The ongoing questions about the health of Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley finally are getting some answers.
“Everybody knew when Todd came out of Georgia that there would be some kind of arthritic component to his knee, which is part of every surgery whether it’s a shoulder, a knee, an ankle,” Gaines said late last week.
“He’s now at the year-five mark, all we’re doing is managing that,” the trainer said. “If we can pound him less in the offseason while keeping his weight down, working on his strength, working on his agility in short areas, that’s going to give him a better chance to be healthy Weeks 14 through 17 when they really count.”
Gurley’s health in Weeks 14 through 17 in 2018 proved to be a harbinger of his difficulty performing on the game’s biggest stage, as his role was severely limited in the Rams’ 13-3 loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII.
Considering that Super Bowl was all but completely devoid of offense, a healthy Gurley could have made the difference between defeat and victory.
The Rams, meanwhile, have taken out an insurance policy of sorts, selecting Memphis running back Darrell Henderson 70th overall in the third round of the NFL draft.
Asked about Gurley losing touches and potential prominence on the team to Henderson, Gaines said, “It’s never been told to me that there’s a plan to decrease his workload come Week 1. At the end of the day, you need solid running backs, and they grabbed a home-run running back in the third round. …
“If you watched the games last year, Todd typically sat out two to three series last year. I don’t see anything changing with that, so you need a back who can catch, and I believe Darrell averaged around 9.0 yards per carry, a home-run type guy.”
Gurley does represent a far greater salary cap burden than a third-rounder on a rookie deal, but considering that the Rams would have an enormous dead-money problem on their cap if they got rid of Gurley, simply replacing him with Henderson isn’t going to be a realistic option until no sooner than 2021.
Gurley, while in college at Georgia in 2014, tore his left ACL. Although that did not burden him early in his NFL career, the degenerative nature of such an injury eventually seemed to catch up with him at the worst possible time for his team.
Nonetheless, Gurley was an All-Pro in 2017 and 2018, and if he can get healthy, he’ll remain one of the elite backs in the league.
As far back as March, The Athletic’s Jeff Howe was reporting that Gurley had arthritis in his knee.
Rams running back Todd Gurley has arthritis in his knee, according to a source. Helps explain his limited usage in the playoffs.
— Jeff Howe (@jeffphowe) March 2, 2019
But until now, nobody on the Rams or in Gurley’s camp had confirmed the report.
Gaines pointed out that it’s not like Gurley needed to get a heavy workload down the stretch last season with the Rams having wrapped up a playoff berth and division title with plenty of football still left to be played in 2018’s regular season.
“Not one thing has changed,” Gaines said. “Our routine has worked, he’s been strong, he’s been in great shape, he’s done well.
“He got a little tired toward the end of last year because he was carrying the ball a lot. Could he have played last year? Yeah, but when you already have the division and seeding clinched, what was the point?”
Gurley is expected to play at a lighter weight this season, 218 pounds compared with the 224 he was listed at in 2018. Gaines spoke to that reality and the reasons behind it as well.
“It was a collective decision for him to play a little lighter this year, not because of injuries, just because I just feel he’s one of the faster players in the league,” he told CBS Sports. “He doesn’t have to play at 224. 218 is only six pounds less, so I wanted to decrease his body fat a little bit and get him to the point where he’s a tad smaller so he can be a tad faster and a little bit bigger from a lean muscle mass standpoint. He’s going from basically 10 percent body fat to 7 percent body fat.”
Gaines also explained Gurley’s absence at offseason workouts.
“Todd was paid $60 million over four years and the Rams want to get every dime out of that contract,” he said. “So what good is it to pound him in April and May when you need him in November, December and January?”
Of course, the same could be said for every marquee player in football. No team wants to risk an injury in the preseason — or worse, in the offseason — in a game where injuries are as common as bananas in a supermarket.
The Rams aren’t expected to play Gurley at all in the preseason, and Gaines talked about that to conclude his remarks.
“Todd is asked to do a lot in that offense, so to preserve him as much as possible is what the goal of the game is,” he said. “Their sports science department and sports medicine department are made up of very sharp individuals, so whatever they subscribe and ask me to help out with to do with Todd as Todd’s with me every single day, I’m going to do it. I think the Rams have a great formula and are a phenomenal franchise.”
All the same, arthritis isn’t like the common cold. Bed rest and orange juice aren’t going to simply chase it away.
Gurley has three years left as a heavy load on the Rams’ cap; Los Angeles had best hope they’re not paying a guy whose career is functionally over by the time they can afford to cut him loose.
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