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Postseason success is creating some joyful complications for LA Rams offseason plans

Who do the Rams prioritize in free agency with so many key players set to hit the market in 2022?

NFC Divisional Playoffs - Los Angeles Rams v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Yes, this is a post going over what the Los Angeles Rams must take into consideration after the season is over and as Cooper Kupp can attest to—the Rams season is not over yet—but this is also an article about L.A.’s postseason and what to watch for on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers. Because the Rams don’t just have to win the next two games, they must win them with yet another extraordinary list of players about to hit free agency.

For every time Les Snead makes a superstar acquisition, and no GM does that more often than Snead, it eventually must lead to a superstar exit. Or in most cases, a prettygoodplayerwhowishyoucouldkeepforlessmoneystar exit.

As Venie Randy Soares wrote last week in “Who stays and who goes?” among L.A.’s upcoming free agents, the Rams have a long list of decisions to make when constructing the 2022 roster. Even for a team that has seen a good number of good players walk since the 2019 offseason, 2022 represents an unusually starter-studded list.

  • In 2019, the Rams parted with Rodger Saffold, Ndamukong Suh, John Sullivan, Lamarcus Joyner, Mark Barron in the offseason, then Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib during the season
  • In 2020, the Rams parted with Todd Gurley, Brandin Cooks, Cory Littleton, Dante Fowler, and Nickell Robey-Coleman.
  • In 2021, the Rams parted with Jared Goff, Michael Brockers, Gerald Everett, John Johnson, Troy Hill, and Morgan Fox.

That’s almost as unbelievable of a group of outgoing Rams as it would be compared to the list of incoming Rams over the last four years. And yet Les Snead—a person who I still can’t fathom isn’t the only candidate for Executive of the Year—has helped construct a roster that is one win away from their second Super Bowl appearance in four years.

In any case, that would be two NFC Championship games in four years and the rosters are remarkably different. How do you do that? How does that happen? What could be the rea-oh yeah...

Los Angeles Rams v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Still, Aaron Donald will likely be surrounded by even more new faces in 2022, regardless of what happens at SoFi Stadium over the next three weeks.

I will now jump off of Venie’s post to add some more context around L.A.’s current roster that is likely to face the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday and the potential holes that will need to be filled when the postseason is over.

The Offensive Line Conundrum

Every team must go through an offensive line conundrum every year. Even the Kansas City Chiefs had to rebuild their offensive line in 2021 after back-to-back Super Bowl appearances and now the Chiefs are one win away from three in a row.

How will Snead rebuild the 2022 offensive line once again?

  • Andrew Whitworth is probably playing his final snaps for the Rams. Should the Rams get Whitworth back on the field on Sunday, it could be one of his last appearances with the team after five years of working to solidify his Canton induction in 2027 or so. L.A. needs cap space and releasing/retiring Whitworth represents $15.5 million in savings per Overthecap.com. That money will allow Snead to invest in the rest of the offensive line, as the team is also set to see their starting center, right guard, and Whitworth replacement also become free agents.
  • Joseph Noteboom, Brian Allen, and Austin Corbett are all free agents and yet there’s a possibility that Sean McVay wants all three of those players to be starting for the Rams in Week 1 of next season.
  • After Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers without Whitworth, Noteboom looks to be the top priority. What would he cost? That’s difficult to say but teams love to pay extraordinary amounts for any offensive tackle who seems like he’s being underutilized; the Eagles gave Jordan Mailata, a seventh round pick in 2018 who didn’t appear in a game until 2020, $64 million over four years. We can’t think of what Noteboom will be paid based on our own expectations of value, but instead the expectation that $30 million guaranteed is not viewed by some teams as being that expensive for a potential franchise left tackle. The good news is that the first year cap hit on Noteboom won’t be prohibitive, but it does mean that the Rams would have to pay him a significant guaranteed salary in two years.
  • Brian Allen had a rough divisional game, drawing a bad holding penalty and a terrible snap past Matthew Stafford, but many inside and outside of the building have praised the center all year long. A good center costs $10-$13 million per year and whether Allen qualifies for “good” may be up for some debate. I think though that because McVay has not prioritized center in the past, it would be surprising if the Rams prioritized re-signing Allen. If a team highly values Allen, it could result in a comp pick for L.A., which was predicted by this guy:
  • This season I found out that I value Austin Corbett more than most people do. I accept that, perhaps I am wrong. There are only four right guards getting paid an elite salary: Brandon Scherff (UFA), Wyatt Teller, Brandon Brooks, and Zack Martin. I don’t think Corbett is one of those guys and his salary might come down more to the $7 million range.
  • If the team decided that it didn’t want to spend money at offensive line, or they just couldn’t retain anyone, then here is who would be left on the roster to compete for the openings: Tremayne Anchrum, A.J. Jackson, Bobby Evans, Max Pircher, Jamil Demby (RFA) at tackle; David Edwards, Coleman Shelton, Chandler Brewer (RFA), Jeremiah Kolone on the inside; Rob Havenstein at right tackle.
  • Essentially that means that there’s no way for the Rams to avoid doing something significant along the offensive line. It would be a surprise to find out that the team saw a starting five out of that group but many are surprised to see Allen and Corbett starting given where they were a couple years ago.

Obie Twice for Swifty McVay?

The Rams made the deal of the year in acquiring Matthew Stafford in January but then also made the biggest deal of midseason by trading for Von Miller. That wasn’t enough and Los Angeles also signed Odell Beckham, Jr., extending the Rams list of star players by another 8 Miles.

