Who do the Los Angeles Rams plan to be when the 2023 season starts? A new beginning that feels more like the mid-2010s Jeff Fisher teams that were just hoping to find out if they had any hidden gems worth keeping for the long haul? Or a 2020 type Sean McVay roster that may not compete for a Super Bowl but could be one or three pieces away by the following season?
The enigma that is the Rams current offseason—13 months removed from winning a Super Bowl but only two months removed from being one of the worst teams in the NFL—is mysteriously somewhere between those two versions of a football franchise.
It would make sense if the Rams roster was almost the same but they traded their three remaining stars—Matthew Stafford, Aaron Donald, Cooper Kupp—for as much draft capital and future salary cap relief as they possibly can or could get. OR it would make sense if the Rams kept their three remaining stars and once again attempted to add three or four more quality pieces around them.
Don’t get mad at the Rams writer for suggesting that either of these two plans would make sense: I’m merely pointing out what I assume should be obvious to everyone by now. The L.A. Rams at present are not good enough to compete for a playoff run and their three best players are all too old to believe that they will still be on the roster when the rest of the team is improved enough to make that happen. It’s not a suggestion or a proclamation that Les Snead will trade any of them; this is an observation that I find hardly disagreeable.
The Rams went 5-12 last season. The only addition that the team has made in the last two weeks is getting back tight end Hunter Long in the Jalen Ramsey trade. The subtractions include Ramsey, Bobby Wagner, and Leonard Floyd, while also parting with Matt Gay, Nick Scott and Greg Gaines in free agency. Soon to follow, A’Shawn Robinson and Taylor Rapp. And while we are keeping score, Riley Dixon, David Long, and Baker Mayfield were once Rams and are no longer.
You can find some of this to be “addition by subtraction” if you’d like to call it that. In some cases, I’m sure you are right.
But addition by subtraction to a degree that helps L.A. go from 5-12 to 10-7 or better? Without a first round pick? Replacing seven of the top-eight players on defense by snaps played last season? Stafford behind an offensive line of Joe Noteboom, Tremayne Anchrum, Brian Allen, Logan Bruss, and Rob Havenstein? Throwing to Tutu Atwell, Ben Skowronek, and Van Jefferson after Kupp? With offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur’s second chance after being fired by the New York Jets?
This could all be for the better in the long run, I have no doubt. What choice did the Rams have? There’s still no harm in accepting the reality of situation—acceptance is the first step in any rehabilitation and recovery process—and asking questions of what the organization plans to do for step two.
The Rams have effectively no cap space, explaining why they haven’t been major players in free agency. However, a committed (probably over-committed if they went this route) plan to get back to the playoffs in 2023 could have included restructures for Donald (up to $20.5m) and Kupp (up to $14.1m) that would have made it easy to add players now, pay them later. It’s how Snead and L.A. operated for the previous six years.
It’s how the team added the likes of Andrew Whitworth, Robert Woods. It’s how the team could afford to trade for Stafford. And if the roster fell just short by September, we’ve seen how the team could still make additions by midseason, such as Ramsey, Von Miller, and Odell Beckham, Jr.. Of course, that’s not going to happen in 2023.
So, what exactly is going to happen in 2023?
Are the Rams really going to put Stafford out there in Week 1 with some combination of this offensive line and maybe a day two rookie at guard? With Cam Akers, a player nearly waived at midseason, as the team’s sole option at running back? How will that play out when the Rams face the 49ers, a defense that sacked Stafford seven times in their Week 4 meeting last year? Did L.A. get better on the offensive line? Better enough to not only defend against Nick Bosa this time, but San Francisco also added defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, considered by some to be the top free agent of 2023. How about if the Cardinals and/or Seahawks use their top-5 picks on pass rushers in the draft?
Matthew Stafford remains on the Rams' roster. Which means that, under his contract from last year, another $57 million has become fully guaranteed. https://t.co/7bIpGeKgkA— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) March 17, 2023
You can choose to believe that Matthew Stafford is healthy enough to play and that’s why he won’t announce his retirement. You can also choose to believe that Stafford won’t announce his retirement because doing so would cost him about $50 million.
Will Donald really be asked to carry a defense in which he and Ernest Jones are the only two players to have played in even 50% of the snaps last season? With Derion Kendrick as the only other player who had more than 40% of the snaps. Donald also can’t retire without giving back millions of guaranteed dollars. As it stands right now, it seems like L.A.’s new contract terms for Donald in 2022—a three-year, $95 million raise—could amount to a $65 million guarantee so that they could have him for last year’s 5-12 season and perhaps for 2023.
The Rams will owe Donald $33.5 million in dead money in 2024 if he’s not on the roster and $29.3 million in 2025 after his contract has already expired.
L.A. better damn well expect to be a competitive football team in 2023 and 2024, otherwise the contracts for Stafford and Donald don’t make a lot of sense if they’re on the roster. They won’t be around for a long-term rebuild.
Kupp’s new deal from 2022 gives him a $27.8 million cap hit this season, $26.3 million in 2024, and no opportunity for cap savings until 2025 when the team could part with him for $16 million in savings and $10.3 million left in dead money. Because he could do well to support a young quarterback, if the Rams find one, keeping Kupp makes the most sense even though he turns 30 in June. And yet, that value, the bare market at receiver, the cost of a great number one, and the cap savings also are what make Kupp the most valuable to L.A. in any deal.
This is not some salacious hot take. It’s not what the comments like to refer to as “clickbait”. The headline states a fact: The Rams haven’t made a single addition to the roster except for a tight end with one career catch. They might not miss a lot of the players who have left, but they don’t have in-house replacements who appear to be upgrades; the same draft mistakes of 2019 by all accounts repeated themselves in 2020 and 2021, to say the least. And most importantly, what I’ve heard over and over again from Rams fans, is that Snead hasn’t done enough to make for an offensive line that’s worthy of protecting Stafford.
How has that changed in the last month that I’m unaware of? Noteboom played in six games last year and he’s been injured in three of his five seasons. He’s never started more than nine games in a season. There is no experience at left or right guard. Brian Allen, who appeared in seven games last year and zero games in 2020, is the center.
The premise of the post today is that the Rams haven’t improved around Matthew Stafford and what the Rams had on offense last year led to more rumors of retirement and that’s well after the team had to be cautious with his throwing regiment before the season even began.
Did the Rams improve around Stafford? Did the defense get better by parting with at least three of their four best players? Will it get better immediately without a first round pick and no cap space?
If the answer to any of those questions is a resounding “YES!” then I guess I’m guilty of misjudging and overreacting. As long as all three of those answers are a “No” then I will continue to believe that the Rams—as they currently stand with three stars—do not yet make any sense.
Not as a team that can compete next season. Not as a team that can put Stafford and Donald out there again without competing.