For the first time in the Sean McVay era, things look pretty bleak and the Los Angeles Rams franchise is in a bit of disarray. The Rams have gone from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows following their 2021 Super Bowl season that ended with a win at SoFi against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Since then, things haven’t gone the way that the Rams envisioned that they would. Following a slew of injuries, Los Angeles finished 5-12 in 2022 and nearly traded away their entire future for Brian Burns and Christian McCaffrey. The team decided to reset heading into this season which led to parting ways with Jalen Ramsey and Leonard Floyd who were staples on the Super Bowl team. That doesn’t mention no attempt at bringing back free agents such as Greg Gaines, Nick Scott, etc.
Heading into the 2023 season, there was much talk about whether or not Sean McVay, Matthew Stafford, and Aaron Donald would return. They did, but it came with the agreement that the upcoming season would be a “re-tool” year. A win against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1 rose expectations and despite sitting at 3-3, it was thought that the Rams may be able to compete for a wild card spot.
However, since then, the Rams have lost three straight and sit at 3-6 heading into the bye week. At this point in the season, I believe it’s a good spot to take a step back and look at the franchise from a wide-angle lens. Through nine weeks, we have a pretty good idea at this point at what the 2023 Rams team is. This is a team that’s been competitive at times, but their youth and lack of talent has shown, especially in tight, winnable games. The Rams have some self-reflecting to do in order to figure out exactly who they are and the direction they are headed.
What is the current plan?
Throughout the offseason, the Rams consistently made one thing clear — they were not looking to try to win during the 2023 season. Now, that doesn’t mean they were tanking, but it also meant that they weren’t going to bring in reinforcements for losses during free agency or move assets at the trade deadline. The 2023 season was a very clear reset.
This is a franchise that has eyes on the 2024 and 2025 season. Their trio of pillars include a 35-year old Matthew Stafford, 30-year old Cooper Kupp, and 32-year old Aaron Donald. They’ve made one thing clear and that is that this is not a re-build. That trio mentioned above wouldn’t have signed up for a re-build. Focusing in on 2024 and 2025 allows them one more chance to win with that trio who have earned that opportunity.
The 2025 season is an important one because that’s when player contracts all line up. Donald is signed through 2024 with two void years. However, he may be able to be talked into one more year in 2025. The Rams have an out in Stafford’s contract following the 2025 season in which they would only take on $18.5M in dead cap if they were to release him. Kupp has out in his contract following 2024, but is signed through 2026. Veterans like Rob Havenstein and Tyler Higbee are also signed through that 2025 season. 2025 is the deadline to win with the current core of players.
Obviously there is a lot of risk involved and it wouldn’t be a Les Snead and Sean McVay move if there wasn’t risk. This is a duo that traded an unprecedented amount of draft picks to win a Super Bowl. Most teams would have likely blown it up and started over given the lack of draft capital and the cap situation. Instead, the Rams have opted for one “re-tool” here to try and reset everything before moving back to a full-on sprint to the finish line. It’s a step backwards in order to take two or three steps forward.
Almost every move from this point until the end of 2025 needs to be the right one. The Rams will have assets, but they also don’t have the benefit of time on their side. In the spring, the Rams could end up with a top-10 pick and the opportunity to draft blue-chip talent. They absolutely cannot end up with another Greg Robinson or Tavon Austin with their top-10 pick.
How to address to current problems
One of the primary issues on the current Rams roster has been the left tackle position. It’s been very clear up to this point that Alaric Jackson is not the long-term solution. Since Andrew Whitworth retired, plans A and B both haven’t worked. Joe Noteboom wasn’t the future left tackle that many hoped that he would be.
Over the last two years a player at the left tackle position for the Rams has allowed 78 pressures. Whitworth gave up 84 pressures in the previous four seasons combined. The Rams have missed the consistency and stability that Whitworth provided.
The fact of the matter is, while solid in moments, Jackson has proven that he’s a backup caliber player which is fine considering he was an undrafted free agent.
The current projected top-10 pick needs to be used on a player who has the opportunity to be the face of the franchise for the next decade. Whether that's a left tackle, edge rusher, or, if in position for Drake Maye or Caleb Williams, a quarterback, the Rams will be looking to either add a franchise altering player.
