This article is part of our NFL Free Agency series.
NFL news throughout the week has cooled from a boil to a simmer, and now seems to be approaching room temperature. The one big exception Thursday was the Rams' decision to cut Todd Gurley, a move that was probably surprising to most fans but had been hinted at by multiple reporters.
It was only 20 months ago that Gurley signed a four-year, $57.5 million extension, which technically covered 2020-23 but also gave him a bunch of money up front in 2018 and 2019. The Rams paid him while they still had two years of team control, hoping to avoid the friction that might accompany a holdout. They essentially did the same thing with Jared Goff this past September, and they also were generous with Brandin Cooks after trading for him in 2018.
Now the team is left with a thin, top-heavy roster, hoping the handful of star players remaining will be enough to stay competitive in an increasingly brutal NFC West (prognosis: doubtful). Jeff Howe of The Athletic says Cooks is next up on the trade block, entering Year 2 of a five-year, $81 million extension. The speedy wideout has a guarantee for all $12 million of his 2020 compensation, but any team that acquires him can easily wiggle out of the contract next offseason.
This is all bad news for the 200 or so people who actually root for the Rams, but it's good news for fantasy managers banking on heavy target volume for Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods or Tyler Higbee. Goff led the league with 626 pass attempts last season, and he had 561 the year before on a team that won 13 games. Given Sean McVay's pass-first tendencies in neutral situations, a bad year for the Rams could put Goff over 650 throws.
The majority of fantasy speculation will focus on vacated snaps and touches in the backfield, but I'm guessing LA's passing game will be the real source of fantasy value this year. Malcolm Brown is the definition of mediocre and replaceable, while Darrell Henderson is much more exciting but looked straight-up bad before he suffered a season-ending ankle injury that required December surgery. The Rams likely will add another body, or three, in the backfield. For now, Henderson is the upside pick in early drafts.
Friday morning update: The Falcons are signing Gurley to a one-year, $5 million contract. I don't think he's a particularly good player at this point, but the Atlanta homecoming at least looks favorable for piling up carries and targets. The depth chart behind Gurley holds Ito Smith (yuck), Brian Hill (ew), Qadree Ollison (too slow) and Craig Reynolds (who?). I guess my 2020 Gurley optimism could go up in flames if the Falcons use an early draft pick on Jonathan Taylor, J.K. Dobbins, etc. Of course, the Gurley addition reduces the chance that they'll do that.
Other Thursday Happenings
- The Eagles FINALLY got a premium cornerback, giving up third- and fifth-round picks for Darius Slay, who promptly signed a three-year, $50 million extension that includes $30 million guaranteed. The 29-year-old cornerback gave up some big plays last season, but that's to be expected when you're shadowing No. 1 receivers while surrounded by subpar teammates. Prior to last year, Slay had four consecutive seasons with a PFF grade of 75.0 or higher, and he held opponents under a 60.0 completion percentage on throws in his direction in five of the past six seasons. For those who prefer traditional stats, consider that Slay led the league in both interceptions (eight) and pass defenses (26) in 2017. If his play in Philadelphia is anything like his play in Detroit, the contract will end up looking like a bargain.
- The Broncos finally got rid of Joe Flacco, who likely will have to settle for backup work in a market where it isn't even clear Jameis Winston, Cam Newton and Andy Dalton will get starting jobs. I'd take any of those three over Flacco without hesitation, and I say that as one of the biggest Flacco fans on the planet (and maybe even the galaxy).
- Melvin Gordon remains unsigned, reportedly drawing interest from Buffalo. That would be a disaster for an doofus who has repeatedly been drafting Devin Singletary in the third round of best ball leagues, considering Gordon and the youngster likely would operate in something close to a 50-50 split. It's pretty clear Gordon will end up signing a contract that lands far shy of the Chargers' offer from last summer.
- ESPN's David Newton reports the Panthers are struggling to find a trade for Cam Newton and thus may end up releasing him. Teams are hesitant to acquire him without a physical examination from their doctors, which isn't really possible right now with Covid-19 concern limiting travel. Plus, there aren't many QB openings remaining, and most of the teams that do have a need prefer to go young at the position (Bengals, Dolphins, Chargers, maybe Patriots).
- The Rams also cut Clay Matthews on Thursday. It may not seem like a big deal at this stage in his career, but dude had eight sacks in 13 games last season, and the Rams now seem to be counting on Leonard Floyd and Samson Ebukam to replace Matthews and Dante Fowler (um, yeah, good luck with that).