IRVINE, Calif. -- Todd Gurley II took a handoff near midfield, then dashed to the end zone.
It was Day 1 at Rams training camp, and though it was two-hand touch, Gurley ran with a burst often reserved for Week 1 of the regular season.
“He looked good,” quarterback Jared Goff said with a smile after the workout. “A little more pep in his step. I don’t know why. Something must have happened recently.”
The day before practice began, the Rams made Gurley the highest-paid running back in NFL history, rewarding the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year with a four-year extension worth $60 million, with $45 million guaranteed.
Gurley is putting in the extra effort expected with the new deal. He stays long after practices to sign autographs for fans, and when most everyone has departed for the evening, Gurley emerges from the training facility to hop on his new set of wheels -- a low-riding electric bike -- to ride off the UC Irvine campus.
“I’m just excited to be in the position I’m in,” Gurley said.
In 2015, Gurley established himself as a trendsetter. The Rams selected the University of Georgia standout with the 10th overall pick, making him the first running back selected in the first round of the NFL draft in two years.
His latest benchmark is a contract that offers $9 million more in guaranteed money than the deal the Minnesota Vikings gave Adrian Peterson in 2011. Gurley might be the first running back to receive a record-breaking deal in seven years, but he might not be the last. Le’Veon Bell, the Pittsburgh Steelers running back who is holding out for an extension, tweeted at Gurley after the news broke.
“Yeah, Todd,” Bell wrote.
“Everybody is showing their support,” Gurley said. “It definitely means a lot to get a lot of love and support from your peers around the league.”
But the fourth-year pro knows everyone will be watching. Opponents will put a target on his back. Fans will let him hear about his performance as it pertains to fantasy football. Team executives and agents across the league will keep tabs to see if his mega-deal is worth it.
“It’s the same thing I’ve been doing my whole life,” Gurley said. “You’ve just got to be able to be consistent and keep going at a high level.”
In 2015, Gurley was named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year after he rushed for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns in 229 carries.
But he fell flat in his second season, failing to surpass the 100-yard rushing mark in a single game and grabbing headlines with a postgame statement about coach Jeff Fisher’s “middle-school offense.” The morning after the remark and amid a four-game losing streak, Fisher was fired, and the Rams finished the season 4-12, as Gurley rushed for 885 yards and six touchdowns in 278 carries.
Gurley bounced back in 2017 in first-year coach Sean McVay’s explosive offense, demonstrating he not only was a threat in the running game but also could serve as a multi-dimensional back. Gurley rushed for 1,305 yards and 13 touchdowns in 279 carries and caught 64 passes for 788 yards and six touchdowns, helping the Rams to their first NFC West title in 14 years and their first playoff appearance since 2004.
His 19 trips to the end zone led the NFL, and his coach and teammates insist that his worth extended well beyond the stat sheet.
“Last year’s production isn’t really a reflection of the value that he provides because he did such a great job,” McVay said. “But he’s so much more than that to our team, the way that he competes in protection, the way that he works and the way that rubs off on his teammates.”
Goff’s is bullish about the Rams' future knowing his top playmaker will remain in the backfield for the foreseeable future.
“He’s one of the best teammates I think I’ve had,” Goff said. “For as good a player as he is, he’s just unselfish. Could whine and complain about getting the ball because he deserves it, he should get the ball because of how good he is. Blocks his ass off, doesn’t complain, really good in protection.”
Gurley’s extension came on the heels of a new deal for receiver Brandin Cooks, who has yet to play a snap for the Rams but signed a five-year extension worth $80 million.
Gurley’s deal keeps him with the Rams through the 2023 season, ensuring that a core group of young offensive playmakers -- including Goff, Cooks, Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods -- will have the opportunity to make several playoff runs together.
“From the big-picture standpoint, he’s a big weapon for us," general manager Les Snead said. "In terms of the calculus, it does help when you lock up some of your core players, and from there, you have anchor points of what you do as we continue to build the Rams.”
The Rams remain in a contract dispute dating to 2017 with defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who is scheduled to earn $6.9 million in the final season of his rookie contract.
Despite the big numbers Gurley recorded last season, McVay is convinced that there is room for the fourth-year player to grow.
“There’s always room for improvement,” McVay said. “Similar to what we talk about with Jared as far as having an ownership of the offense in a very similar manner, I think Todd can do that.
“It’s something as simple as understanding exactly what we’re trying to get done, how I can set up the blocks and the combinations. I think those rare backs do a great job of setting their blocks up, cutting on the heels of the linemen and really making the players around you even better.”
Gurley said: “Whether that’s making sure your eyes are right or working on your footwork, ball security. I’ve been a captain the last two years, so it’s definitely my position to be able to try to get things going a little more.”