By Scott Geelan

As one season ends and another one begins, 32 NFL franchises put 2020 firmly in the rear view mirror and gear up for another tilt at the Vince Lombardi Trophy. The hard work starts here, and for many has already begun; general managers and head coaches are finalising their staff and looking ahead to turning their rosters into potential challengers.

In this series we identify the key components that go into building a winning team, and what each franchise needs to do to be in the mix come the playoffs next January. We finish our team by team offseason review with a look at the Los Angeles Rams:

2020 Recap

Los Angeles Rams
Credit: USA Today Sports

The Rams enjoyed a bounce-back season in 2020, returning to the playoffs on the back of a 10-6 record. Although their record was only good enough to finish second in the division, they will undoubtedly take pleasure in beating the Seattle Seahawks in Seattle in the Wild Card round, allowing them to validly believe they are the best team in the NFC West entering 2021. 

Part of their improvement stemmed from their reinvigorated rushing attack, allowing the offense to return to a closer imitation of their 2018 selves in the run game. Nevertheless, the passing offense continued to suffer as a result of its quarterback’s limitations. 

However,  the Rams truly benefited from their head coach’s inspired appointment of first-time NFL defensive coordinator Brandon Staley. Staley’s college-esque defensive scheme, that prioritised stopping the pass over the run in a more extreme way than any other contemporary NFL defensive scheme, led the Rams back to the playoffs and enabled the team to play complementary football with their rushing game. 

Staff Changes

Credit: Chris O'Meara (Associated Press)

Staley’s brilliance was noticed by the rest of the league, and he was whisked away across Los Angeles (sort of) by the Chargers to hopefully extract maximum value from the Chargers’ defensive talent. Raheem Morris, who took over as interim head coach for the Falcons last season replaces Staley as defensive coordinator. 

Staley was not the only member of the Rams’ staff who departed, with their coaches and front office staff in high demand around the league. Several other football employees departed, including Shane Waldron who has become offensive coordinator in Seattle whilst Brad Holmes and Ray Agnew departed to lead the front office in Detroit.

State Of The Roster

Los Angeles Rams
Credit: The Boston Globe

In typical Rams fashion, they have already been aggressive in improving their roster. In exchange for two first round picks, a third and Jared Goff, the Rams acquired former Lion Matthew Stafford. Stafford is stylistically a very different quarterback to Goff, highlighted by Stafford ranking twelfth in the league in big time throw percentage, with Goff ranking last (39th). Even so Stafford managed to rank fourth best in the league in turnover-worthy throw percentage, indicating his more aggressive mentality does not come accompanied with a higher propensity to turn the ball over. Stafford should ultimately pose more questions for the defense than Goff, enhancing the Rams’ offensive threat.

Stafford joins a talented offensive unit. The offensive line bounced back after experiencing a transition year in 2019 and should return four of five starters. There are also plenty of quality players at the skill positions, notably Cooper Kupp, Tyler Higbee, Robert Woods and Darrell Henderson. With Stafford at the helm, McVay has all the pieces in place for an explosive offense.

Meanwhile, the Rams continue to benefit from having arguably the two most valuable defensive players in the NFL on the same team in Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey. Donald’s presence has consistently made those around him more productive, including seeing Dante Fowler & Leonard Floyd achieve career years outside him. Ramsey meanwhile is possibly the supreme match-up player in the NFL, capable of playing all over the defense to erase the offense’s most dangerous weapon in the passing game.

The Rams’ also boast a number of underrated defensive players who complement their superstar duo. The likes of Greg Gaines, Sebastian Joseph-Day, Darious Williams (if the Rams tender the RFA), Taylor Rapp and Jordan Fuller are all capable role players. However the Rams have failed to adequately replace Cory Littleton and the scheduled departures of John Johnson III and Troy Holl leave an additional hole in the middle of the field.

Salary Cap & Cut Candidates

Los Angeles Rams
Credit: Christian Petersen (Getty Images)

The Rams are currently $33,928,331 over the salary cap, in no small part due to the massive dead money hits from Jared Goff and Todd Gurley (over $30m combined). The Rams could part with interior defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson to clear some cap space, but it’s also likely they will need to restructure various contracts.They’re fortunate to have several players whose quality should make them viable candidates for a long-term restructure, such as Donald and Stafford.

Free Agents

Los Angeles Rams
Credit: USA Today Sports

The Rams’ most notable free agent departure looks set to be safety Johnson. Johnson is one of the most underrated safeties in the NFL and is capable of playing a variety of roles. With Justin Simmons and Marcus Maye franchise tagged, Johnson could be the premier safety in free agency.

Other potentially noteworthy departures include centre Austin Blythe, tight-end Gerald Everett, slot cornerback Hill and outside linebackers Floyd and Samson Ekubam. The Rams are reportedly trying to bring Floyd back, but Hill & Blythe could be particularly difficult to replace.

Team Needs

The Rams’ clearest need currently is off-the-ball linebacker, a need which is likely further exacerbated by the likely departures of safety Johnson and slot cornerback Hill. Losing two high calibre intermediate cover players will place higher demands on the Rams’ linebackers, demands which the current crop have not demonstrated they can fulfil consistently to date. 

In addition, EDGE and cornerback opposite Jalen Ramsey could be in need of upgrades if Floyd and Williams do not return to the Rams, whilst centre is clearly a question mark following Blythe’s departure.

Otherwise, the Rams will really be looking to bring in capable depth pieces at several positions, such as wide receiver, tight-end and the defensive line.

Scott Geelan

NFC West analyst