Los Angeles Rams release running back Todd Gurley

Sports

FILE – In this Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019 file photo, Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley II carries against the San Francisco 49ers during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif. The Los Angeles Rams have released running back Todd Gurley, their superstar running back with a massive contract and a troubling injury history. The Rams made the move Thursday, March 19, 2020 several minutes before roughly $10 million in the three-time Pro Bowl selection’s contract became fully guaranteed. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar, File)

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles Rams have released Todd Gurley, their superstar running back with a massive contract and a troubling injury history.

The Rams made the move Thursday, several minutes before $10.5 million in the three-time Pro Bowl selection’s contract became fully guaranteed.

The Rams also cut veteran linebacker Clay Matthews after just one season with his hometown club. Matthews was due a $2 million roster bonus, among other guarantees.

Gurley will consume a whopping $20.15 million in dead salary cap space this season for the Rams, who signed the 2015 first-round pick to a four-year, $60 million contract with $45 million guaranteed in June 2018. Gurley was cut before even playing the first year of that extension, which made him the highest-paid running back in the NFL at the time.

With little salary cap space and clearly serious concerns about Gurley’s ability to perform at a level commensurate to the contract they gave him, the Rams abruptly cut ties with one of the most effective running backs of the NFL’s past half-decade.

Gurley reacted to his departure from his only NFL club with good humor.

“Damn I got fired on my day off,” he tweeted, along with a quarantine-related hashtag.

“All Business Nothing Personal,” he added in a subsequent tweet.

Gurley had phenomenal seasons during his first two years in coach Sean McVay’s offense, rushing for 1,305 yards in 2017 and 1,251 in 2018 as those Rams reached the Super Bowl. He was voted the AP’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2017 after racking up 2,093 yards from scrimmage and 19 touchdowns.

But Gurley had a persistent left knee injury that limited his effectiveness down the stretch in 2018, and those problems carried over to last season.

He rushed for a career-low 857 yards last year while playing sparingly, although McVay never acknowledged it was because of Gurley’s knee issue. Gurley claimed ignorance about the reasons for his lack of action, including a career-low 223 carries and just 31 receptions, his lowest total since his rookie year.

McVay and Rams general manager Les Snead issued only brief public statements about the release of a franchise cornerstone.

“He has meant a lot to my growth as a coach and leader, and he will always be remembered as one of the all-time great Rams,” McVay said. “I wish him nothing but the best.”

Gurley is tops in the NFL with 58 rushing touchdowns since he joined the league in 2015, and his 70 total touchdowns also lead the league over the past five seasons. His 5,404 yards rushing are second most in the league over the past half-decade, barely behind Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott (5,405).

The Rams attempted to find trade partners to take Gurley, but his exorbitant contract apparently made it impossible. Instead of keeping one of their biggest stars to sell tickets as they move into new SoFi Stadium this season, the Rams let Gurley go.

“When we drafted Todd in 2015, we knew he was going to be a one-of-a-kind talent that would create special moments on the football field for us,” Snead said. “Todd did this by becoming one of the greatest competitors in this league, but more than that, he served as a great teammate to his fellow players and ambassador for our organization, and those traits speak volumes to who he is as a human being.”

Snead and the Rams are juggling the bills for their spending spree over the past two years while trying to win now under McVay, who has had three straight winning seasons. After losing the Super Bowl to New England in February 2019, Los Angeles went 9-7 last season and missed the playoffs after winning the previous two NFC West titles.

Snead has recently handed out the biggest contracts in NFL history for a running back (Gurley), a quarterback (Jared Goff) and a defensive player (Aaron Donald). He subsequently traded two first-round picks for cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who will almost certainly get his own massive contract extension soon.

Darrell Henderson could be Gurley’s replacement after the third-round pick rushed for 147 yards in limited playing time as a rookie. Malcolm Brown, Gurley’s backup for all five seasons with the Rams, is also under contract for the upcoming season.

Matthews is the fifth defensive starter to leave the Rams in the offseason. He had eight sacks as an edge rusher after joining the Rams following a decade with the Green Bay Packers.

The Rams have parted with seven of their 11 defensive starters and their top nickel back from their season opener last year. New defensive coordinator Brandon Staley also replaced Wade Phillips.

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