The 2019 NFL Season did not go as planned for the Los Angeles Rams. Expectations were great for the NFC Super Bowl representative Rams, and rightfully so. Head Coach Sean McVay looked like the second coming of Bill Belicheck, QB Jared Goff was a borderline MVP candidate, the offense was a top-2 unit in the league, and DT Aaron Donald was only the third player in NFL history to win back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards.
But then 2019 happened.
The Rams lost games they should’ve won, the offense took a major step back, the defense improved slightly, but the results ultimately didn’t.
So here we are.
Entering the offseason, the Rams — and all remaining teams — have an opportunity to make the necessary changes to get back to where they anticipated being last season — in the playoffs. With the pre-draft process arriving quickly, and free agency and the NFL Draft following, General Manager Les Snead will need to operate swiftly.
Here are the moves I think the Rams should make this offseason to get back on track in 2020:
Bring Back Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips
Some fans are in favor of moving on from Phillips, though I do not share those sentiments. In my opinion, the grass isn’t always greener. Sure, the defense has never hit elite status under Phillips, but they haven’t been bad either. The defense will need to rely on a veteran play-caller and legendary figure like Phillips more than ever next season as they’re in dangerous territory when it comes to pending free agents on the defensive side of the ball.
Bring Back Special Teams Coordinator John Fassel
Uncharacteristically, the Rams’ special teams units really struggled in 2019. K Greg Zuerlein hit a career-low 72.7% of his field goal attempts, P Johnny Hekker had his lowest net average since 2014, and the return units were unable to become a source of positive plays. The Rams should be willing to give Coach Bones another shot, simply due to the fact that he’s been one of the best ST’s coaches in the NFL for the better part of the last decade.
Hire Jay Gruden as Offensive Coordinator
Gruden never panned out as the head coach with the Washington Redskins, but he’s a smart offensive mind and obviously has a connection with McVay as he hired a young McVay fresh out of college to work under him in Washington. McVay eventually worked his way out of town, but should be interested in returning the favor as the Rams lacked creativity and the ability to adjust last season. It was the first time the Rams faced a good amount of turmoil under the McVay regime, and they struggled to respond. Getting another offensive mind to bring fresh ideas in the building could prove to be a major positive, especially one that already has an established rapport with McVay.
S Eric Weddle
Weddle is nearly guaranteed to be on a different roster come next year, which is likely what the Rams planned for when they signed him to a two-year $11.5m deal just one year ago. Weddle’s release would save the Rams $4.250m, while only leaving behind $500k in dead money. The duo of John Johnson III and Taylor Rapp are worthy of starting together on the backend, which all but ensures Weddle’s release.
Updated Cap Space: $29.7m
CB Jalen Ramsey
The Rams traded a boatload of assets to acquire Ramsey. Regardless of how you feel about his performance, the Rams basically need to extend him long-term. Things aren’t all bad though, because an extension obviously means a big-money and record-setting contract at the CB position, but it also opens up somewhere in the range of $2-4m in immediate cap space. Expect Ramsey to top the 5-year $75.25m deal Xavien Howard signed just a few months ago.
Updated Cap Space: $32.7m
RB Todd Gurley
I talked about this at length the other day in this post here, so you guys know where I fall on this topic. I don’t necessarily think Gurley is a bad player or that he’s over the hill, but I do believe he isn’t elite and there simply aren’t very many RB’s worth massive extensions in my opinion. For that reason, I think the Rams would be best served to trade Gurley, even if nets a minimal return in compensation (fourth-round draft pick?). The real positive to moving Gurley is the $4.65m of cap space his departure would open, though it would also leave behind $12.6m in dead money. Luckily for the Rams, they’re prepared at the RB spot after spending a third-round draft pick on Darrell Henderson just last year.
Updated Cap Space: $37.35m
QB Jared Goff
Just recently, I wrote an article on how the Rams can save a boatload — $16.8m to be exact — of cap space by restructuring Goff’s contract. Essentially, the Rams would take his massive signing bonus, and would spread that figure over the remaining years of his contract. Goff would get the cash upfront and the team would create a ton of immediate cap space by dividing that $16.8m figure over the life of his contract, increasing his cap hit in future seasons.
