With only a couple of weeks left until the start of the NFL Scouting Combine, the offseason is nearly in full swing for the Los Angeles Rams. Sean McVay and company are looking to turn the page on a disappointing 2022 season and re-tool for a return to contention. Can Les Snead build a roster that is capable of usurping the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC West and keep the uber-talented Kansas City Chiefs from winning back-to-back Super Bowls?
Winning the offseason does not always translate into winning games come the regular season, but the Rams must make the most of the next few months in order to remain relevant in 2023 and beyond.
These are the last minute thoughts I have ahead of the offseason and where I think the Rams will make changes:
Edge rusher should be the first ball to drop
The Rams weren’t going to win anything meaningful in 2022 with their underperforming offense hamstrung by injuries along the offensive line, wide receiver, and quarterback. The defense, while reliable for most of the season, had cracks in its foundation that appeared at some of the most inopportune times - such as Week 1 when Josh Allen nickel and dimed them on primetime to start the season.
Pass rush and coverage work in tandem, and Los Angeles struggled with both throughout the year. Defensive backs were playing too far off the line of scrimmage and allowing quick completions before the pass rush could affect the quarterback. The pass rush also failed to get home and left corners and safeties out to dry on longer developing concepts.
These struggles can all be traced back to the departure of Von Miller in free agency and the Rams’ inability to replace him. It was a massive mistake to trust Justin Hollins and Terrell Lewis and expect them to take a step forward in 2022, and both were cut before the conclusion of last season.
Where will the Rams look to improve? A trade could happen even earlier than the free agency, which is slated to begin March 15th. Could Les Snead convince the Las Vegas Raiders to part with pass rusher Maxx Crosby? Marcus Davenport is headed to free agency - could the New Orleans Saints be forced to choose between re-signing him and holding onto Cam Jordan? Snead also made a pass a year ago for Brian Burns of the Carolina Panthers, but that ship has likely sailed.
This is too important of a position to wait until the draft to address, and all the pass rushers that can make an impact on day one typically are off the board within the top 15 picks. Expect the Rams to either make a splash trade or a big signing during the early days of free agency.
Matthew Stafford’s backup needs a high ceiling
It feels very unlikely that Stafford can be trusted to play 17 regular season games and then up to another four post-season contests. The Rams will almost certainly have to put their backup on the field next season, and they better have a good one or they could easily find themselves on the outside looking in on the playoffs.
Baker Mayfield would be welcomed back with open arms - he seemed to have great chemistry with McVay and the Rams’ receivers. I can’t see LA pairing up with a hyper-conservative backup like Teddy Bridgewater, Jacoby Brissett, or Andy Dalton. To me it makes much more sense to invest in someone who has the potential to play at a high level, albeit they’ve probably displayed a great deal of volatility in the past.
Give McVay a Carson Wentz or Drew Lock and allow him to tap into their exciting skillsets and reign in the questionable decision making - much like he did with Mayfield this past season and did with Stafford over the 2021 playoff run. The NFL is a league of parity and it could reasonably become the difference between making the playoffs or your season ending after 17 games.
Plug holes in free agency, draft for the future
Drafting for immediate need will get the Rams into trouble.
If the team feels they have holes along the offensive line, they should find a veteran ready to step in during free agency. The same goes for the secondary if LA is unable to keep Nick Scott as a starter, or if Troy Hill signs elsewhere.
McVay has been reluctant to play rookies during his time in Los Angeles, and it’s unrealistic to expect that to change anytime soon. The Rams will approach the draft with a long-term mindset and allow players time behind the scenes to grow for a role down the line.
This approach has yielded two Super Bowl appearances and a championship ring, and it’s difficult to disagree with the results - as troubling as they may have been a year ago.
This could be Rams’ best coaching staff of McVay’s tenure
In my view the two best coaching staffs the Rams have fielded under McVay came in 2017 (Matt LaFleur, Wade Phillips, John Fassel), and 2021 (Kevin O’Connell, Raheem Morris, Joe DeCamillis).
Aside from 2018 when Todd Gurley was the NFL Offensive Player of the Year, the Rams haven’t had much success without a bonafide offensive coordinator working under McVay. Liam Coen was fast-tracked to the title a little too quickly and it seems his deficiencies seemed to fall on McVay’s shoulders and workload - contributing to his issues with burnout. Does Mike LaFleur belong in the category with his brother and O’Connell, or will he flame out similar to Coen?
The Rams were dealt a tough hand after winning the Super Bowl in 2021 with the staff getting pilfered and then being having to sort through the leftovers after all the other staffs were put together. The Philadelphia Eagles are in the same boat after losing both of their coordinators to head coaching jobs this week.
The “early” ending to the season gave McVay the first pick over the litter, and that is a benefit he was not afforded last year.