Todd Gurley gets $34.5 million for two years (and possibly more)

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On the surface, it’s a sad day for the Rams and running back Todd Gurley, as the team releases the 2017 offensive player of the year and cornerstone member of a team that played in Super Bowl LIII. At a deeper level, it’s a great day for Gurley — and an awful day for the Rams.

Gurley’s release shows that he won when he signed his second contract after only three NFL seasons. He exits with $34.5 million over two seasons, an average of $17.25 million per year at a position that simply doesn’t pay that kind of money to the best players who play it. Of the $34.5 million, $31.95 million of the money he has made and will still receive comes without any offset obligation, limiting his dollar-for-dollar credit elsewhere to $2.55 million.

The Rams had to make the move today to avoid another $10.5 million becoming fully guaranteed. If he’d been on the roster on the third day of the 2020 league year, his $5.5 million base salary for 2020 would have become fully guaranteed, and his 2021 roster bonus of $5 million would have become fully guaranteed.

That said, there’s still a chance he gets the extra $10.5 million. Because these payments were guaranteed for injury at signing, if Gurley was unable to pass a physical at the time of his release, the payments become guaranteed and Gurley’s final bill to the Rams becomes $45 million.

Even if he doesn’t become entitled to the extra $10.5 million, Gurley contract represents a huge financial blow to the Rams. They made a calculated risk to pay him after three seasons, and it became obvious after his fourth season that they never should have given him that deal, given the knee problem he developed in 2018. The decision to release Gurley after a failed effort to trade him underscores how bad the contract was for the Rams.

And, again, it underscores how good it was for Gurley. He shifted the injury risk to the team after three years, and as he embarks on his search for a new team the reality is this: He’d likely be looking for a new team anyway right now, and he’s doing so with at least $34.5 million and as much as $45 million in guaranteed payments.