Le’Veon Bell spent more than two years pushing for a contract averaging $15 million per year, but the running back who finally got that number was the Los Angeles Rams’ Todd Gurley.
Gurley, 23, was named the 2017 NFL Offensive Player of the Year after finishing the season as the league leader in yards from scrimmage (2,093) as well as rushing and receiving touchdowns (19).
His contract is the largest ever for a running back in terms of both guarantees and annual averages. But what do the ramifications of the contract mean for the Rams, Aaron Donald, Le’Veon Bell, and other running backs in the NFL?
The Rams were wise to pay Gurley sooner rather than later
When Le’Veon Bell didn’t get a new contract from the Pittsburgh Steelers prior to the July 16 deadline for players under the franchise tag, it meant the three-time Pro Bowler’s time in Pittsburgh is almost definitely coming to an end.
Barring a surprising reversal of fortune, Bell is going to reach free agency in March. The open market will likely mean he sees the big money that the Steelers were never fully willing to part with.
That essentially gave the Rams eight months to get a contract done with Gurley before Bell signed a huge deal that set a new standard for top running backs. With David Johnson of the Arizona Cardinals also hoping for a new contract soon, the Rams had to race to get a deal done as soon as possible.
A four-year, $60 million may not sound cheap, but when added to the two years and $11.95 million that Gurley had left on his rookie contract, it amounts to a six-year, $71.95 million deal for the running back. The $11.99 million per year salary due to Gurley is a good amount for the Rams considering where Bell will likely push the market.
Bell has had his sights set on a contract that averages $15 million per year, and that number looks more realistic than ever.
Gurley’s new deal easily eclipses the top long-term running back contract in the NFL, which previously belonged to Devonta Freeman. The Atlanta Falcons running back signed a five-year, $41.25 million deal last year that averages out to $8.25 million per season.
Gurley reset the market, but the Rams were smart to get ahead of the wave of contracts headed to Bell, Johnson, Ezekiel Elliott, Jordan Howard, and other young running backs.
Le’Veon Bell’s value is mostly unchanged by Gurley’s deal
The contract extension for Gurley isn’t the greatest news for Bell, but it isn’t bad news either. With the full value of Gurley’s deal amounting to essentially $12 million per year over the next six years, Bell is still going to be hunting for more when he presumably becomes a free agent next offseason.
Both players are bona fide No. 1 running backs who average more than 1,000 rushing yards per season, and are significant contributors in the passing game. Gurley caught 64 passes for 788 yards and six touchdowns in 2017, while Bell had 85 receptions for 655 yards and two touchdowns.
Bell can use the framework of the four-year, $60 million extension and his comparable stats to aim for a contract that totals about $15 million per year. He’ll also be helped by the competition of the free agency market which pushes up prices.
So the news Tuesday was celebrated by Bell:
lol and ppl thought I was trippin?...— Le'Veon Bell (@LeVeonBell) July 24, 2018
But the real winners is the entire running back market, which is probably going to see a wave of money headed its way now that Gurley pushed the numbers much higher.
It’s not the worst time to be a starting NFL running back right now.
Don’t worry, Aaron Donald. There’s still money for you.
The Rams are giving out money left and right this offseason, but the notable exception has been Aaron Donald, the 2017 Defensive Player of the Year.
Donald, 27, is set to play the 2018 season on the fifth-year option of his rookie contract. He’s been asking for a new deal for more than a year and will likely hold out from training camp again until he gets one.
So it raises eyebrows to see another Rams player get a premium contract while Donald continues to wait.
But the Rams — for all their big spending — still have plenty of money to dish out. It’s a luxury that comes with having a quarterback on a rookie contract, and even after the Gurley deal, the Rams are still among the league leaders in cap space for 2019 and beyond.
As long as the Rams are able to structure a deal that doesn’t increase Donald’s salary cap hit in 2018 much — something that isn’t difficult to do — it still won’t be difficult for the team to make sure he’s in the long-term plans.
"We're simultaneously working to make Aaron a Ram for a long time... we're going to continue working to get something done with Aaron" - Snead— TurfShowTimes (@TurfShowTimes) July 24, 2018
"This (Gurley extension) doesn't have any effect on the Aaron things" - McVay— TurfShowTimes (@TurfShowTimes) July 24, 2018
Yes, the Rams spent big money to add players like Ndamukong Suh and Aqib Talib to the roster, but the nucleus of the team for the foreseeable future is its trio of young stars: Donald, Gurley and Jared Goff.
One was secured through the 2023 season today, and Donald probably won’t have to wait long for his turn next.