The Los Angeles Rams went into the offseason perhaps expecting to lose at least half of their starting defense and as the first wave of free agency prepares to wrap itself up, that has proven to be the case. This is a quick summary of where the Rams stand after Wednesday, when free agency and the 2020 league year officially opened.
The three key starters who have left via free agency are linebackers Dante Fowler, Jr and Cory Littleton plus defensive lineman Michael Brockers. The team also declined the option on slot cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman and saw free safety Eric Weddle announce his retirement from the NFL. Last season, Littleton and Weddle were first and second in total snaps on defense, followed by Fowler in fourth, Brockers in sixth, and Robey-Coleman in seventh.
The #Falcons are giving pass-rusher Dante Fowler Jr a 3-year deal, source said. The #Rams tried to keep him, but he opts for Atlanta.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 18, 2020
So as of this writing, Los Angeles has parted with five of the top seven players on defense in snaps played but that’s not all: Clay Matthews was eighth in snaps and is a cap casualty candidate and many others who took up time on that side of the ball are already gone, including Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, and potentially free agent safety Marqui Christian.
This is not necessarily a negative so much as it is an observation: The Rams are going to be a lot different on defense next season. The first big move was hiring Brandon Staley as defensive coordinator to replace Wade Phillips, but then came a flurry of activity with regards to personnel.
They’ll need someone to take Littleton’s 1,039 snaps at inside linebacker and that competition is wide open right now. Weddle had 1,031 snaps at free safety but John Johnson looks to return to the field after undergoing shoulder surgery. Fowler played 880 snaps, and the majority of those look to be going to their one notable signing of the week: Leonard Floyd.
Leonard Floyd had 1 less QB Pressure and 1 less QB Knockdown than Yannick Ngakoue this season.— Vincent Rapisardi (@VinceRapisardi) March 17, 2020
Enticing option for the Giants. https://t.co/jAt6EaI46V
Les Snead hopes that by signing Floyd to a one-year deal worth up to $13 million that he can recreate the production magic that the Rams benefited from with regards to Fowler. That’s far from a guarantee but it is the most obvious swap of one player to another on the defense for 2020. As to Robey-Coleman, they’ve got Troy Hill, who was in on nearly 50% of the snaps last year already. Of course, Jalen Ramsey is set to play a full season with LA next time they suit up and that fills the void of snaps by Peters or Talib.
In Brockers place they can work with Greg Gaines, Tanzel Smart, and Morgan Fox internally but there should be plenty of options in free agency down the line plus the draft.
(This post was written and scheduled prior to the signing of A’Shawn Robinson, another option now at defensive line.)
Overall, it is still a defense that features the game’s best defensive player in Aaron Donald, maybe the game’s best corner in Ramsey, two safeties with exceptional potential in Johnson and Taylor Rapp, a fast-rising talent in Sebastian Joseph-Day, and a host of pass rushing options on Floyd, Samson Ebukam, and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo.
They could now focus their needs on another big defensive lineman, another cornerback, and at least one more veteran linebacker. If a defense is only as good as its weakest player, then linebacker and cornerback could be the focus of the draft.
The offense is a completely different story as the Rams are really just a Blake Bortles signing away from having no notable changes as of this story. They’ve re-signed both Andrew Whitworth (for better) and Austin Blythe (for worse?) to return to the offensive line and they have interesting depth there for the time being. It may be that no lineman emerges from training camp as a clear breakout star to pin your hopes on but they’ve at least got a number of intriguing options.
Rams LT Andrew Whitworth's three-year deal is worth $30,000,077. The $77? There's a $77 option bonus, to be exercised at the start of the 2022 league year. Which is the Rams doing what the Rams do with their contracts ... pic.twitter.com/xwseh9yroq— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) March 19, 2020
But offensive line too shall be a priority in the draft and the rest of free agency.
There may also be a trend-worthy trade coming of Todd Gurley or one of the receivers or maybe Rob Havenstein but as of now, they all remain in place.
The Rams finished ninth in DVOA on defense last year compared to 16th on offense. They were 13th in passing the ball, 21st in rushing the ball, ninth at stopping the pass and eighth at stopping the run.