LOS ANGELES (AP) - The Los Angeles Rams’ unceremonious release of Todd Gurley left an enormous hole in the middle of their offense.
Coach Sean McVay and general manager Les Snead don’t believe they can fill it with just one running back.
The Rams intend to rely less on a single ball-carrier and more on a talented group of running backs in the upcoming season, McVay and Snead said Monday in their first public comments on their biggest offseason move.
“What we want to be is a team that utilizes more than just one workhorse running the ball, have a different genre of skill sets and a complimentary-type running game,” Snead said. “We have this big-picture vision, Darrell (Henderson) being a part of it, but we do expect other pieces to be a big part of it as well.”
Henderson, who barely played as a rookie third-round pick last season, is the top in-house candidate to replace Gurley, one of the NFL’s most productive running backs of the last half-decade. Longtime backup Malcolm Brown also returns, and Snead indicated the Rams will be looking hard at running backs in the draft.
Running the ball by committee will be a major change for the Rams, who had Gurley at the center of everything for the past five years.
“We certainly don’t replace the production, the way that he’s influenced and affected the game,” McVay said. “But what we can continue to do is try to adjust and adapt.”
Gurley, the AP’s 2017 Offensive Player of the Year, leads the NFL with 58 rushing touchdowns since joining the league in 2015. His 5,404 yards rushing in that stretch are 1 yard behind Ezekiel Elliott for the league lead.
That’s an awful lot of production to replace, even after Gurley’s numbers declined last season amid concerns about his left knee. The Rams were compelled by payroll constraints and Gurley’s waning production to release him March 19 before he even got to the first season of his four-year, $60 million contract extension - the largest in NFL history for a running back when he agreed to it in 2018.
That deal, which included $45 million in guarantees, will loom as one of the biggest tactical mistakes of Snead’s eight-year tenure. But the GM still feels he did the right thing overall in paying his highly productive star.
“From a regret standpoint, there’s no way you can ever regret the yards he gained, the touchdowns he scored for us,” Snead said. “The championships, whether it’s two division titles or (the) conference championship. The Super Bowl appearance. That will be tough to regret. What I can say is, obviously I think we all wish the partnership could have lasted longer. But from a standpoint of Todd earning that contract, no, he did earn that. I think that showed up in the production and how he helped us win.”
The Atlanta Falcons scooped up Gurley with a one-year, $6 million deal officially announced Monday.
Gurley had his two best NFL seasons during McVay’s first two years in charge. He rushed for a combined 2,556 yards in 2017 and 2018 while ranking among the league leaders in touches for his young head coach.
McVay said he never could have imagined being without Gurley at this point in their careers even a year ago. The coach faces a new challenge in the upcoming season without Gurley to rely upon - although in retrospect, that transition already began last year.
When Gurley’s touches and production declined last season, McVay steadfastly claimed Gurley was healthy and capable of doing whatever the Rams needed, even after Los Angeles finished with the NFL’s 26th-ranked rushing offense behind an injury-riddled offensive line.
On Monday, McVay also expressed disappointment at the way Gurley’s tenure ended in LA.
“There’s a lot of things that went into it, but at the end of the day, this guy has been instrumental in helping create a lot of the good things that are going on in our building,” McVay said. “Think he’ll do a good job for the Falcons, but in a lot of ways, it is a reflection on the confidence that that we have in those guys that are in place with Darrell Henderson, with Malcolm Brown.”
Snead acknowledged Gurley’s departure is a boost to the Rams’ plans to re-sign cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who arrived last season in a trade that sent the Rams’ next two first-round picks to Jacksonville. Ramsey, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, is heading into the final year of his rookie contract.
“Anytime you eliminate a large salary, it does help you onboard another large salary,” Snead said. “We’re a team that’s going through it: Usually teams that have success have players with relatively large salaries. You can’t pay everyone large salaries, even though you would like to be able to. But this isn’t college football where maybe you can just continue out-recruiting others. Sometimes you lose players.”
“With Jalen, we’ve communicated with his reps, and we’ll keep those things internal. But we definitely like Jalen, as we said. That would be obvious.”
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