020 fifth round pick they received from the Pittsburgh Steelers almost makes too much sense to even continue, but I will briefly.

The Buffalo Bills have Devin Singletary, but he probably makes way more sense as the complement to Josh Allen and another back as opposed to building the whole plane out of him. If they were going to emulate the Baltimore Ravens, they need their Mark Ingram. They have $81 million in cap space.

Tampa Bay also had $81 million and Bruce Arians nearly made David Johnson into an MVP once. Is he likely to do that with Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones?

Any of those teams make sense to me, and at least a few more, so I think the opportunities to trade Gurley will be there. I think the return of a day three pick also makes sense just based on the fact that a team is acquiring one of the highest-paid backs in the league even after you remove the bonuses from his cap hit, he wasn’t very effective in 2019, and there are injury concerns. But it’s something another team may be able to absorb better than LA is able to.

All told, I think the Rams get one or two day three draft picks and $4.5 million in cap savings to put towards another starter if they trade Todd Gurley. If it weren’t for the cap savings and their financial ceiling, I would not expect a move. Given the universe we’re living in currently, a trade would not be surprising.