The Los Angeles Rams are slated to have a never-ending list of pending free agents as we near the beginning of the new league year. With a lack of cap space and no first-round draft pick, the Rams are going to be walking a tight-rope as they decide which players should return, and which are headed to opposing teams.
Here’s the list of upcoming free agents:
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|
There are a ton of players on this list, some of which are important starters and some of which are key role-players. I’ve ranked only the most important unrestricted free agents, simply due to the fact that the Rams can elect to retain any RFA/ERFA as they please. All stats are courtesy of Pro Football Reference.
Let’s rank the pending FA’s in order of importance:
1) LT Andrew Whitworth
Some seem to believe Whitworth is over the hill, though I do not share those sentiments. The blindside protector of QB Jared Goff is arguably the most important position on the team — sans the QB position itself, and that is why re-signing Big Whit — or adequately replacing him — needs to be the first thing the front office decides this offseason. Whit took a step back from an elite 2018 campaign, but still played 99% of the offensive snaps this season (1100 total) and registered a 72.8 PFF grade, by far and away the best of the offensive line unit. One thing to note: Whit was one of the most penalized OL in the league as he was flagged 14 times.
With all that being said, both Goff and RB Todd Gurley are incredibly reliant on the performance of their offensive line, which explains why Whit lands at the top of this list.
2) ILB Cory Littleton
Going undrafted never deterred Littleton, as evidenced by his meteoric rise from special teams standout to stud linebacker. The former punt-block specialist started all 16 games on defense and registered 134 tackles, 3.5 sacks, six tackles-for-loss, five QB hits, four fumble recoveries, nine pass deflections, two interceptions, and a PFF grade of 78.9. Littleton is probably the best player on this list, even if he took a minor step back in his performance in coverage this season. Littleton allowed 71.8% of his targets to be completed for 520 receiving yards and four touchdowns, but his yards/completion statistic did improve from 11.4 in 2018 to 8.5 in 2019.
3) EDGE Dante Fowler Jr.
The toughest decision the Rams will need to make surrounds Fowler, the former Jacksonville Jaguar. The Rams traded a third-round pick (and more) to acquire the former top-3 overall draft pick, eventually re-signing Fowler to a one-year prove it deal just one offseason ago. Fowler reaped the rewards of a contract season, registering 11.5 sacks, 16 tackles-for-loss, 16 QB hits, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, and 35 total pressures, as well as a 72.1 PFF grade.
Given the positional value at edge, Fowler is likely to secure a major contract, one that could effectively place him outside of the range of the Rams.
4) DT Michael Brockers
Tied for being the most tenured Ram on the team, Brockers is finally slated to reach free agency for the first time in his eight-year career. Effectively known as a run-stuffing presence, Big Brock registered 63 tackles, three sacks, three tackles-for-loss, nine QB hits, 17 pressures, and one pass deflection in 2019.
As a run-stuffer first and pass-rusher second, much of Brockers’ job is under-the-radar, which routinely results in his presence in the unsung hero-type role, evidenced by his 74.6 PFF grade. Losing Brockers would surely hurt the run defense, but the Rams may not have any other option with so many good players scheduled for free agency.
5) iOL Austin Blythe
After a strong 2018 season, Blythe — like majority of the Rams’ offense — took a big step back in 2019, though some of his regression may be due to a nagging injury which resulted in surgery on both shoulders this past week.
Blythe started the season at right guard and eventually worked his way to center after a myriad of offensive line injuries, ultimately playing his best ball at the center position. Still, Blythe only registered a 50.5 PFF grade, though he did play 90% of the offensive snaps and was flagged only three times on the season.
Blythe is far from a “sure thing”, but the Rams may elect to ensure some continuity on the offensive line with his re-signing.
6) K Greg Zuerlein
GZ has been one of the most consistent players for the Rams since his tenure began in 2012, though he just ended his worst season in the NFL as he converted a career-low 72.7% of his field goal attempts. In addition, the kickoff coverage unit took a step back and allowed 27.5 yards-per-return on his kicks, the highest mark of his career.
Zuerlein is coming off a bad season but is still a great player that has shown the propensity to rebound, and in a big way. Looking around the league, kicker issues have been rampant, and that’s part of the reason why GZ is ranked so highly on this list.
7) S Marqui Christian
The first key role player to make the list is Christian, a former fifth-round pick by the Arizona Cardinals. Quietly, Christian worked his way from backup and special teamer to spot-starter for the Rams, ultimately registering a good amount of playing time as the third safety in big nickel and dime formations. Christian played in 34% of the defensive snaps in both 2018 and 2019 (371 snaps this year), registering 32 tackles, two pass deflections, one tackle-for-loss, and allowed only 56.5% of his targets to be completed for 143 receiving yards (6.2 yards/target) and three touchdowns. Christian did allow a 114.7 rating when targeted in coverage, though that number is certainly skewed with the touchdown figure.
The Rams are likely to move on from veteran S Eric Weddle, which would allow Christian — or another backup — to slot in as the third safety in 2020. The Rams have done a great job developing safeties, so they may elect to allow Christian an opportunity to reach the market and potentially replace him with an end-of-the-roster player.
8) ILB Bryce Hager
Oddly enough, entering the preseason, both Hager and Micah Kiser were duking it out in hopes that one player would separate himself and earn the starting role next to Littleton at inside linebacker. Neither did, though a torn pectoral to Kiser ended his season before it began, ensuring Hager had the second linebacker spot locked up.
Unluckily for Hager, he only registered five games of playing time, prior to suffering a season-ending injury himself. Hager has proven to be nothing more than a backup and special teamer to this point in his career, and the Rams currently have a handful of young linebackers with more potential than Hager.
9) QB Blake Bortles
Bortles hardly played (which is a good thing), though he looked just awful in the preseason and in the one meaningful snap he registered on offense, fumbling the ball and ultimately not gaining the first down on a crucial third-down possession during what looked to be a read-option play.
The addition of Bortles was a smart one as it cost the Rams only $1m on the salary cap and ensured they’d have a veteran backup QB in case of disaster, but Bortles was thoroughly outplayed by UDFA QB John Wolford and looks to be headed elsewhere.