It’s also fair to note here that the free agent left tackle group leaves a lot to be desired. That position will likely be addressed in the draft.
From a cap perspective, depending on base salary restructures and if they decide to cut certain underperforming players, the Rams could be looking at upwards of $90M in cap space.
Now, that doesn’t mean that money should be thrown around irresponsibly, but it’s absolutely enough to re-load the roster with talent. This season, the Rams rank last in defensive cash spending and 25th in cash spending on offense. That won’t be the case heading into 2024.
Key defensive free agents include edge rushers Brian Burns, Josh Allen, and Josh Uche. With all of those players under the age of 27, they fit the current team-build unlike someone like Danielle Hunter who will be heading into his age 30 season. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Rams push hard to acquire a top edge rusher that can be the new face of the defense alongside Aaron Donald.
Now, it’s fair to note that the list free agents now and the players who actually hit the open market will look a lot different. For example, it’s unlikely that Chicago Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson is allowed to leave and either an extension will get done or he’ll get hit with the franchise tag. With that said, it’s very possible that at least one of those edge rushers mentioned above becomes available.
Trusting those in charge with the vision
Prior to the last two years, Sean McVay and Les Snead hadn’t experienced a losing season together. The last seasons have been a much different story. The big question is whether or not they can be trusted to lead this next phase. There have been questions regarding McVay’s commitment and whether or not Snead can draft the talent and hand out contracts to the correct players.
With that said, there may not be a better pair to accomplish what the Rams are setting out to do which is to make a big push in 2024 and 2025. It’s going to be bold and require bold decision-making. That’s something that Snead has shown that he isn’t afraid to do if there’s a chance that it ends with a Super Bowl title.
Back in 2012, Snead took a talent depleted roster and immediately turned them into a contending team. Much of this was due to the RGIII trade that allowed Snead to acquire top-end draft picks. However, he did it again in 2017. McVay showed during that same period that he is capable of leading a team out of darkness. There will be questions on whether or not the two as a pair can still do it, but up to this point, they’ve shown that they may just be perfect for it.
The future building blocks
Lastly, we’ll look towards the future. Things would look pretty bleak right now had the Rams not had a stellar rookie class. This year is all about finding pieces that can be part of the project moving forward, especially as we look towards 2025.
To start, Steve Avila has been extremely solid at left guard. Once the Rams place a steady presence at left tackle it can only sure up that side of the offensive line. Avila has been the eighth-rated rookie offensive lineman this season according to PFF.
After Avila, we have to talk about Kobie Turner and Byron Young who were absolute stud finds in the third round. Turner has over double the number of run stops than any other rookie defensive lineman and trails only Calijah Kancey, Brian Bresee, and Jalen Carter in pressures. Meanwhile, Young leads all rookies with 31 pressures and is second in sacks.
And of course, we save the best for last as Puka Nacua is seemingly breaking rookie records every single week and will be in contention for Offensive Rookie of the Year. While CJ Stroud may end up winning it, the Rams found a good one in Nacua.
Snead had to have a great draft and he pulled one out of his hat when he needed it most. The rookies have been good, but it doesn’t end there for Snead. Prior to the season, the Rams general manager swapped 2024 and 2025 day three picks for Kevin Dotson. Since becoming a full-time starter, Dotson has been the highest-graded guard according to PFF and is playing at an all-pro level.
The building blocks for a quick turnaround are there even in what some may consider a lost season. In a lost season, the Rams have made the most of it and set out what they needed to do.
The 2023 season has gone exactly how many would have thought it would go prior to the season. It’s of course not where the Rams want to be considering they were in the Super Bowl two years ago and still looking at making another run at a championship.
However, instead of getting caught in the middle and pushing to compete with sparse resources, the Rams took a reset year so that they have the option to put all of the chips in the middle once again if that’s a route that they decide to go down. At the very least, resetting everything in terms of draft capital and salary cap opens up options.
Los Angeles has its eyes on 2024 and 2025. Things may not look good now, but considering the resources, the Rams will look at lot different at this time next year in both roster construction and on-field product.