Mon Apr 6 7:20pm ET
By GREG BEACHAM
AP Sports Writer
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.”
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Kendrick Bourne signed his one-year tender on Monday. Bourne had 30 receptions on 44 targets for 358 yards and a career-high five touchdowns in 16 games (zero starts) for the team in 2019. There is plenty of opportunity for Bourne and others to start in three-receiver sets in 2020 behind Deebo Samuel. With nine touchdowns in his last two seasons with the Niners, the 24-year-old has proven to be a nice red-zone presence for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, but it remains to be seen if he can become a consistent starting option. There will be plenty of competition at the receiver position in San Fran, and they're also likely to address the position in the draft.
Carolina Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said that the team has "had internal discussions" about an extension for running back Christian McCaffrey. The stud running back is heading into the final year of his rookie deal, but the Panthers may wait and have him play on the fifth-year team option in 2021 before signing him to a long-term extension. Whether or not McCaffrey is playing with a new deal or not, he should be the No. 1 overall fantasy selection this fall. The 23-year-old former eighth overall pick ran the ball 287 times for a career-high 1,387 yards and 15 touchdowns, while also catching 116 passes for 1,005 yards and another four scores.
New York Jets general manager Joe Douglas acknowledged that wide receiver Quincy Enunwa (neck) remains a "big question mark" heading into the 2020 season and beyond. Enunwa played in just one game in 2019 before being shut down for the year, and he was diagnosed with spinal stenosis. He also played in just 1 games in 2018 due to neck and back issues, and it's unknown if he'll ever be 100 percent again, which makes it hard for the Jets to rely on him behind Breshad Perriman and Jamison Crowder. If healthy, the 27-year-old (28 in May) wideout would likely be the team's No. 3 receiver, but he'll have to compete with Josh Doctson and Vyncint Smith and prove he's healthy in training camp.
The Kansas City Chiefs have had contract talks with defensive tackle Chris Jones, but there haven't been any offers up to this point. The Chiefs will also be trying to work out a long-term extension with Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes, but that is unlikely to happen until sometime after the draft. The Chiefs placed the franchise tag on Jones earlier this offseason, but they'll have until July 15 to figure out an extension. The 25-year-old made the Pro Bowl for the first time in 2019, registering nine sacks, 36 tackles (23 solo), eight tackles for loss and 20 QB hits. Jones has become an essential inside presence on KC's defensive line and has 33 sacks in his four seasons in the league.
Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith should see an increased role in the offense in 2020 now that Stefon Diggs is playing for the Bills. When wide receiver Adam Thielen was out for almost two months with an injury last year, Smith caught 36 passes for 311 yards and two touchdowns and emerged as a reliable target for quarterback Kirk Cousins. Minnesota's offense also relies heavily on tight ends under coach Gary Kubiak; tight ends have received an average of 23 percent of targets per season in Kubiak's 21 seasons as a head coach or offensive coordinator. Even battling for targets with Kyle Rudolph, Smith could become worth rostering as a TE2 in standard leagues in his second season in the NFL.
Dallas Cowboys WR Michael Gallup had 39 catches for 686 yards and five touchdowns in November and December last season compared to 27 catches, 421 yards and one touchdown in the first two months of the year.
Fantasy Spin: Gallup had more receptions, yards and touchdowns in the final two months of 2019 than he did in his entire rookie season, and he and Amari Cooper suddenly look like one of the better receiver duos heading into 2020. For his part, Gallup should be a WR3 with upside.
Los Angeles Rams TE Tyler Higbee had 43 catches for 522 yards and two touchdowns in the month of December last season compared to 26 catches, 212 yards and one score over the first three months combined.
Fantasy Spin: Jared Goff actually led the NFL in pass attempts last year, and now that Todd Gurley is not in the mix, Higbee's strong finish to 2019 could be a sign of things to come if the Rams continue to embrace a pass-heavy attack. Target him as a TE1 in 2020.
Baltimore Ravens TE Mark Andrews caught 31 passes for 440 yards and five touchdowns at home in 2019 and had 33 receptions for 412 yards and five scores in road contests.
Fantasy Spin: It didn't matter where the Ravens were playing. Andrews was routinely Lamar Jackson's favorite target and the most consistent member of the passing attack in an otherwise run-heavy offense. He's locked in as a TE1 heading into 2020.
