- Covered Bears for seven seasons at Chicago Tribune
- Also worked at Chicago Sun-Times, Fresno Bee
- Honorable mention, Football Writers Association of America for enterprise writing, 2002
Running back Todd Gurley agreed to a contract with the Atlanta Falcons on Friday, a day after he was released by the Los Angeles Rams.
A source told ESPN’s Jordan Schultz that Gurley agreed to a one-year contract. The deal won’t be finalized until he passes a physical.
The Falcons had released starting running back Devonta Freeman on Monday. It’s a homecoming for Gurley, who played in college at the University of Georgia.
Gurley will join former Rams teammate Dante Fowler Jr. in Atlanta. The star pass-rusher agreed to a three-year, $48 million contract with the Falcons earlier this week, a source told ESPN.
Fowler had made a Twitter pitch to Gurley on Thursday to join him in Atlanta.
The Falcons are desperate to jump start a running game that ranked 30th in the league last season. This also is a make-or-break year for the Falcons as owner Arthur Blank decided to keep coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff. In a year where the playoffs are imperative, Quinn and Dimitroff obviously were willing to take a gamble.
Gurley, at this best, could be a productive, dual-threat running back the Falcons are looking for to replace Freeman. In five seasons with the Rams, Gurley rushed for 5,404 yards and 58 touchdowns. He also caught 218 passes for 2,090 yards and 12 touchdowns.
The Falcons didn’t necessarily have the answer for the running back position on their roster with Ito Smith, Brian Hill, and Qadree Ollison. None of those three are ready to take on the role of primary back. Gurley could fill the void on an offense led by one-time MVP Matt Ryan and perennial Pro Bowl receiver Julio Jones. The Falcons also have Calvin Ridley as a primary weapon, although they lost two-time Pro Bowl tight end Austin Hooper to the Cleveland Browns in free agency.
The Rams made Gurley, the 2017 NFL Offensive Player of the Year, the highest-paid running back in NFL history before the 2018 season — awarding him a four-year, $60 million extension that included $45 million in guarantees. At the time of the extension, Gurley had two seasons remaining on his rookie contract.
But they had salary cap issues this year, created, in part, by decisions over the past 20 months to extend megadeals to Gurley, quarterback Jared Goff, defensive tackle Aaron Donald and receiver Brandin Cooks, who also has been among players discussed in trade talks.
Gurley, who turns 26 in August, had been the face of the Rams franchise since his selection with the 10th overall pick in 2015, and his 58 rushing touchdowns were tied with Marshall Faulk for most in franchise history. It had grown increasingly apparent by the end of last season, however, that the relationship between the Rams and Gurley had soured.
Gurley’s usage last season was down from 2018, when he rushed for 1,251 yards and scored a league-high 21 touchdowns. Gurley rushed for a career-low 857 yards last season and questions about the health of his left knee persist.
He was sidelined for the final two games of the 2018 regular season because of his knee, which was surgically repaired when he played at Georgia. He returned in a divisional-round win over the Dallas Cowboys and, even as he shared carries with C.J. Anderson, rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown.
However, following his performance against the Cowboys, Gurley never returned to form.
Gurley had 13 total yards, the fewest of his career, as he watched mostly from the sideline as the Rams defeated the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship Game. Then he played a minimal role, rushing for only 35 yards, in a loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII.
Following the season, questions continued about Gurley’s health and his lack of production in the playoffs. The situation became increasingly muddied during the 2019 season.
Gurley and the Rams remained adamant that his knee was fine, but his touches declined and he shared the load with backups Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson. Eventually, Rams coach Sean McVay called himself an idiot for not giving Gurley more touches.
ESPN’s Lindsey Thiry contributed to this report.
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