Los Angeles Rams: Victims of divisional competitiveness or something deeper?
One year on from a Super Bowl appearance, the Los Angeles Rams missed the playoffs. Whilst their 9-7 record was hardly an embarrassment, a few worryingly predictable roster holes (and some less predictable) reared their heads. Now entering the 2020 offseason, the Rams’ superstar heavy roster construction threatens to obstruct rebuild attempts moving forward.
General Manager: Les Snead
Head Coach: Sean McVay
The young HC who captured the league’s imagination in 2018 came somewhat back down to Earth in 2019. With a division loaded with offensive play calling talent (plus Russell Wilson), McVay’s star was somewhat overshadowed in year three. McVay was clearly troubled by his team’s struggles, seeing fit to hire three new co-ordinators to freshen things up behind the scenes.
Cap Space: $14.8 million
The Rams enter 2020 with some money to spend, but also with significant amounts of cap space given over to players who they cannot move on from, making their cap situation particularly inflexible.
They appeared to fall into the trap of valuing their running back more than they valued their offensive line, with Todd Gurley carrying an enormous cap hit (over 8% of the team’s cap) whilst the team currently looks like it may be forced to roll with a staggeringly inexperienced unit blocking for Gurley.
McVay’s team find themselves in the Seahawks’ late-LOB-era conundrum of sorts, with little money to spend across the roster due to pricey extensions and a massive reliance on young players on rookie contracts to come good as a result, especially along the offensive line. This new roster makeup perhaps explains McVay’s coaching alterations. Unfortunately, Jared Goff is not Russell Wilson.
Perhaps the way to create cap space is to make a few internal extensions happen. The Rams could extend or restructure Robert Woods to move some of his money around. They could also try to restructure Jared Goff. However, McVay & Snead may consider their rip cord on Goff after the 2022 campaign is already too far in the future for them to be willing to remove that rip cord to open things up in 2020.
Impending Free Agents
In some senses, the Rams’ impending free agents offer a slight saving grace to the team. Dante Fowler & Michael Brockers were earning fairly big money (and will desire it again) but were playing alongside cheat code Aaron Donald. The money the Rams could be paying them should be distributed elsewhere on the roster, especially as the Rams can’t hope to truly get into the likely Dante Fowler bidding war.
Cory Littleton looks likely to be a bigger loss. The former undrafted free agent turned into one of the best and most underrated linebackers in the NFL under Sean McVay. In a division where opposing OCs marry their rushing and passing attacks so well together, Littleton’s skillset is all the more valuable. Nevertheless, given the value of linebacker contracts on the free market, the Rams could see themselves bidding goodbye to one of their best defensive players.
Otherwise, their only other major impending free agent loss is left tackle Andrew Whitworth. Whitworth may choose to retire instead of hitting free agency, but his quality at Jared Goff’s blindside will undoubtedly be missed, whatever the character of his departure from LA.
Major Need: Offensive Line
The Rams offensive line was a big source of their issues in 2019. Numerous time the line would collapse under the pressure from the opposing pass rush and leave Jared Goff desperately looking for options. This s in contrast to their Super Bowl run, when Goff looked to have all the time in the world to make the right pass and the line was punching big holes for Gurley to run through. A lot of questions will swirl around Goff entering next season, but the Rams needs to give him a solid offensive line if he is to have any chance of succeeding.
Major Need: Edge rusher
Dante Fowler was certainly an impactful pass rusher, but his sack total will likely inflate his already inflated value on the free market. The Rams have taken steps (of sorts) to identify possible EDGE options. With Aaron Donald on the DL, it makes sense to take some flyers on some juiced up speed rusher types such Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and Jachai Polite, but they need more certainty around one of the most important groups on the field.