The Los Angeles Rams sit at 3-6 heading into the bye week and the next eight games are crucial when it comes to the team’s future. There are several questions that the team will need to answer as they prepare for 2024 and eventually 2025. The 2023 season has been a reset year and it’s important that the people in charge of the plan have the right answers moving forward. Here are 10 questions that the Rams must answer over the next eight games following the bye week.
1. Is Sean McVay in it for the long haul?
Coming out of the disaster that was the 2022 season, some wondered whether or not McVay would step away or if he would return to the team. There were offers from broadcasting companies to try to lure McVay to the TV world. However, McVay returned to the Rams for another season.
While the season started well with the Rams at 3-3, they’ve since lost three in a row and injuries are starting to pile up. It’s clear that this is a young Rams team and they have a long way to go. There will certainly be conversations again this offseason, especially in the media on whether or not McVay will return in 2024. Again, it is a fair question. McVay just had a kid this year which adds to the equation. Is that something that he will want to focus on more?
Given the resources, the Rams could be competing for a championship in 2025. If they hand out bad contracts and have a bad draft or two, this could turn into a major rebuilding project. Will the Rams have a committed McVay either way?
2. Can Matthew Stafford still be ‘the guy’?
There is a pretty good chance that the Rams will hold a top-15 draft pick. With that being the case, they will be in position to draft one of the quarterbacks in the upcoming class. That quarterback may not be Caleb Williams or Drake Maye, but JJ McCarthy, Michael Penix Jr., and others will certainly be on the table.
The Rams need to decide whether or not Stafford is still the guy that can lead them where they want to be over the next two years. The answer that question will determine whether or not to take a left tackle and build around Stafford or if they need to hit the reset clock, taking a quarterback in the first round and less talented left tackle later on in the draft. Either way, Los Angeles is going to have some difficult questions to answer when it comes to Stafford. Year one was great, but the last two seasons have been inconsistent.
It is worth bringing up Stafford’s age. Not every quarterback is Tom Brady. If the Rams are looking to make a serious push in two years, that would put Stafford at 37. That’s the same age as Matt Ryan last season when he fell off and looked like a shell of his former self. Ben Roethlisberger didn’t throw for more than 4,000 yards after 36. It’s something that need to seriously be considered, especially when you look at the laundry list of injuries that Stafford has gone through.
3. Who are the building blocks for #Project2025?
This is another very important question for the Rams to answer as they head into the season’s second half. To be clear #Project2025 doesn’t imply that the Rams won’t be competitive or aim for the playoffs in 2024. What it means is that 2025 is likely the next year that the Rams can go all-in for a Super Bowl. McVay and Snead need to find players who fit and are going to be part of that vision.
They’ve done a good job with Kobie Turner, Byron Young, and Puka Nacua. They’ve cut a lot of losses this season with Van Jefferson and Cam Akers — two players they did not see as part of the vision. That process doesn’t and shouldn’t stop now. These next eight games are essentially a try-out for the 2024 and 2025 seasons. There will likely be more significant changes this offseason as Los Angeles looks to upgrade its roster and build a championship contending team?
4. Has Kevin Dotson earned a contract extension?
There will be a few players that the Rams need to decide if the player is worthy of handing out extensions. This is an area where Snead has struggled over the past few years. The Rams have handed out extensions to the wrong players i.e. Joe Noteboom and Brian Allen while allowing players like Austin Corbett to walk in free agency.
It’s important not to overpay, but at the same time make sure they keep talented players. Noteboom and Allen were always risks with their injury history. Since arriving in Los Angeles, Dotson is the highest-graded guard via Pro Football Focus and has especially been good in the run game. Dotson still needs to prove himself over the second-half of the season, but Snead will need to decide if this is a player worth handing an extension to this offseason.
5. Who is part of the solution in the secondary?
Along with other positions, the Rams will need to re-build the secondary this offseason. It’s pretty clear that players like Derion Kendrick, Russ Yeast, etc. are not the answer. These are depth players at best that have been thrown into starting roles. The Rams have the worst coverage grade via PFF this season. The distance between the Rams at 32 and Denver Broncos at 31 is the same between the Broncos at 31 and Atlanta Falcons at 20. The gap is significant. Los Angeles doesn’t have a single player graded inside the top-75 players in coverage this season.
Grades are subjective and Ahkello Witherspoon has performed well at times. However, right now this is a talent-depleted secondary. The Rams need to figure out who is worth keeping as they re-build it. Are they simply a top cornerback and a starting-level safety away or does this group need a complete re-haul? A top edge rusher would help as a good pass rush can benefit an average secondary. Still, it’s important to figure out which players are part of the solution in the secondary going forward.