Houston Texans WR Will Fuller played in 11 games in 2019, and the team averaged 26.3 points in those contests compared to 19.6 in the five games he missed. Houston had an 8-3 record when Fuller played and went 2-3 without him in the lineup.
Fantasy Spin: Fuller will be asked to be the No. 1 receiver for Houston in 2020 following the trade of DeAndre Hopkins, and while good things tend to happen when he is on the field, he has yet to play a full season. In fact, Fuller has played 11 or fewer games in each of the past three seasons. Fuller will have WR2 upside, but fantasy owners need to make sure to have depth at the receiver position if they choose to take a chance on him.
Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson threw for 14 touchdowns versus only three interceptions in seven home games last season. In eight road outings, he accounted for 12 passing scores versus nine interceptions.
Cleveland Browns RB Nick Chubb averaged 100.4 yards rushing, 0.75 touchdowns and 3.1 catches in eight games while Kareem Hunt served his eight-game suspension to begin last season. After Hunt was activated, Chubb averaged 86.4 yards rushing, 0.25 TDs and 1.4 catches.
Fantasy Spin: Hunt was very successful in his backup running back/slot role over the second half of the season, so it's fair to wonder if new head coach Kevin Stefanski has any designs on changing something that worked so well under the previous regime. Working in Chubb's favor is the likelihood Cleveland will be holding leads more often this season, meaning he could in a position to break off some more long scoring runs against tired defenses late in games. With Hunt around, however, Chubb should be considered a high-end RB2.
Pittsburgh Steelers RB James Conner broke a tackle once only every 23.2 rush attempts last season. In 2018, he broke a tackle once every 10.8 carries.
Baltimore Ravens RB Gus Edwards averaged 2.5 yards per carry before contact and 2.8 yards per carry after contact in 2019, slightly outperforming starter and backfield teammate Mark Ingram (2.4 and 2.6, respectively) in each category.
Miami Dolphins WR DeVante Parker finished third in the league with 939 yards before the catch last season, while his 13 yards before catch per reception was good for sixth among qualified players.
New England Patriots RB Sony Michel averaged 19 carries for 73 yards and scored four touchdowns in three games with Rex Burkhead injured last season. In those same contests, Michel compiled six of his 12 catches for the year. In the 13 games Burkhead was active, Michel averaged 14.6 carries for 53 yards and scored only three times.
Free-agent WR Jaron Brown (Seahawks) likely will not re-sign with the Seattle Seahawks this offseason since the Seahawks signed WR Phillip Dorsett earlier in the offseason.
New York Jets WR Quincy Enunwa (neck) is not considering retirement even though he is recovering from a neck injury. He is scheduled to receive $10.1 million in guaranteed money over the next two seasons.
Fantasy Spin: Enunwa has been limited to 12 games over the last three seasons because of injury and his status for the 2020 season is still uncertain. Fantasy players should keep an eye on his situation, but he should be considered a risky option in all leagues.
San Francisco 49ers running back Matt Breida didn't have much of a role on offense to end last season behind Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman. If Jerick McKinnon is actually healthy in 2020, he gives the 49ers a legitimate route-runner and third-down option out of the backfield. San Fran could be willing to trade Breida's rights for a low-round draft pick. Of all the backs in this crowded backfield, Breida is the most likely to be playing for another team come the start of the season. The 25-year-old from Georgia Southern has been productive with 5.0 yards per carry on 381 career rushing attempts in his three years with the Niners, but he's also consistently battled nagging injuries and is now buried on the depth chart. A move out of this crowded backfield and onto another team with more opportunity would be best for Breida's real-life and fantasy value.
The Seattle Seahawks may only be willing to pay free-agent LB Jadeveon Clowney $13 million to $15 million annually to return, according to 710 ESPN Seattle's John Clayton. Clowney is reportedly seeking a deal which will pay him at least $17 million per year.
Pittsburgh Steelers TE Eric Ebron is one of six tight ends with at least 20 red zone touchdowns over the last five seasons, and he joins a Pittsburgh offense that ranked last in red zone scoring in 2019.
Fantasy Spin: A healthy Ben Roethlisberger under center should also go a long way to helping the Pittsburgh offense, but Ebron addresses a big need. He's a lower-end TE1 candidate, even if he could be a little touchdown dependent.