However, do the Rams want to extend either star beyond 2021?

  • It’s interesting to see how differently Von Miller and J.J. Watt are being viewed right now. Not that it is an incorrect valuation, but both players were drafted in 2011, both have been Hall of Fame pass rushers since then, and they were born just four days apart in 1989. But some speculate that Watt has played his final down (and that he should have already done that a while ago) while Miller is viewed as a premium free agent given his recent track record: seven sacks, 11 tackles for a loss, and nine QB hits over the last six games.
  • The Rams traded two day two picks for Miller and now they could get one back in the form of a compensatory pick if he signs elsewhere for a significant amount of money. Miller may be a fantastic teammate and leader, but he doesn’t strike me as a poor businessman and I’m not predicting any discounts in his future. For that reason, Miller and the Rams share the same short-term goal while maybe heading for an inevitable split because of disparate long-term goals, rather than keeping the band together like the Bucs with Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul; I’m not sure that putting $15 million on the 2022 cap for Von is what is in the best interest of the Rams.
  • Similarly, I don’t see Odell Beckham Jr doing anything for less than the top-dollar that someone is willing to pay him and there could be a competitive market for his services this time around as compared to midseason when the Browns released him. Even with as many exciting young receivers as there are right now, ask yourself if the Titans, Patriots, Raiders, Ravens, Packers, Buccaneers, Cardinals, and Eagles couldn’t have had a different finish to the season without more wide receiver help. However, I’m also curious if teams still view OBJ as a “prove it” player because as solid as he’s been in coming up with the big play, he still had a season-high of 81 yards and has caught 30 passes for 329 yards over the last eight games.
  • Imagine you are a team talking to OBJ’s agent and the receiver wants $18 million per year. As the GM, I would ask why OBJ at 29 and not having a 100-yard game in almost three years is worth more than what the Bucs paid 25-year-old Chris Godwin ($16 million) on the franchise tag. But Robby Anderson got $30 million over two years in 2021 and that may be a pitch for paying OBJ at least $15 million. For the Rams, they must consider what to do with Robert Woods as well: Woods will be 30 and coming off of ACL surgery, carrying a $15.7 million cap charge in 2022 with $10 million in savings if released after June 1st. It could be an either/or situation with Woods and Beckham.

Who is replaceable and who is not?

Finally, the Rams have a number of other big decisions to make after these big decisions with the offensive line and the two new stars. L.A. could release Whitworth and Woods, use the money to re-sign Noteboom, Beckham, and Allen, but there will still be plenty more left to decide after that, especially on defense.

Sebastian Joseph-Day could make his return to the field this Sunday against the 49ers and while his absence has been unfortunate, it’s great that the Rams have been able to survive all the way towards hosting the NFC Championship game while also proving to the world that Greg Gaines is in fact awesome. Joseph-Day will be a free agent and given the success that John Franklin-Myers has had with the Jets, it’s safe to say that the only Aaron Donald linemates who could improve while on another roster are those with three names.

SJD’s injury will make him less expensive than if he had balled out for the entire year but I think teams know enough now to know that he wasn’t just sopping up Donald’s leftovers. And some of the defensive tackles in the NFL who make at least $9 million per season include David Onyemata, Michael Pierce, Jordan Phillips, Grover Stewart, Dalvin Tomlinson, Eddie Goldman, and Javon Hargrave; is it that wild to think of SJD as being in that tier?

Darious Williams spent one year on the RFA tender and it could be his last season with L.A. The Rams have parted with so many cornerbacks under McVay that it is somewhat surprising that they gave Williams the first round tender and a year later that seems a little generous. However, who is going to be an upgrade from Williams and is already on the roster? That could fall to David Long Jr. or Robert Rochell, but cornerback seems like a priority in the draft this year.

A team offering Williams over $9 million per season may not be outlandish given the desperation for pass defense help.

At linebacker, Troy Reeder and Travin Howard are both unrestricted free agents and though both have played well down the stretch, L.A.’s history with starting linebacker free agents suggests that if you’re not Leonard Floyd, you’re not coming back. Ernest Jones should help ease the transition to new linebackers.

Offensively, the team is likely to let Sony Michel leave in free agency, as Darrell Henderson has one more year on his deal and Cam Akers will be the expected Week 1 starter if he can keep his helmet from fumbling. Michel is looking to win his second Super Bowl in four years and doing so will look cool in his trophy case, even if it doesn’t amplify interest in him as a free agent; that’s just the sad state of being a running back in 2022.

That leaves Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Dont’e Deayon, Johnny Mundt as unrestricted free agents, all of whom will probably be missed by an ordeal rather than kissed by a new deal. Matt Gay is a RFA and his decision comes down to how he kicks in the near future; though Gay hasn’t been perfect, a lot can be forgiven if you make “the kick” in a championship game.

However, one fascinating development among free agents that may not be expensive is prioritizing Brandon Powell as a kick and punt returner. Powell has been one of the best returners in the NFL since joining the Rams in Week 13 and he came up with another huge play against the Buccaneers on Sunday. Powell shouldn’t be cost prohibitive but if he is allowed to test free agency, L.A. is potentially going to be outbid for his return.

Powell is someone that Snead and McVay must keep in the building before the new league year.

As usual, the LA Rams’ upcoming priorities and abilities in roster management is once again an ongoing development. You know who expected that?