Updated Cap Space: $54.15m
2020 LA Rams Free Agents
|Malcolm Brown||RB||UFA||Re-signed, 2-yr $3.25m|
|Tyler Higbee||TE||UFA||Re-signed, 4 yr $31m|
|Troy Hill||CB||UFA||Re-signed, 2-yr $8.25m|
|Dante Fowler, Jr.||EDGE||UFA|
S Marqui Christian
Christian is probably a luxury with the lack of cap space the Rams currently have ($25.5m per Over The Cap), but they should still try to lock Qui up for the vet minimum. Qui has been a fixture as a spot-starter and key role-player for two seasons now, though he’ll be even more important moving forward if the Rams elect to move on from Weddle.
LT Andrew Whitworth
Big Whit has announced his plans to return for at least one more season. The Rams would be wise to work out a one-year deal in the range of $10m as they cannot afford to lose both Whit and Austin Blythe in the same offseason. Luckily for the Rams, this free agent class has a handful of very good offensive line options, one of which plays left tackle and is outlined later in this article in the event of Whit’s departure.
ILB Cory Littleton
Littleton is arguably the most important upcoming free agent for the Rams, though he is also likely to break the bank. Littleton is likely to pull down something in range of $14.5m average-per-year (APY), though it remains to be seen whether the Rams are interested in committing long-term to the former undrafted free agent. Regardless, Littleton is an ascending and young talent who’s improved leaps and bounds since being named a starter at inside linebacker.
K Greg Zuerlein
As I mentioned above, Zuerlein had arguably the worst season of his career, which is why some of you are probably wondering why he’s on the re-sign list. I really believe in the “the grass isn’t always greener” adage, specifically when I think about teams like the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. GZ never seemed right in 2019, but he’s made some of the biggest kicks in Rams history and has proven to be a superb and consistent threat over his long tenure with the franchise.
LT Anthony Castonzo
If the Rams do let Whit go — or he decides to retire — Castonzo immediately vaults to the top of the priority list of free agents. Castonzo has graded as one of the best pass protectors in the league by all advanced statistics (81.3 PFF grade) for multiple seasons, and has played 16 games in six of his nine NFL seasons. There’s only one issue here: Castonzo may retire this offseason. If he doesn’t, and Whit is gone, the Rams need to throw the brinks truck at Castonzo and figure out the rest later.
DT Danny Shelton
The Rams are likely to lose DT Michael Brockers in free agency, but can replace him with the mammoth in Shelton. For whatever reason, the NFL didn’t value Shelton in last year’s free agency period which led to Shelton signing a one-year $1.03m deal with the New England Patriots. Shelton doesn’t play 5T like Brock, though he can probably make the transition from NT to 5T. If the Rams elect to keep Shelton at the nose, they can kick Sebastian Joseph-Day or Greg Gaines to Brock’s vacated 5-technique spot.
DT Christian Covington
If the Rams are unable to lock up Shelton, Covington is a solid and incredibly cheap option. Covington hasn’t done much in his five-year NFL career, but he has always flashed the ability to penetrate and could improve with more snaps under his belt.
EDGE Steven Means
If you recall, I’ve been talking up Means for years, though he hasn’t yet been afforded the opportunity to dominate. Means has spent the last two seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, but a torn Achilles ultimately ended his 2019 season before it began. Means is an extremely cheap rotational option to plug in the rotation which will replace Dante Fowler Jr., who is likely to depart in free agency after a career-year.
2020 NFL Draft
LA Rams’ 2020 NFL Draft order with comp pick projections
|3 (c)||TBD||TBD||Rams pick (projected)|
I have yet to study any of the draft-eligible players, but these are the positions I believe the Rams need to address:
Offensive Line (multiple selections)
Defense (multiple selections)
Running Back (in the event Gurley is traded)
Late-round vertical WR (for future purpose)
These are the moves I’ve identified as having the potential to immediately fix the Rams and to once again have them in competition for the Super Bowl. There are many moving parts and possibilities, and any move that is made will have a corresponding roster decision, as I’ve detailed in my offseason plan.
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