6. Is it time to move on from Raheem Morris for a fresh set of ideas?
It’s hard to see McVay moving on from Raheem Morris and this isn’t to say that he should. Morris has been coaching his tail off with the personnel that he’s been given. The Rams have just $52M in cash spending on defense on the 2023 roster which ranks dead last in the NFL. That’s over $10M less than any other team. To put what Morris has done into perspective, despite the lack of talent, the Rams defense ranks 25th in EPA and 27th in DVOA. Of course, those numbers aren’t great. However, the Arizona Cardinals who rank 31st in cash spending rank 31st in both EPA and DVOA. The defense is out-performing its talent.
With all of that said, Wade Phillips was the defensive coordinator between 2017-2019, lasting three years. Brandon Staley got poached and hired as a head coach after one season. This is Morris’ third year. Will McVay look around the league to see about bringing in a fresh set of ideas or will he keep a coach that is respected the players, seen as a head coach candidate around the league, and someone who has been a rock in the locker room when McVay has checked out at times over the last two years?
7. Blow it up or attempt one more push with current pillars?
This goes back to #Project2025. Are the Rams really just two offseasons away from putting all of the pieces back together? Right now, it may not seem like it, but with the resources that the Rams have, there is a chance to acquire some blue-chip caliber talent.
The Rams will be at a fork this offseason. They can either blow it up or commit to making one more run with Stafford, Aaron Donald, and Cooper Kupp. There’s no “halfsies” here. Los Angeles will need to commit to one or the other. You can’t simply replace Stafford with a rookie, even if it’s Williams or May. Stafford gives the Rams the best chance to win in the short-term with the current group. Mahomes didn’t win until his third season. While Tom Brady and Roethlisberger won in year two, it was mostly because of their defenses. This is an all or nothing situation and the Rams will need to commit to one.
8. Is franchise left tackle or future franchise quarterback more important?
That leads directly into the next question. There has been some debate on whether or not the Rams should take a left tackle or a quarterback in the first round of the draft next year. If they are committed to Stafford over the next two years, a left tackle has to be the pick in the first-round, especially if they have the opportunity to take Olu Fashanu or Joe Alt. However, if Stafford is not the guy and is now a bridge quarterback, then the Rams should take a quarterback.
This is a very good quarterback class, but it’s more so generational at the top with a slew of potential starters in the QB3 through QB5 range. Those players can be taken at the top of the second round and be stashed as development players. Right now, McCarthy may be the only other first-round quarterback outside of the top-two. Penix will have questions regarding his age and injury history. If the Rams are picking inside the top-15, this is a question that they will need to ask themselves.
9. Should Les Snead be the guy to lead next phase?
In all likelihood, Snead and McVay are attached at the hip. However, there will be pressure on Snead following a second consecutive losing season. There’s no questioning the bold moves that Snead made that led to a championship. With that said, poor drafting and contract extensions have led to a roster that’s been voided of talent.
If the Rams move on from one of Snead or McVay, it will probably be Snead. If McVay were to retire, the Rams may decide to bring on a new general manager along with a new head coach. NFL general managers can last two head coaches. It’s very rare that they make it to a third head coach. Even if McVay does stay, do the Rams need fresh ideas, especially in the scouting department, for the next phase of their roster construction?
10. Are the Rams competing or going for a top pick?
The worst place for the Rams to finish this season would be picking outside the top-10, but also missing the playoffs. For the team to make a serious playoff push, they would have needed to win last week agains the Green Bay Packers. The Rams have lost three very winnable games against the Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Packers that have them at 3-6 instead of 6-3.
It’s tempting to push for a playoff spot, especially in a very weak NFC. However, the Rams haven’t shown that they can string wins together and go 6-2 down the stretch which is what would need to happen to have a chance at the seventh seed. What you don’t want is to go 8-9 or 7-10 and get stuck in the middle.
The Rams need to commit to one or the other. Bringing in Carson Wentz made sense a month ago and he likely gives them a good chance to win last week. It doesn’t make a lot of sense now after starting Brett Rypien in a winnable game that the Rams ended up losing. It’s important for the front office to be realistic about what this team is. This isn’t to say that good talent can’t be found in the middle of the first-round, but with the amount of blue-chip talent inside the top-10 of this year’s draft, it will be crucial for the Rams to be in that area if they miss out on the playoffs, and to be honest, they haven’t shown that this is a playoff caliber team.