The Rams entered the offseason with a lot on their plate in terms of re-signing their own players. That was said to be priority number one, at least as it pertained to the secondary. The Rams had a long laundry list of impact players headed for free agency. Players like S Rodney McLeod, CB Janoris Jenkins, S Mark Barron, CB Trumaine Johnson, DE William Hayes and RB Benny Cunningham were all set to hit the open market. Including some other key free agents. The question remained, did the Rams wait too long to attack these players contracts?
If the plan was to keep the players on the roster intact heading into free agency, well then the Rams front office really did a bad job of that before the start of free agency even took place. They began by releasing the likes of MLB James Laurinaitis, DE Chris Long and TE Jared Cook. Now, no one is here to argue if this was smart or not. In fact, just to have a chance to resign the players listed above, this was a move that almost had to be made.
The next big event the Rams had to prepare for was the 2016 NFL Draft. The Rams were entering the draft with seven picks in total, three in the top 45 picks. That's some major draft weight to have, as it would have allowed them the opportunity to bring in three really good players, that could have possibly been really good Rams for a long time. However, the belief over at Rams HQ is that they are only a quarterback away from getting over the hump and it was time to get their guy.
This belief led to the Rams making the trade of the offseason, sending waves throughout the NFL, when they moved up from #15 to #1 in a trade with the Titans. For the time being, it's too early to make any sort of judgement that would not be filled with emotion on the trade itself. No one has seen how any of the rookies will do from either side, so no grades on that trade and who won just yet.
But the drafts, can and will be evaluated...
The Rams used their new top pick on QB Jared Goff out of Cal. Goff has all the talent in the world to be a true franchise QB. His frame is slight, but has room from growth -- and being 21 -- he will likely do just that. Goff had the best footwork in the pocket bar none coming out. He doesn't carry a winning record, and comes from a spread unlike anything the Rams run at the NFL level, meaning there will be a heavy learning curve. No matter what, due to the magnitude of the trade, and the need on the team, the pick had to be a QB, and there were only two worthy of the pick, either Goff or Carson Wentz.
(My grade: B+; TST Instant Draft Grade: A)
- Tyler Higbee was the next guy the Rams were eyeing. Due to the aforementioned trade, the Rams did not pick again until the fourth round. With that pick, they brought in one of my personal favorite players in the draft. Higbee in my opinion was the second-best tight end in the draft, but has the highest ceiling. If not for a senior year injury and an off-field issue, I would have easily put a top 50 pick grade on him. I believe most teams would have had the same range as well. To get a big athletic tight end, with great hands, good speed, and tough after the catch, and physical all the time in the fourth is amazing. He's exactly what the NFL looks for in today's NFL.
(My grade: A; TST Instant Draft Grade: A)
- Jeff Fisher and Les Snead aren't complete fools. Though at times things happen that leave Rams fans feeling like that's debatable, they do have some football common sense. How else do you explain them getting their jobs to begin with. This was never more evident than draft day. They realized that they have a new and young QB, and made a significant effort to surround him with talent with the picks they had. Following the great pick of Higbee, the Rams brought in Pharoh Cooper. Cooper is a solid receiver, with some game changing ability. He reminds me a lot of Detroit Lions WR Golden Tate. However, I think that is his ceiling, and I would have liked to see the Rams bring in something they didn't already have. While Tate is Cooper's ceiling, his current status is a far less athletic version of Tavon Austin. Now if the team can't show some serious creativity -- which they have failed to do under Fisher leaving little to no room to believe they will start now -- to get both players on the field and involved with Todd Gurley to give the defense headaches, than this was a wasted pick. However, seeing as how they traded down in the fourth with the Bears picking up an extra sixth round pick, that adds a little something extra to this grade.
(My grade: C+; TST Instant Draft Grade: B)
- Temarrick Hemingway was another player I liked a lot coming out. He flew extremely low under the radar. But he is a highly athletic tight end with great size, speed -- almost in the mold of Jared Cook, except he loves contact and is very physical -- and good hands. I think he is further along than some of his scouting reports would have led you to believe. He plays a position that doesn't exactly have a track record for being one of the harder positions to transition from college to the NFL. However, he did play at a lower level school, which should play a role. Still, his athleticism should really help him see the field sooner than later. I also like the idea of double dipping at tight end, this position could become a strength for years to come.
