Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Are We Seeing the Downfall of Todd Gurley?

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterJune 5, 2019

Los Angeles Rams' Todd Gurley II watches from the bench during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 53 football game against the New England Patriots, Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

How hurt is Todd Gurley? How is Carson Wentz's recovery coming? Is Gronk really retired? All that and more in this week's 10-Point Stance.

       

1. How worried should the Rams be about Todd Gurley II's knee?

Recently, I asked a Rams team official how concerned they are about the knee of Todd Gurley II.

Not concerned at all, the person said, but we're watching it just in case.

That has been the refrain from the Rams, both publicly and privately, for months. What I can tell you is, around the league, few people buy it. Actually, no one does.

Teams think the Rams have been downplaying what are more serious, and unknown, knee issues for Gurley. Teams have no clue if this belief is accurate. It's all guesswork.

But something is definitely not right, and the main indicator of that is the Rams themselves. They are doing things that show yes, indeed, they are worried.

For instance, they drafted Darrell Henderson in the third round in April. Gurley is in his prime, and while picking a back that high while having a young and entrenched starter isn't unprecedented, it's still unusual.

Also, Gurley isn't participating in on-field practices during the offseason. And he's trying to cut his weight down before the season, according to NFL Network's Steve Wyche (via NFL.com's Kevin Patra).

And then there was a report by NFL Network's Ian Rapoport this week that the Rams plan on lessening the number of carries for Gurley.

"The days of Todd Gurley just being the straight-up, every-down bell cow are probably over," Rapoport said Monday on NFL Total Access (via NFL.com's Jeremy Bergman), adding, "Of course, Gurley's knee, the wear and tear on that knee, the surgically repaired knee, is something that everyone knows has been concerning to the team for some time."

So, yes, the Rams won't say it, but everything they've done indicates they are extremely worried about Gurley.

Why else would they want to change anything about him? Remember, Gurley is 24 years old and is coming off a season with 1,831 yards from scrimmage and 21 touchdowns. He's one of the most talented, productive and valuable players in football.

But then, last year, he missed the last two regular-season games. The Rams said there was little concern. Then he rushed just 34 times in three postseason games. In the Super Bowl, he looked like a shell of himself. And, again, the Rams, and Gurley, said, Nothing to see here, folks.

"I know there's a lot of concern about my health," Gurley said after Super Bowl LIII, "but I'm really fine."

"Todd is healthy," McVay echoed to reporters at the time. "We just didn't get a chance to get anyone going offensively, and that starts with me."

Now Gurley has yet to participate in on-field drills during OTAs, and the Rams are still saying all is cool.

The lack of concern, to be blunt, simply isn't believable.

2. So what's actually wrong?

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 12: Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley #30 scores a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on January 12, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images)
John McCoy/Getty Images

No, there's likely nothing catastrophic, but there's obviously something. There was a report by Jeff Howe of The Athletic in March that stated Gurley has arthritis in his knee. That would actually explain all of this.

Arthritis in a runner's knee wouldn't be devastating, but it would slow him. I've covered a handful of backs who had this issue, and it slowed them dramatically. It can have a serious impact on the basic running motion, and few people outside the team would even notice.

All we know for sure is the team says it's not worried.

Should it be?

The answer, without question, is yes.

   

3. Glazer: No time to panic, but...

Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press

One last thing on Gurley, and it comes from Fox NFL analyst Jay Glazer, one of the best football journalists to ever do it. I wanted to give Glazer's quote a place to itself because if he says it, bank on it.

"It is a concern," Glazer wrote in The Athletic about Gurley's knee. "The sky isn't falling but even now, they're being smart about it. It did swell up on him last year; this is a knee that has had wear and tear. Eventually, you're going to factor this in especially with them having to sit him down the stretch last year. It's not all doom and gloom, but it is definitely something you have to monitor and be prepared for in case that thing blows up on him again. We already learned that lesson last year. That's why he isn't doing any on-field work yet."

All this leads to another huge question with Gurley: Did the Rams reward him with that huge contract extension too soon?

The answer is no, but it's a fair question.

The Rams gave Gurley a $57.5 million extension in 2018. They had to do it. He'd earned it, and there were no indications that Gurley's knee was going to be a huge problem. The Rams are good, but they're not time travelers.

So they did the right thing even if it may be a problem in the future.

