We’re just 7 and a fraction days into the NFL new year. Free agency opened last Thursday, and the NFL landscape has of course been remade. The Los Angeles Rams have indeed been active as they suggested publicly they would be coming out of the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine.
Jared Goff, Sean Mannion, Aaron Murray*
Out: Case Keenum*
In: Aaron Murray^
* - Keenum is currently an unsigned, unrestricted free agent
^ - The Murray signing has yet to be officially filed by the NFL, so this one isn’t 100% yet.
The Rams shored up the back end of the QB depth chart by bringing in Aaron Murray while 2016 Week 1 starting QB Case Keenum is now floating into the second phase of free agency.
There wasn’t a ton of concern here as the Rams are locked in to Jared Goff as their starter both because of his contract but also because they sunk so much draft capital into him by trading up for the #1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft a year ago.
As it stands, HSOTE Sean Mannion is likely the backup QB for 2017, though another Murray-level signing may be coming in the coming weeks or months. Last year, the Rams made a June signing in QB Dylan Thompson. Something similar to that could be coming that makes a QB3 battle something of note in training camp.
Todd Gurley, Lance Dunbar, Malcolm Brown, Aaron Green, Brandon Wegher
Out: Benny Cunningham, Chase Reynolds*, Tre Mason, Trey Watts
In: Lance Dunbar
* - Reynolds is currently an unsigned, unrestricted free agent
Another in-out switch with some old Sun Belt foes in Benny Cunningham leaving after four years with the Rams while Lance Dunbar, the all-time leading rusher in North Texas history, comes in.
Do the Rams still need a “speedster” on the roster? I wouldn’t rule out a Day 3 pick next month, but I also wouldn’t be against leaving this group intact save for a UDFA heading into camp.
Robert Woods, Tavon Austin, Pharoh Cooper, Mike Thomas, Bradley Marquez, Nelson Spruce, Marquez North, Paul McRoberts, Brandon Shippen
Out: Kenny Britt, Brian Quick*
In: Robert Woods
* - Quick is currently an unsigned, unrestricted free agent
This group is almost certain to add at least another name before camp. It’s more of a question of how early in the draft that name comes. Are one of the Rams’ two Day 2 picks going to land a wideout?
The big hole here is at WR1. It’s not Woods, and it’s not Tavon. If the Rams don’t get one out of this draft, there’s still the 2018 NFL Draft...but there’s no way the Rams can go into that season without a top of the roster wide receiver and not have it be an absolute failure of personnel management. Patience, but pressure.
Tyler Higbee, Temarrick Hemingway, Cory Harkey, Bryce Williams, Zach Laskey, Travis Wilson*
Out: Lance Kendricks
* - The Wilson signing has yet to be officially filed by the NFL, so this one isn’t 100% yet.
I think there’s a good chance at either a Day 3 addition here or a UDFA to push the back of the position depth chart. Perhaps there’s a chance of a shock addition on Day 2 given how dedicated new Rams Head Coach Sean McVay’s’ system is to exploiting the tight end position matchups, but we’re likely looking at a Higbee & Co. grouping for 2017. Harkey is one of my favorites as a veteran 53-man roster cut FWIW.
But with 2017 shaping up as a year to assess the roster being handed to McVay and not to compete for conventional success (read: a winning record and postseason football), one of the bigger aspects of that will be finding out if Tyler Higbee can be the lead in McVay’s tight end ballet. If not, it (and potentially wide receiver) could be the top need for the Rams heading into the 2018 NFL Draft.
Andrew Whitworth, Rob Havenstein, Andrew Donnal, Darrell Williams, Pace Murphy
In: Andrew Whitworth
Whitworth was a banner signing, but equally important is displacing GRob as the starting left tackle. It’s a premium position, so as much as competent play can propel an offense, incompetent play can hold it back. Greg Robinson, bluntly, has been an incompetent NFL left tackle since being selected #2 overall in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Hopefully, Whitworth can play at a level similar to what he offered recently with the Cincinnati Bengals. I think too many Rams fans are assuming he’ll be able to replicate his success exactly (but I think that about every free agent ever because too few fans seem to ever let the Coty Sensabaugh signings affect their sensibilities), but at least he allows the Rams to try and bridge to a franchise left tackle with much more comfort than GRob would have.
As of now, I’m listing GRob at guard and Donnal at OT, though perhaps OTAs will change that a bit.
