Todd Gurley’s status heading into free agency seems pretty clear: He’ll be a free agent, and his chances of returning to Atlanta seem slim. That’s based on his likely price point—it may not be $5 million again, but it’s not going to be the veteran minimum given his talent and age—and the fact that he just had a rough season with the Falcons, one that started with great promise and fell apart somewhere along the line.
You could be forgiven for thinking that Gurley might be seeking a new team after the way 2020 went, but that may not be the case. Per Kelsey Conway at AtlantaFalcons.com, Gurley seems intrigued by the addition of new head coach Arthur Smith and plans to gauge the team’s interest in his services for 2021.
“You get excited about a coach that runs the ball which you know doesn’t happen very often,” Gurley said on Wednesday. “So you definitely get super excited about that. I definitely have to reach out to him and [Terry Fontenot] just to be able to talk to them to see what they’re thinking and just get a head start on the free agency thing.”
On one hand, Gurley’s excitement is easy to understand, and if Smith was intrigued you could hardly blame him. Derrick Henry thrived in Smith’s offense in Tennessee over the past three seasons, and that’s especially appealing given that Gurley got an inconsistent workload in an unimaginative, unproductive rushing attack under Dirk Koetter last year. Gurley’s fortunes in 2020 were obviously impacted by injury and a couple of poor decisions by him—we all remember the Detroit touchdown that shouldn’t have been—but his goal line work remained superb, he remains a very good blocker, and he’s still not that far removed from being an elite back in this league. If the numbers work and the Falcons don’t try to draft a true feature back early, maybe this is something that gets done, and Gurley mixes in with a later round draft pick and the options already on the roster to key a quality committee. You could hardly blame Gurley for wanting to stay home and rebuild his free agent value with a coach who prizes running the ball effectively, and there’s little question he’d fare better than he did with Koetter at the helm basically by default.
Ultimately, though, I have to think Gurley will find better fortunes elsewhere while Smith imports a free agent back and his staff are familiar with or a shiny new draft pick to lead the backfield. This team already has Ito Smith under contract and he’s a proven quality commodity as a backup and pass catcher, and Qadree Ollison has barely gotten a chance to show what he can do and remains a physical back with the kind of straight line speed to cause problems in a ground game that can open holes for him. As Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman showed us in recent years, you can also find terrific backs on Days 2 and 3 of the draft, and backs on their rookie contracts typically fare much better than the ones signing second or third deals due to the way this league chews up and spits out players at the position.
We’ll see what the team’s plan at the position are, and maybe they’ll surprise us and bring Gurley back in the hopes of him wreaking a lot more havoc under a new coaching staff.