NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — Cam Akers wasn't invited to join the Zoom call held by several top NFL running backs last weekend to discuss the distressing state of compensation at their position.
“I guess I haven't done enough yet,” he said Tuesday as the Los Angeles Rams reported to training camp in Orange County.
Yet the Rams' leading rusher in 2022 realizes the issue is about to affect him significantly. Akers is entering his contract year after three up-and-down seasons in Los Angeles that have included a Super Bowl ring, a torn Achilles tendon and a three-game midseason banishment due to an ugly clash with the coaching staff.
When asked if he thinks about the crossroads nature of his upcoming season with the rebuilding Rams, Akers said: “Of course. I know what it means. I know what’s at stake here. But I’m here to play football. That’s going to come as long as I do my part.”
Top-level financial compensation hasn't come to top running backs this year, setting off a mild revolt from the top ball carriers. Saquon Barkley, Derrick Henry, Christian McCaffrey, Nick Chubb, Austin Ekeler and Josh Jacobs got together online to share their grievances about the situation in which teams find it more financially feasible to sign a low-cost replacement running back over a veteran on a higher-priced second contract.
“If you ask me, do I agree with what’s going on with running backs, no,” Akers said. “I do think we are of value in the league, but our hands are kind of tied at this point. Just got to keep playing football. Show and prove. ... I don’t think it’s fair to a lot of people, but I don’t feel a certain type of way that I wasn’t (in the Zoom call). It’ll come when it comes. I agree with those guys. I don’t agree with what’s going on with running backs. I wasn’t in the group thing, but eventually I will be.”
Akers is fully healthy and adding weight to his frame. He is determined to show what he can do with a season free of the setbacks he has faced since arriving in Los Angeles as a second-round pick.
As a rookie, Akers struggled to get consistent playing time until the second half of his 625-yard season. He then tore his Achilles in preseason workouts in 2021 but recovered with incredible speed to contribute 221 yards to the Rams' postseason title run.
Last season, Akers started slowly and came into conflict with the coaching staff. He was sent away from the team at midseason while the Rams tried to trade him, only to return after the deadline passed without a deal.
Akers handled the conflict well on the field, ramping up his production and even recording three straight 100-yard games to close out the Rams' dismal season.
Akers has started only 14 regular-season games and run for 1,414 yards in three seasons with the Rams, but he enters this fall as the clear starter in front of veteran returnee Sony Michel and youngsters Kyren Williams and Zach Evans. Akers knows he needs a strong season to have any hope of a significant contract or a return to the Rams in 2024, but he is embracing the opportunity.
Akers said a season free of drama and injury “would mean a lot, considering how my career started out. I know what I can do. I know I deserve to be a starter in this league, so this is the year. Keep my head down, go to work, prove myself.”
The Rams went against the modern trend of declining to pay running backs in 2018, when they gave a four-year, $60 million extension to Todd Gurley. But Gurley's knees began to give out on him a year after he inked the deal, and the Rams cut him in March 2020 before he ever played a down on the extension.
So Rams general manager Les Snead is intimately aware of the risks associated with paying a running back, but Akers is taking on this season with the belief that somebody will reward him if he finally channels his enormous talent into a dominant campaign. He doesn't have a particular number of yards in mind, saying only he wants “a lot.”
“I can’t really pinpoint what I’m going for,” Akers said. “I’m just trying to shoot for the stars, man.”
NOTES: Coach Sean McVay said new TE Hunter Long and rookie OT Warren McClendon are likely to begin training camp on the physically-unable-to-perform list. ... The Rams will hold their opening practice of camp on Wednesday at UC Irvine. Fans won't be allowed into camp until Saturday.