Rams coach Sean McVay, addressing the media Monday for the first time since the team parted ways with the former face of its franchise, said he never expected Gurley's tenure to end so abruptly.
"I don't think so," McVay told reporters, per Lindsey Thiry of ESPN. "I think as you continue to accumulate experience, especially in this role, you never take anything for granted and the amount of perspective that you have now... but to say that was something that I think you could have ever anticipated, I think the answer is no."
Rewind just a bit to November of 2018, and Gurley was leading the world in rushing and scoring and a front-runner for league MVP honors, this after being a finalist the year before. How quickly things spiraled still seems inconceivable. A mysterious knee injury not only forced him out of a couple games but severely limited him in the Rams' Super Bowl run and led to an offseason full of questions about his health.
Gurley then looked like a shell of himself last fall, losing a full yard per carry from his average over the previous two seasons and catching half as many passes while shouldering a significantly lighter workload.
Complicating matters was the Rams ripping up Gurley's rookie deal in the summer of 2018 despite two years remaining on it in favor of a four-year contract worth $60 million, including $45 million guaranteed. General manager Les Snead reiterated Monday he doesn't regret the lofty extension that likely -- ironically -- expedited Gurley's departure.
"The yards he gained, the touchdowns he scored for us, the championships -- where it's two division titles, the conference championship, the Super Bowl appearance, you know that would be tough to regret," Snead said. "What I can say is, obviously I think we all wish the partnership could have lasted longer."
One day after being released, Gurley agreed to a one-year deal with the Atlanta Falcons, which became official Monday. The sixth-year back made an extra $22.6 million than he would have had Los Angeles allowed him to play out his rookie deal. But cutting him with a post-June 1 designation spreads out the $11.75 million cap hit over two seasons and saves the team $5.5 million against the cap this summer.
"A lot of the decisions we make aren't exclusively about a player, but you're talking about how to fit a big puzzle together with your team," McVay said. "These are conversations that require a lot of different directions and kind of projections based on where we're at, where we want to be... but there certainly were a lot of things that went into the discussion and ultimately the decision to make that move."
Health was probably at the forefront with Gurley, who's still just 25. While there's no denying his talent, Snead, having already paid handsomely for past production, intimated the Rams don't project Gurley to regain his previous form.
"In this case, I don't think it's a salary cap issue," Snead said. "But in the puzzle, like I said in putting together your short-term and long-term vision of trying to consistently contend, what you pay players comes into play, obviously producing comes into play."