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What options do Rams have to improve at linebacker without Justin Hollins?

Free agency, trades, and internal choices to fix any potential holes at linebacker

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Cincinnati Bengals Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Rams expect outside linebacker Justin Hollins to miss “significant time” with a pectoral injury, and that is a position that was already fairly thin for Sean McVay given that Obo Okoronkwo has been on injured reserve. Terrell Lewis has managed to remain healthy and he played 34 snaps in Week 3, but a trip to IR has always felt like merely a “walk around the corner” for Lewis and so depth at outside linebacker has not been more integral this year than in the wake of Hollins’ news.

Where could the Rams turn to next for more depth?

Internal options

Ogbonnia Okoronwko

Obo is eligible to return from IR this week, but it is not yet clear if he will. Okoronkwo is dealing with a shoulder injury and he has missed 31 of a possible 51 games in his career now.

Terrell Lewis

It is Lewis’s job to lose. What if Okoronkwo doesn’t return until after Week 5? Since the Rams play on Thursday night next week, it is even less likely that anybody who missed Week 4’s game against the Cardinals will be ready for Thursday. Or perhaps McVay will hold off Okoronkwo on Sunday because of Thursday. In any case, the outside linebacker who LA is most reliant upon right now other than Leonard Floyd is ...

Terrell Lewis.

Chris Garrett

The seventh round rookie was activated from the Covid-19 list last week and he played four defensive snaps in Week 3. He should see a bump in that number against Arizona.

Justin Lawler

Lawler broke his hand in Week 2, but it may not cost him any availability. However, Lawler was inactive in Week 3 and the team would need to give him a spot on the 53-man roster because he’s currently on the practice squad. Perhaps after placing Hollins on IR, that’s where Lawler will go.

The other linebackers on the roster who aren’t starting are Ernest Jones and Travin Howard, two middle linebackers and so some shifting would be necessary.

If Okoronkwo can’t go, it might be Lewis, Lawler, and Garrett splitting reps against the Cardinals. If Lawler also can’t go, Raheem Morris is turning things over to the next generation at linebacker: Lewis and Garrett alone.

Free Agents

Avery Williamson

The 29-year-old Williamson had 111 tackles, one sack, and one interception with the Jets and Steelers last season. He previously started for the Titans for four years before signing a free agent deal with New York in 2018 but ultimately underwhelming. Williamson has played inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense primarily.

Ryan Anderson (SUS)

Anderson has played in 52 games over the last four seasons, all in Washington, but he was suspended for six games due to violating the NFL’s policy on performance enhancing drugs. The 2017 second round pick had four sacks in 2019, by far a career-best.

Barkevious Mingo

The 31-year-old Mingo has played with six different teams over the last six years. In 2020, he appeared in all 16 games with the Bears, giving him some familiarity with a Staley/Fangio-y defense, and he had 35 tackles with 2.5 sacks.

Jamie Collins

The Lions released the veteran linebacker on Tuesday, so he is available.

Olivier Vernon

Would Vernon’s skillset fill Raheem Morris’s need at outside linebacker?

Practice Squad

Shaquem Griffin, Dolphins

The Dolphins signed Griffin, the twin brother of Jaguars cornerback Shaquill Griffin, to a deal this offseason but he’s only made it onto the practice squad. Griffin has played the last three years with the Seahawks, primarily as a special teamer, but getting over 200 defensive snaps at linebacker over the last two seasons.

There is a relatively small number of linebackers on practice squads around the league that I found, making Griffin and Lawler two of the best, actually.

Trade Block

Jaylon Smith, Cowboys

Leighton Vander Esch, Cowboys

Despite the hype that either of these linebackers could be traded in the offseason because of the Cowboys’ sudden gluttony at the position, Smith has actually played only seven fewer snaps this year than first round pick Micah Parsons. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has four primary linebackers — Smith, Parsons, Vander Esch, and Keanu Neal, who was just placed on the Covid-19 reserve list — and trade talks might be quieter now.

But Dallas still isn’t likely to retain both Smith and Vander Esch next year — if either — and maybe they’d still be swayed since they’ve also got Jabril Cox waiting in the wings.