Todd Gurley signed a big deal before his fourth season in the league. It came during what has been a pretty rough market for running back contracts (and I detailed how the rookie wage scale had really sunk that market). Le’Veon Bell has been unsuccessful in getting a longterm deal from the Steelers, getting franchised twice.
So Gurley took what looks like a pretty good deal, now, in taking the money and signing longterm. It has set the top of that bad running back contract market. But part of that bad market, in addition to the rookie wage scale suppressing value, is that there was a period of a few years without many star running backs entering from age 25 to 27. In the 2014 Draft (the one before Gurley), the first two running backs selected were Bishop Sankey and Jeremy Hill, at picks 54 and 55. In 2013, there were also no first-giround running backs, and the only ones in the top 50 were Giovani Bernard and Le’Veon Bell.
That created a vacuum of top talent setting the market before Gurley. That will change soon. Ezekiel Elliott, Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, and Saquon Barkley are top 10 picks who will be coming up in the next 2-3 years. Others will hit the market and get money as well. There’s a good chance that in about three years, the Gurley contract looks like a huge value to the Rams.
Which brings us to the recent Julio Jones drama, where he threatened a holdout, and the sides band-aided it over until next year when the Falcons shifted $2 million from the 2019 base salary to a bonus for this year, but didn’t agree to anything more substantial.
The Jones deal looked great at the time, as it gave Julio some upfront money and put him above recent deals signed by Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas. But it also was very team-friendly on the backend. The new trend in some of these deals is to actually not include those “funny money” numbers at the end of the deal, where a player is supposed to get $30 million non-guaranteed. Instead, in a deal like Julio’s, the base salaries in the final years didn’t escalate and are very manageable for Atlanta. If Julio had higher base figures, it would have forced the Falcons to actually have more incentive to do another extension, to spread out the impact.
Which brings us back to the Gurley deal. Pro Football Talk has the details on that contract. It does provide the security up front that Gurley would want. He’s trading in the next two years when he would have made less, and in exchange giving up something on the backend–if he is still healthy and a top player at age 27, 28 and 29, when this contract won’t be in the top 10 in the NFL. He’s getting $21 million up front, and roster and base salaries that are guaranteed for injury in 2019, 2020, and (partially) in 2021.
Then comes the interesting part. The base salaries are only $5 million for 2022 (when he will turn 28 in August) and $5.449 million in 2023, the final year of the deal. There’s also a $1 million roster bonus, and a very large $4 million “training camp reporting bonus.”
That’s basically an anti-holdout provision. On top of the daily fine schedule–currently $40,000 per day, who knows what it will be in 2022–Gurley would be forfeiting another $4 million if he was still a star and decided to holdout. Those last two years are very shrewd and friendly for the Rams. If he’s declined they can basically cut him before the roster bonus is due. But if he’s still good, they get him on a good deal, and have a built in negotiation hammer of an anti-holdout clause.