   

4. Carson Wentz will be OK

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

If anyone had concerns about the health of Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, and if he was recovering OK from a broken back, coach Doug Pederson put it all to rest this week. Pederson was asked how Wentz has looked the past two weeks in team workouts.

"Yeah, I mean, gosh, he's strong," Pederson said, according to a team transcript. "His lower body is strong. His arm is strong. You are seeing the things that we saw a couple of years ago when he was healthy, obviously. He's leading the offense, leading the team and really doing a nice job out there, getting on the same page with [wide receiver DeSean Jackson] and really kind of getting that rapport going.

"Same with [wide receiver Nelson Agholor]. I think Nelly is another one that's really had a good offseason so far. But, yeah, Carson, been real impressed with where Carson is."

   

5. Roger Goodell continues to push for fewer preseason games

Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

Commissioner Roger Goodell, as he has done for several years now, once again pushed for a shortened preseason. And he's right; four preseason games is too many. Really, only two are needed, and having four causes unnecessary physical strain on players while they play in meaningless contests.

Make no mistake, though: Goodell isn't pushing for a shorter preseason out of the goodness of his heart. He's doing it as part of a strategy designed to push for an 18-game regular season.

The players overall remain vehemently opposed to an 18-game season. The union absolutely wants no part of it unless some massive concessions are made by the owners in the next collective bargaining agreement.

This won't be the last we hear about this. With the CBA set to expire after the 2020 season, and all the money that could be made with two extra games, Goodell will bring this up again and again. But what truly matters is what the players think. They'd have to agree to an 18-game season, and there's little chance they will.

   

6. Other summits to come

Gregory Payan/Associated Press

Von Miller's pass-rusher summit—gathering the best in the league to one place and essentially having a position-specific think-tank exchange—is a pretty remarkable thing.

I've heard some coaches grumble that players shouldn't exchange ideas or techniques, that they should keep all their secrets—no matter how minor—to themselves. It's an old-school way of thinking and likely doesn't represent the future.

In fact, I've heard from agents how other positions want to do the same thing. One thing I heard is there might be some type of wide receiver summit.

That would be fun.

   

7. No one believes Gronk is really retired

Former Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski made a public appearance recently and said he was done with football. What I can tell you is few people, including sources on the Patriots, believe that.

The belief is that once the season gets going, and Gronkowski starts missing football, he will rejoin the team. It's not just a hunch, sources say; you can count on it.

   

8. Saquon Barkley taking leadership role

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - JANUARY 31: Saquon Barkley attends SiriusXM at Super Bowl LIII Radio Row on January 31, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM)
Cindy Ord/Getty Images

It's not a shock this is happening, but running back Saquon Barkley has become one of the leaders in the Giants locker room, if not the leader.

Odell Beckham Jr. is gone. Defensive end Olivier Vernon is gone. Safety Landon Collins is gone. Quarterback Eli Manning is there, but he's a shell of himself.

"Obviously Odell's gone, but that trade happened so long ago. We've been in the locker room for a really long time without him," Barkley told For the Win. "We're still doing the same things that we need to do, and I think we've even grown more as a team, just going out more, whether it's getting dinner or doing things like Topgolf and other team activities. I think the locker room is really great, and I think it's showing on the field."

We won't know exactly how the loss of Beckham will impact the team until real games are played. But it's a good sign that Barkley has assumed a leadership role vacated by those names. This is one of the best signs for the Giants in an offseason of the team making really dumb decisions like trading Beckham.

The team couldn't be in better hands than Barkley's.

   

9. Big humans aren't supposed to move like this

When you watch this video of Aaron Donald moving like a leopard, remember that he is 280 pounds.

I've covered the NFL for decades and have seen dozens of these drills, and I have never, ever, ever, ever seen a defensive lineman, especially an interior one, move that fast.

It seems like Donald—the two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year—is just getting better and better, and that has to scare the hell out of the rest of the league.

   

10. The XFL continues to grow

While the Alliance of American Football may have failed, the XFL continues to grow. One thing the league added recently was a health advisory committee made of experts in neurology and mental health, according to a release from the league.

The league’s initial health advisory committee is composed of neurosurgeon Dr. Julian Bailes, who will be the chief medical adviser, orthopedist Dr. Larry Lemak and mental health expert Dr. Claudia Reardon.

I've heard the NFL for years talk about how it cares about the health and safety of its players. Sometimes, the league actually meant it.

Hopefully what the XFL is doing is genuine. If it is, that's a really good thing.

           

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.

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