(My grade: B+; TST Instant Draft Grade: B)
- Next the Rams went defense for the first time and selected Josh Forrest, a linebacker from Kentucky. I can't say I was a fan of this pick. I feel this way for multiple reasons. The first being that I truly believe he was going to go undrafted, and already only having mid to late round picks at your disposal following the trade to number one, you have to be very selective with who you pick, more than usual. Another reason is simply I thought they had other places they could have gone with the pick. At the time of his selection players like WR Kolby Listenbee, FS Jordan Lucas, CB Harlan Miller, WR Charone Peake, RB Keith Marshall, WR Kenny Lawler (would have been great for Goff from the slot with their already existent chemistry), and linebackers Tyler Matakevich and Scooby Wright -- who I thought were both head and shoulders above Forrest and had they tested better would have been fourth round picks -- were all available. It's hard for me to say this was the right move.
(My grade: F; TST Instant Draft Grade: B)
- Finally the Rams wrapped it up with the selection of another player that flew far under the rader. Though considering the season that he had -- he led the county in receiving -- it's hard to figure out why. Mike Thomas, had to live his special day in the shadow of another Michael Thomas, the higher rated receiver out of Ohio State. I didn't watch anything on him pre-draft, even though I was told repeatedly to do so by a friend. But once I sat down and studied the kid, I came away highly impressed and gave him a third round grade. Which would indicate he was a steal for the Rams in the sixth round. (My grade: A-; TST Instant Draft Grade: A)
There's no way of saying without seeing the players play who was a hit and who was not. That's not the point of grading picks. The grades are based off of what we do know. The things like what they did in college, who they did it against, their physical abilities, when they were drafted and the needs they filled. With that in mind, I give the Rams:
My Overall Draft Grade: B- (see other grades here)
So as it stands, the Rams at this point no longer have James Laurinaitis, Chris Long, Jared Cook, Janoris Jenkins, or Rodney McLeod. So who was brought in to replace those players?
With the departure of Laurinaitis, the Rams had a plan in place. They simply decided to move Alec Ogletree over from the outside to the middle. This was a no-brainer, and easily the best move to make. Ogletree was Laurinaitis' understudy from day one, and brings athleticism Laurinaitis has only dreamed of. The next question is who replaces Ogletree outside? Enter Mark Barron on a more permanent basis. However, I hated his contract. It was the exact same offer they gave to Jenkins, which would imply he is the same caliber player, moreso $9 million a year implies he is top three in the league at his position. While he was good last year, he was not that good.
Next how do you replace Long? Well, the Rams managed to re-sign William Hayes. I personally love that he was brought back, and while at first glance it appeared that they overpaid, they actually got away with murder considering what good pass rushers are being paid these days. One can argue he is better than some of these guys that got twice as much.
What will they do about the loss of Cook? Let's be honest here. Losing Cook was more of an addition in itself than anything. But the Rams do still have Lance Kendricks -- who was re-signed to starter money last offseason -- and as mentioned above brought in two really good tight ends. One of which, Higbee, has the potential to be one of the best in the NFL.
How do you replace Jenkins after having his best season as a pro? The Rams brought in Coty Sensabaugh; however, you are fooling yourself if you think he is even close to being the same caliber player as Jenkins. In fact, his agent needs to be hired by every player in the league, as I believe that the odds are scary slim that he beats out E.J. Gaines for Jenkins' old spot. Meaning, the Rams could have very likely just gave away $14 million ($6.5 of which was guaranteed). To this point in his career, he has been a fourth corner, third at best.
Lastly, but certainly not least, what can they do about replacing Rodney McLeod? The sad truth is, nothing. Simply put, this is the biggest loss of the Rams offseason. For every position, the Rams had someone in house that could replace the loss except for this one. Essentially they are starting over at one of the most important positions in this defensive scheme. McLeod had a helluva season, and graded out as a top 10 safety. To start over with less talent in front of the safety position than before is scary considering how important a good deep safety is in Gregg Williams defensive scheme.
Final question is simple, did the Rams get better? I would have to say no.
In fact, I don't even believe they stayed the same. Just looking at the players lost, and the players brought in or re-signed to fill the roles, only two were either improved (Ogletree) or stayed about the same (Hayes). Jenkins position is downgraded, and safety is severely downgraded. That's four opportunities to either get better or stay at the current level. They got one better, stay the same at one, and downgraded at two. That's like a 1-2-1 record...real similar to the win-loss records Fisher has given back to Rams fans since taking over as head coach in 2012.
I give the Rams moves the following grades:
- Ogletree for Laurinaitis -- A
- Hayes for Long -- B (because there's really not much change)
- Committee for Jenkins -- D+ (Gaines saves this from an F)
- No One for McLeod -- F-
- Re-signing of Mark Barron -- D+ (Way too much money)
- Tagging Tru -- A (This was going to be an A with Tru or Jenks)
- Tender Case Keenum, Tim Barnes and Cunningham -- A
- Free Agency overall -- C
- If coaches were included in free agency Mike Groh would get a C+