While the rest of the teams in the league have already began the process for next season, the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals have just one more game to play before they look on to their future — as soon as the Super Bowl has come it will just as quickly end.
When it does, both teams will turn the page and begin their journey all over again. The Rams are a team of stars and quite a few notables will become free agents after the Super Bowl.
After acquiring one-year leases on names such as Odell Beckham Jr., Von Miller, and Sony Michel, Les Snead will have his hands full as he attempts to keep the team together. There is only so much money to go around and only so many stars you can keep on one squad. With the nucleus of the team under contract for the at least the next two years, we will find out this offseason who will be brought back to accompany them.
It is time to look past the Super Bowl for just a moment, these are my predictions for the Rams biggest free agents in 2022 and what comes next.
Odell Beckham Jr.
Los Angeles entered the season with one of the most loaded wide receiver groups in the NFL with Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Van Jefferson, and DeSean Jackson—that looks much different now. The first setback occurred when veteran wideout Jackson requested a trade from the team after not receiving the amount of targets he had hoped for. Second-round draft pick Tutu Atwell would have been the next-man up to take the deep-ball responsibility, but a slow development by the rookie receiver kept him on the sidelines before an injury knocked him out for the rest of the season.
With depth crumbling at the position and unable to secure Josh Reynolds in the waiver-wire, the Rams put their name in the hat in the race for Odell Beckham Jr. The thought of playing with his long-time friend Von Miller in the California sun was too much for him to pass up and though he would be considered the third receiver in the offense, Beckham made his decision to come play for LA.
Then travesty struck. It was announced not long after Los Angeles secured the top wide-out on the market that Woods would miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL. That left just Kupp, Jefferson, and seventh-round Ben Skowronek as the “veterans” on the roster. Beckham may be the acquisition that saved the season.
The star receiver has not only proved that he was not the problem in Cleveland, but he has also shown the rest of the league that he is still one of the best. Last week’s NFC Championship performance was his best all season as he finished with nice catches for 113 yards. He has also been a touchdown magnet all season long with six touchdowns in his 11 games with LA. A big performance in the Super Bowl could make the demand for Beckham skyrocket this season and the cost might be too much for the Rams to afford.
My prediction: Beckham signs a HUGE contract with a team that is not the Rams
General Manager Les Snead must have been salivating at idea of lining up Aaron Donald with future Hall-of-Famer Von Miller as negotiations began with the Denver Broncos mid-season. After starting out quickly with two sacks against the New York Giants to start the year, Miller slowed down in Week 4 as he nursed an ankle injury. Three weeks and no sacks later, the 10 year veteran found himself on a plane to LA for a second and third-round pick in the 2022 NFL draft.
Critics of the move argued that two early picks for a defender passed his prime was just another move by the Rams that mortgaged their future on the now, but after 11 games with his new team, Miller has proven he has much more in the tank. He has been vital during close games in the playoffs and has helped a line that was struggling against the run early on in the season. While his seven sacks with the Rams should be enough, it is also his intangible leadership as a former Super Bowl MVP and champion that has helped propel the team.
Getting strip-sacked by Von Miller was so traumatic that Tom Brady quit football altogether less than a week later. pic.twitter.com/zXito2VVVD— Robert Behrens (@rcb05) January 29, 2022
With Donald on contract through 2024 and likely to retire as a Ram, Miller will have a strong reason to comeback and continue to wreak havoc on opposing offenses—though the finances may come into play. The long time Denver Bronco will only hit the Rams cap-space for $722,223 after some of his contract was paid by his former team during the trade. Next year he will be an undrafted free agent and likely command a decent salary. After staying with one team for his entire career, I cannot imagine that changing scenery is something he plans on doing often—that is why I believe that he is sticking around for at least another season.
My prediction: Snead and McVay lure Miller back to the Rams for another season
Seeing Cam Akers suit up again on Sundays has truly been a sight-for-sore-eyes. Yes, he may have fumbled twice in the Divisional Round of the playoffs and nearly gave Tom Brady a chance to continue his dominant legacy, but he is the future for the Rams at the running back position. Though his reemergence in the backfield has been a highlight of the season, it is hard to forget the performance that Michel has put together this year to carry the load when the rest of the backfield were falling to injury.
Michel brought a physical and violent running style to the Rams offense when they needed it most. Their three-game losing streak in the middle of the season made many to believe the LA just wasn’t physical enough to compete against other physical teams. Michel took over the backfield following the losing streak and gave the Rams a new identity on offense. Sure, Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp could light up any given day, but with Michel, they could also wear you down with a bruising run attack.
It seems only fitting that the one player to score a touchdown in the Super Bowl in 2018 is now heading to that very place with the team he once played against—it will likely be his last game in a Rams uniform. With Akers healthy again and Darrell Henderson under contract at least another year, Michel will likely not see his name appear on the roster next season.
My prediction: He will hit the open market and sign elsewhere
The departures of John Johnson and Troy Hill from the Rams secondary this season left a hole of talent that Sean McVay and their coaching staff believed they could fill through homegrown talent and the 2021 NFL Draft. They were also very comfortable with Darious Williams, so much so that the undrafted free agent in 2018 signed a first-round tender this offseason. There is now a decision to be made as his contract expires.
Los Angeles could franchise tag him to keep him around for another year, they could sign him up for a long-term deal, or they could part ways and let him test the waters in free agency. I predict it is the latter.
Williams has had a disappointing season under defensive coordinator Raheem Morris after looking like a budding star in 2020. He finished with four interceptions, 14 passes defended, and a fumble recovery last year; he currently has zero interceptions and only nine passes defended this season. The one stat that has improved has been his tackling—currently he has 71 tackles after only producing 44 a year prior.
The depth at the position may also lead to the decision of letting him walk. Robert Rochell was drafted in the fourth round by Los Angeles and former practice squad hopeful Dont’e Deayon has emerged as a viable option at the position. Though they will not have any first round picks next year or any foreseeable future, they will have a healthy amount of draft picks in the mid-to-late range that they could use to continue to build depth at the position.
My prediction: Williams is looking for other options next season
Overall, I think that of these four Rams free agents, the team focuses its efforts on bringing back Von Miller and loses the other three on the open market.
Who do you think the Rams will be able to resign? Let me know in the comments below!