The Los Angeles Rams learned some difficult lessons in terms of positional value when they reset the running back market by paying star Todd Gurley only to have his knee deteriorate soon after. LA signed Gurley to a four-year, $57.5M extension prior to the 2018 season and released him two years later. After accounting for a fifth-year option as a former first round pick, Gurley never played a down on his extension for the Rams. He did play one season for the Atlanta Falcons in 2020.
The Rams have yet to invest heavily (in terms of financial impact) in the running back position since.
LA drafted Cam Akers in the second round to help replace Gurley, and he surged over the second half of his rookie season and carried the Rams’ offense through the playoffs—where they lost to the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round. Akers tore his Achilles before training camp 2021 and missed all of the regular season before returning for a playoff run and eventual win in Super Bowl LVI.
But that postseason run was a sign of a troubling trend for Akers, as he averaged only 2.6 yards per carry and fumbled multiple times to give Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a comeback opportunity. Despite rebounding over the second half of the 2022 regular season, Akers had a public disagreement with head coach Sean McVay and found himself off the team for several weeks mid-season.
Now Akers is looking forward to restricted free agency this offseason. He won’t hit unrestricted free agency due to playing time restrictions that arise from his 2021 Achilles injury. It would take a second round pick to sign him away from Los Angeles, assuming the Rams tender him accordingly. He could effectively play the 2023 on a lesser version of the franchise tag.
Behind Akers on the depth chart are two young backs that the team has selected with late round picks: Kyren Williams from 2022 (fifth round) and Zach Evans in 2023 (sixth round). Williams is more of a change of pace back and Evans will compete with veteran Sony Michel for the primary backup role.
Both Williams’ and Evans’ contracts are locked in for four seasons from the time they were drafted. Each player will make under $1M per season on average, and then if either grows into a star the team has the option of franchise tagging them for one to two years before they hit the open market.
In other words, the Rams have cost controlled their future at running back assuming that Williams and Evans are able to carry the baton as Akers time in LA comes to a close.
After learning some tough lessons through their investment in Todd Gurley, the Rams have grown wiser regarding position value and how they cycle through running backs. While Akers may have a strong performance in 2023 and could stick around on an affordable restricted free agent tender in 2024, it would be a surprise to see him on the team beyond that point.
The Rams are contributing to the devaluation of the running back position and seem intent on not repeating their past mistakes. While veteran RB’s speak toward a pay disparity and discontent with the franchise tag, Los Angeles is churning through young players on rookie deals.