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How big of a role did the Rams play in the devaluation of running backs?

“After Todd got paid and then Sean McVay came out and said I’d never pay a running back again...” says Melvin Gordon

Los Angeles Rams Head Coach Sean McVay talks to RB Todd Gurley during pregame warmups before the game against the Los Angeles Chargers, Sep. 23, 2018. Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

I was listening to the Jim Rome Show recently, as one does, and he had running back Melvin Gordon on as a guest. Gordon didn’t play for the Los Angeles Rams, of course, but he’s forever linked to running back Todd Gurley because the two were drafted close to each other in the 2015 first round. After Gordon said that running back is “the worst position” in the NFL right now—

“It’s just so tough for running backs right now, man,” Gordon said. “You have a lot of running backs that’s out there. We just don’t get no love. It’s literally the worst position to play in the NFL right now. It literally sucks.”

Rome shot back to ask him what happened to make it that way.

“I think that when you say right now ‘being a running back sucks’ and it might be the worst position in the NFL, like what happened? Can you point when that happened?”

Gordon pointed the finger directly at the Los Angeles Rams and Todd Gurley.

“After Todd got paid and then Sean McVay came out and said I’d never pay a running back again...and I’ll just use them and rotate them out.”

I cannot find a quote of McVay saying exactly that but either way, is Gordon being fair? Is he making up the last part because of the Mandela Effect?

Dallas Renegades v Los Angeles Wildcats Photo by Ric Tapia/XFL via Getty Images

To summarize Gordon’s response, the current free agent goes on to say that Gurley got his contract, performed well before (and fairly well) after being paid, but as we know the Rams released him well before his deal was set to end.

Not only did the Rams cut Todd, but they would go on to the win the Super Bowl. Gordon seems to feel that then proved Les Snead and Sean McVay’s decision to cut Todd Gurley looked right. Snead signed Gurley to a huge extension, and at the time it could be argued that it was a good move, even with hindsight Les Snead won’t come out and say he regrets the deal. For those who remember Todd was incredible, he was a reason to watch every Sunday.

Regardless L.A. cuts the player and goes on to win the big one without him.

Gordon isn’t the only running back right now having a hard time finding work or getting paid what he thinks he deserves. Josh Jacobs, Saquon Barkley, and Tony Pollard were assigned the franchise tag despite wanting long-term contracts (Pollard makes more sense, while Jacobs and Barkley are respective stars already), and Dalvin Cook was recently cut by the Vikings despite rushing for over 1,100 yards in each of the last four years.

It makes the five-year, $63 million contract that Cook signed in 2020 look like a sham. At the moment, Christian McCaffrey’s $16 million AAV and Alvin Kamara’s $15 million AAV look like outliers, as even Derrick Henry is only making $12.5 million per year and has $25.5 million guaranteed. That’s barely more than rookie Bijan Robinson, who gets a $22 million guarantee on his four-year deal as a top-10 pick.

The expression “copycat league” always is thrown around in the NFL. The idea Melvin is suggesting is that teams figure they do not need to pay for high end running backs, and it might not be worth it (in the mind of NFL teams) as the cost for other players/positions continues to go up. It that really a new strategy in the NFL?

Los Angeles Rams Training Camp Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images

I thought to myself, “Were the New England Patriots (and I recall the New Orleans Saints having a stable of RBs at times too) one of the first teams to really incorporate a multitude of backs?” The idea of rotating backs in and out and or running with one while you can but moving on, and conscientiously not paying them with large contracts at the cost of other “more valued” positions. Certainly other teams have done this before the Rams. I would guess teams were doing this before the Patriots (and Saints).

But Melvin Gordon has decided to point the finger directly at Snead, McVay, and Gurley, and to say that because that one contract didn’t work out for L.A., and then the Rams won a Super Bowl soon after with Sony Michel added right before the season to replace Cam Akers, that this is the reason that players like Jacobs, Barkley, and Cook are not being paid as they believe they should.

However, Gurley wasn’t the last running back to be paid. The Panthers paid McCaffrey a $64 million contract in 2020 and though that deal was starting to go sour, Carolina traded him to the 49ers for multiple day two draft picks and now he’s considered one of the most important skill position players in the NFL going into the 2023 season.

If the Giants and Raiders are hesitant to extend Barkley and Jacobs, it’s not because of Todd Gurley. It’s because of the nature of the position. The NFL needs to do more to protect teams from feeling like they will be short-changed because of running back injuries and the league must also do something to protect running backs—players who they promote almost as much as quarterbacks when they’re as good as Barkley, Jacobs, and once upon a time, Gurley—by giving them better guarantees.

Are the Rams responsible for the devaluation of running backs or are they merely another one of the victims? Les Snead tried to do the right thing by Todd Gurley.

How could he be the one to lay the death blow to the entire position for doing that?