The Whitworth-Havenstein assessment in 2017 will be in the mix with the Higbee-Austin assessment in terms of priority.
Rodger Saffold, Jamon Brown, Greg Robinson, Cody Wichmann, David Arkin
Whew. This is...well...whew.
As opposed to the other two offensive line positions, this one is 100% to get addressed in a meaningful way between now and OTAs. Losing out on Buffalo Bills RFA C Ryan Groy was a setback, but not a huge one.
The Rams made a stab at solving the center issue by drafting Barrett Jones in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft. When that pick didn’t pan out, there just wasn’t a solution for success at the position. With other positions commanding more attention, the Rams never got around to investing in a solution at center. It’s time to do so, but again...other positions.
How the Rams fill this slot for 2017 is one of the lowkey more interesting storylines of the offseason.
Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers
Out: Cam Thomas*, Louis Trinca-Pasat^
* - Thomas is currently an unsigned, unrestricted free agent
^ - Trinca-Pasat is currently an exclusive rights free agent
I’ve got these listed based on the position chart coming out of 2016 as I’m not fully sure how the Rams are going to assign the front seven positions with new Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips set to transform the Rams’ defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4 (though that’s likely to be very nuanced at least for 2017).
With Donald atop the position depth chart and Brockers alongside, this is clearly not a position to address...save for the elephant in the room re: Donald’s contract expiring after this season. More to come on that front over the next 12 months obviously (with a fifth-year option a certainty if the Rams can’t reach a long-term extension before next March), but as it stands, we’re fine at DT.
Robert Quinn, Dominique Easley, Morgan Fox
Out: William Hayes, Eugene Sims, Ethan Westbrooks*, Matt Longacre^
* - Westbrooks is currently a restricted free agent
^ - Longacre is currently an exclusive rights free agent
Methinks me will enjoy Wade Phillips building this unit. Methinks it is not yet built. Methinks me does not know what the hell this is going to look like for 2017. Methinks that is ok.
Connor Barwin, Cory Littleton, Cassanova McKinzy
In: Connor Barwin
This one looks a bit strange with the front seven moving parts around. I’d guess the Rams go with Quinn and Barwin as their starting duo, but until things are set in stone I’m just gonna list them like this for now. I do think there’s a good chance of some turnover here in the coming weeks, and I wouldn’t rule out a Day 3 draft pick regardless of whether or not Quinn makes the change to a OLB. I wouldn’t rule out Tree moving back outside either.
And shout out to 2016 Los Angeles Rams Rookie of the Year Cory Littleton. Not often a team trades up for the #1 overall pick in a draft to take a franchise QB and the team’s ROY award goes to a UDFA linebacker who finished with 20 tackles. Yeah.
Alec Ogletree, Mark Barron, Josh Forrest, Bryce Hager, Nic Grigsby, Reggie Northrup
Like everything else in the front seven, I have no clue how Wade feels about this group. I do have confidence that it’s going to get sorted out relatively quickly and relatively successfully. Just perhaps not for this season.
Trumaine Johnson, Lamarcus Joyner, E.J. Gaines, Kayvon Webster, Troy Hill, Blake Countess, Michael Jordan, Kevin Peterson, Kevin Short
In: Kayvon Webster
Maurice Alexander, Cody Davis, Marqui Christian, Brian Randolph, Isaiah Johnson, Jerome Couplin
Out: T.J. McDonald*
* - McDonald is currently an unsigned, unrestricted free agent
With McDonald likely leaving the Rams, this is another position of need. The Rams could try to push someone from the cornerback staff into a safety slot, but that likely hinges on the outcome of the draft and the following UDFA market.
Greg Zuerlein, Johnny Hekker, Jake McQuaide, Andrew East
In: Andrew East
So the Rams have 23 available slots with the rest of free agency, the draft and UDFA signings to come with eight draft selections currently in the draft order.
There’s TONS of roster work to do following the Jeff Fisher, too much for one offseason. The signings of Whitworth, Woods, Webster and Barwin have at least covered a couple of obvious gaps. The draft class is certain to as well. But as it stands, this is what the Rams are working with heading into the second wave of free agency.
What position are you most comfortable with? What needs the most immediate injection of talent? What position could the Rams address with a late free agency signing? What needs attention from this year’s draft?
Fun times ahead.