There are two days over the last two years that have been extremely consequential for the Dallas Cowboys.
July 24th, 2018: Los Angeles Rams sign Todd Gurley to four-year, $60M extension ($45M guaranteed).
September 4th, 2019: Los Angeles Rams sign Jared Goff to four-year, $134M extension ($110M guaranteed).
Why are these days important? You probably know the answer if we’re being honest. On Thursday, March 19th, 2020 to be specific, the Los Angeles Rams released running back Todd Gurley. It had barely been more than 600 days since he signed his extension with the team.
Los Angeles extended Gurley when things were going great for them. The Rams were coming off of Sean McVay’s first season as head coach and the future was bright. The team even justified all of they hype people had in them by winning the NFC. In response, before last season began, they handed out another extension, this one to quarterback Jared Goff.
These bad Rams deals have had huge consequences for the Cowboys
During the early days of the Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott era many wondered whether the Cowboys had the best young quarterback and running back duo in the NFL. That was a fair discussion.
Four years later there is no debate. Dak and Zeke far outweigh what Goff and Gurley were for the Rams, but the latter were the twosome to get paid by their respective team first. Being last can cost a lot of money in the NFL.
With the Rams now officially moving on from Gurley, they have admitted that the extension they gave him was a failure (something football fans have known for a while). The team’s deal with their quarterback hardly looks any better, but the unfortunate reality for all of us is that these two contracts have a lasting impact on the Cowboys.
Let’s start with the running back
Todd Gurley was a first-round pick in 2015. He was the first running back taken in the first round since 2012 so he ended a bit of a drought. As a first-round pick he had a fifth-year option on his rookie deal, but the Rams set a bit of a standard when they gave him a contract extension at his first point of eligibility (after his third season).
This deal set the standard for Ezekiel Elliott who was taken in the first round just one year after Gurley. With no career injuries of any kind and a robust résumé that included two rushing titles that led to division championships, the Cowboys were between a rock and a hard place last season when their running back wanted to get paid.
How could the Cowboys have denied Zeke through the objective landscape of what was then “the market”? Los Angeles established that if you were an elite first-round running back after three years you should get paid. We can squabble about whether the Cowboys were correct in handing out a big-time deal to Zeke, but part of the reality is that the waters were muddied by the Rams a year earlier. Fast forward to 2020 and the Rams likely wish they’d never done that deal. At least Zeke is different.
The Rams also messed things up at quarterback
As if it weren’t enough that the Rams threw kerosene on the running back market bonfire they also had to go on and hand out a quarterback contract... to Jared Goff.
There is no question that the 2018 Rams were very good or that Jared Goff was also a fine signal-caller throughout that season; however, from his rookie year through the 2018 season there wasn’t exactly a long list of reasons for Los Angeles to put their quarterback at the top of the market (after his third year also!), but alas, they found a way.
Just before the 2019 season began the Rams gave Jared Goff an extension that put him among the highest-paid quarterbacks in the league and did so with one particular distinction. The Rams gave Goff $110M in total guarantees which remains for the time being the highest in NFL history.
As you are aware, the Dallas Cowboys have a quarterback in need of a long-term extension in Dak Prescott and the market shows that $110M is the floor. What’s more is that the market indicates that $110M was established as a floor for a quarterback that Dak Prescott is better than.
The Los Angeles Rams have been heralded as having one of the best front offices in the NFL for some time now. They have made a handful of trades (more than a handful really) in recent memory that kept their team at a competitive level year in and year out... until last season.
The Rams missed the playoffs in 2019 and have now moved on from the aforementioned Gurley. What’s more is they will have to charge forward with an overpaid Goff and while they have Sean McVay as head coach that seems like one tall task.
Over the last two years the Rams have made paying Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott all the more difficult for the Cowboys. It pays to be first, and it costs more to be last.