ESPN’s Bill Barnwell isn’t afraid to stir it up.
It was Barnwell’s piece in mid-September that catalyzed the “System QB” moniker for Los Angeles Rams QB Jared Goff. Today though, he has a new piece that’s much closer to his five major offseason moves for the Rams from early February.
Barnwell is now taking a look around the league after free agency and the 2019 NFL Draft with his late offseason to-do lists for every team.
Back in February, Barnwell had five items on the agenda:
1. Convince Andrew Whitworth to come back.
2. Bring back Rodger Saffold and C.J. Anderson.
3. Trade down from the 31st pick.
4. Sign Clay Matthews and wait out the market on veterans.
5. Don’t extend Jared Goff this offseason.
The Rams checked all of those off so far except for #2. So now, what does Barnwell have left for the Rams?
Add a defensive lineman. The Rams will theoretically hand some of Ndamukong Suh’s snaps to the likes of Tanzel Smart on the inside and Clay Matthews on the edge, but they could still justify adding one more defensive lineman to supplement one of the league’s best units. That lineman could very well be Suh, who is still a free agent, but the Rams realistically might not have the cap flexibility to give Suh another one-year deal north of $10 million. They have only $6.6 million in space, and though they could restructure the deals of Aaron Donald or Brandin Cooks to create more room, general manager Les Snead also intends to lock up Marcus Peters with an extension this summer.
The Rams will need to shop for lower-cost options with some upside. Muhammad Wilkerson would make a lot of sense here. Snead is no stranger to a trade, of course, and shopping for a young player with untapped upside would also seem logical. Could the Rams hope Wade Phillips coaxes an impressive campaign out of a former first-rounder like Shaq Lawson or Robert Nkemdiche? Both likely will be on the trade market this summer.
Extend Peters. The former Chiefs star had an uneven first season in Los Angeles, but it’s clear that the Rams see the ball hawk as a building block for their defense. Given the deals they’ve handed to players such as Cooks and Todd Gurley II in recent years, it’s also clear that the Rams have no qualms about paying over the norm for one of those young stars. It wouldn’t be shocking if Peters ended up challenging the likes of Trumaine Johnson and Josh Norman for the richest active cornerback deal. Xavien Howard topped Norman’s five-year, $75 million contract with a five-year, $75.3 million pact, but the structure of the deal isn’t generous. Peters could very well come away with a five-year, $80 million extension and be guaranteed to see most of that money.
I’m not sure both are on the cards for the Rams.
On the defensive line, there’s youth the Rams could inject in 2019 that might be more applicable than anything left in the labor pool. DL Jonathan Franklin-Myers was the only 2018 rookie to get significant snaps on offense or defense, and the Rams just selected DL Greg Gaines with public aspirations of plugging him into a nose tackle role. Perhaps on paper, I could acknowledge a roster gap. I just think the Rams have some options with upside that have me worried very little about the D-line right now.
As for Peters, it’s going to be very interesting to see how the contract negotiations develop if at all publicly. The Rams have historically been very good at keeping a lid on things behind closed doors. Perhaps the one position that has escaped that penchant for privacy is at cornerback as the Rams have struggled under pressure to meet market demand for defensive backs since Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President of Football Operations Kevin Demoff took over contract negotiations with Tony Pastoors assisting him. Back in 2016, CB Janoris Jenkins publicly aired his grievances over the Rams’ offer on Twitter suggesting the Rams “lowballed” him. He was proven right when after reportedly turning down the Rams’ five-year deal for $45m, he signed a five-year deal with the New York Giants for $17.5m more. And after the Rams used the franchise tag to hold onto CB Trumaine Johnson for two years, he headed into training camp in 2017 telling the media that he felt the Rams would be “going another direction” after that season. He was proven correct as the Rams let Johnson hit free agency to land a five-year, $72.5m megadeal with the New York Jets.
Rams HC Sean McVay has suggested that the Rams “absolutely” want to extend Peters, but I wouldn’t put much weight into comments on contracts from the head coach.
Who knows. It could happen this week. But I just wouldn’t assume it’s a done deal even with the Rams’ public praise for the young cornerback given their history.