The Falcons didn’t pass on Todd Gurley the second time around.
Less than 24 hours after he was released by the Los Angeles Rams, the Falcons agreed to a one-year, $5 million contract with the former Georgia star on Friday.
The Falcons, who released Devonta Freeman earlier this week, hope Gurley can add some life to their anemic rushing attack and cause some of their fans, who elected not to show up last season, to return to their seats.
After a storied career at Georgia, Gurley was selected 10th overall by the St. Louis Rams in the 2015 draft - two picks after the Falcons selected defensive end Vic Beasley.
The Rams tried to trade Gurley and were in talks with the Dolphins and the Falcons. When the Dolphins elected to sign running back Jordan Howard, the Rams elected to move on from Gurley and took a massive salary-cap hit.
The issue for Gurley is his left knee and how the Falcons fitted him under an already tight salary cap.
The Falcons will have to manage Gurley's left knee injury, according to Dr. David J. Chao.
“The arthritis in his knee will not go away but can be managed,” wrote Chao in his Thursday update. “Gurley still has plenty of football left in him, but his carries/touches will need to be limited as well as his practice time. Going forward, Gurley can still add value as a part-time running back, but teams need to adjust expectations given the health of his left knee.”
Chao is a former NFL team doctor for 17 years and practicing orthopedic surgeon.
"Just two years after a record-setting deal with the Rams he has been released," Chao wrote. "We discussed his left knee in multiple articles and subscriber updates while also foreshadowing in our (exhibition) season injury report that Gurley was no longer a bell-cow running back."
The Falcons carried four running backs last season in Freeman, Brian Hill, Ito Smith and rookie Qadree Ollison.
The Falcons averaged 85.1 rushing yards per game in 2019, the third-fewest in the NFL.
Gurley averaged 3.8 yards per carry last season and put up career lows in carries (223) and yards (857).
“The Rams had some issues with their offensive line with the injuries,” NFL Network analyst Maurice Jones-Drew said. “That’s why all of the numbers were down, not just the running game. The receiving numbers were down. The wins went down and losses went up.”
The Rams made the move Thursday, several minutes before roughly $10 million in the three-time Pro Bowl selection's contract became fully guaranteed.
Gurley, who played at Tarboro High in North Carolina, had a productive, but turbulent career at UGA that included a four-game suspension and a major knee surgery.
Gurley injured the knee on his 29th carry of the Auburn game on Nov. 15, 2014. He had 138 yards at the time. It was his first game back after sitting out four games due to an NCAA suspension for accepting improper benefits. He received $3,000 for signing autographs.
Gurley finished his career ranked second in school history in career touchdowns (44), all-purpose yards (4,322) and rushing yards (3,285). He also held the UGA record for average yards per carry in his career (6.44), edging out Charley Trippi (6.42).
Gurley became the first running back selected in the first round of the NFL draft since 2012 when the Rams selected him. He was named the NFL offensive player of the year after the 2017 season.
Gurley played his first career postseason game against the Falcons in the wild-card round on Jan. 6, 2018. He rushed 14 times for 101 yards.
In the following season during the Rams’ march to the Super Bowl, Gurley was slowed by injury. Last season, he clearly wasn’t in his top form.
“It’s tough,” Rams tackle Andrew Whitworth said on SiriusXM’s Mad Dog Sports channel on Friday. “Obviously, Todd dealt with some stuff over the last couple of years. A lot of pressure from the outside and everywhere else about his health and stuff like that. It’s been tough to see him have to go through that.”
Gurley will take up $20.15 million in dead salary-cap space this season for the Rams, who signed him to a four-year, $60 million contract with $45 million guaranteed in June 2018.
“All the success that he’s had, I haven’t seen it change him one bit,” Whitworth said.
Gurley was cut before even playing the first year of that contract extension, which made him the highest-paid running back in the NFL at the time.
“The energy this guy brings in the locker room and really to his team with the way he loves to compete, it’s infectious,” Whitworth said. “He’s one of those guys that make you feel good that you’re about to walk on the field with him.”
Here’s a look at where things stand with the Falcons’ free agency moves:
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
Todd Gurley, running -- Agreed to deal with team.
Kenjon Barner, running back -- Unrestricted free agent.
Matt Schaub, quarterback – Club picked up his option, according to his agent.
Justin Hardy, wide receiver - Will not re-sign with team
Austin Hooper, tight end – Will be allowed to hit the market. Has agreed to terms with the Browns.
Matt Simms, quarterback -- Unrestricted free agent.
Keith Smith, fullback – Was re-signed to a three-year deal
Wes Schweitzer, offensive guard/center – Will be allowed to hit the market. Set to sign with Washington
Ty Sambrailo, tackle - Released by the team on March 16
Devonta Freeman - Cut by the team on March 17
Luke Stocker, tight end - To be released pending a physical
Dante Fowler Jr, defensive end -- Agreed to three-year, $48 million deal with the Falcons .
Vic Beasley, defensive end/linebacker – Will not be re-signed. Will join Titans on a one-year deal
De'Vondre Campbell, linebacker – Will be allowed to hit the market. Agreed to one-year deal worth up to $8.5 million with Arizona.
Adrian Clayborn, defensive end -- Unrestricted free agent.
Jack Crawford, defensive tackle -- Unrestricted free agent.
Johnathan Cyprien, safety -- Unrestricted free agent.
Tyeler Davison, defensive tackle - Agrees to three-year deal
Ra'Shede Hageman, defensive tackle – Waived by the team on Jan. 13
Kemal Ishmael, safety/linebacker – Will not be re-signed by Falcons
Steven Means, defensive end - Re-signed to a one-year contract on March 9
Sharrod Neasman, safety -- Unrestricted free agent.
Jamar Taylor, cornerback -- Unrestricted free agent.
John Wetzel, offensive lineman – Vested veteran contract terminated and then re-signed.
J.J. Wilcox, safety -- Unrestricted free agent.
Blidi Wreh-Wilson, cornerback -- Unrestricted free agent
Desmond Trufant - Released by team He signed a two-year, $21 million deal with the Detroit Lions
» MORE: Desmond Trufant signs with Detroit
Matt Bosher, punter -- Unrestricted free agent
Ryan Allen, punter – Signed to a one-year contract extension for $945,000 on Feb. 18
Sam Irwin-Hill, punter – Signed to a one-year contract worth $510,000
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
Brian Hill, running back - Falcons placed fifth-round tender
Michael Bennett, defensive tackle
Younghoe Koo, placekicker – Signed a one-year contract extension for $660,000 on Feb. 18.
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