When looking at the Los Angeles Rams’ roster, one player who doesn’t get nearly enough credit for his performance is ILB Cory Littleton.
Littleton is a former undrafted free agent that transitioned from his college role which included spurts on the edge to one of the league’s best true off-ball linebackers. In just his first season as a full-time starter, Littleton made the pro bowl and was named a Second-Team All-Pro on special teams.
The positive in this story is that the Rams found a gem of a player in which they didn’t even need to spend a draft pick on. The negative is Littleton’s impeding free agency, which allows him to hit the open market this offseason in March.
The Rams — which don’t have an abundance of cap space or draft picks — will need to find a way to retain Littleton’s services. In his two seasons as a starter (to this point), Littleton has totaled 227 tackles, 6.5 sacks, five interceptions, two forced fumbles, one touchdown, 21 pass deflections, 13 tackles for loss, 12 total pressures, and eight QB hits. He’s also allowed five touchdowns in his coverage, though his missed tackle percentages have been low, particularly this year as he’s only missed four tackles (3.8%).
Littleton has remained a source of big-plays for a Rams defense loaded with talent, which sets the 26-year-old up well as he’s continued to play incredibly well in his contract season.
Looking at ILB contracts around the league, we can try to accurately predict the range in which Littleton’s price tag will cost. Let’s jump into the comparisons (all figures from Over The Cap):
Seattle Seahawks ILB Bobby Wagner and New York Jets ILB C.J. Mosley are in their own tier as it relates to inside linebacker contracts. Wagner’s deal is slated to earn him $18m average per year (APY) and Mosley’s will earn him $17m APY. One thing to note: Mosley struck it rich by reaching the free agent market (which almost always helps inflate value) whereas Wagner was extended by his club while under contract. Wagner is a five-time pro bowler and Mosley is a four-time pro bowler. It’s probably safe to assume Littleton won’t be making similar money to these two, but it’d be wrong to not at least point out what the top of the market possesses.
This second group of off-ball linebackers is exactly where I believe Littleton will be slotted, but there are some differences among the options. Jacksonville Jaguars ILB Myles Jack, Atlanta Falcons ILB Deion Jones, and Dallas Cowboys ILB Jaylon Smith all signed their extensions in 2019 (July through September) while Carolina Panthers ILB Luke Kuechly and New York Giants ILB Alec Ogletree signed in 2015 and 2018, essentially rendering their deals useless as a comparison.
The first three names above in Jack, Jones, and Smith are incredibly relevant as it pertains to Littleton, which is why we should examine them and attempt to re-create a suitable figure based on their recent extensions.
Like I mentioned above, Jack, Jones, and Smith provide us with the best guide to predict what Littleton will pull in his next deal. The first of the three to sign was Jones as he signed on July 20th, with Smith following (August 20th) and Jack being the most recent (September 1st).
Not only is the timing relevant, but the talent level of all four players are comparable. Jack has yet to earn any accolades in the league (yet is paid the most) as does Smith, but Jones is a one-time pro bowler (same as Littleton).
Simply due to timing, we can expect Littleton to top all three of these deals, though the details of the extension aren’t going to be predictable. The Rams, Littleton, and his agent will have to work those numbers out. The sides could opt to bring down the APY by upping the guarantees, or they could do the opposite, or they could find a middle ground.
Here are the figures of the three players above:
Jack: $57m total, $14.25m APY, $33.06m guaranteed
Jones: $57m total, $14.25m APY, $34m guaranteed
Smith: $63.75m total, 12.75m APY, $35.4m guaranteed
Looking at all three contracts, you realize just how similar they really are, with only the most recent player seeing the slightest uptick in guaranteed money (Smith). If we extrapolate for Littleton’s potential deal, it could look something like this:
4-year extension, $59m total, 14.75m APY, $36.5m guaranteed
A potential deal for Littleton is fun speculation, but it should be of the utmost importance for the Rams. Littleton is the leader of the defense, is an outstanding player defensively and on special teams, and has done things the right way since going undrafted in 2016. The Rams would be wise to keep #58 in town for a little while longer, but the strain on cap space available will surely make it tricky.