The 2023 offseason has been a strange one for the Los Angeles Rams. While they made splashes, the moves that Les Snead made weren’t to acquire players, but rather offload them. This season has been tabbed a reset or transition year for the Rams as they look to build with 2024 and 2025 in mind.
ESPN’s Bill Barnwell ranked every team’s offseason on Tuesday. Barnwell split up his reasoning in three categories - what went right, what went wrong, and what’s left to do. If you’ve been keeping track of these types of lists this offseason, the Rams have typically ranked near or at the bottom. That didn't change in Barnwell’s offseason ranking as he ranked the Rams 31st ahead of only the Tennessee Titans.
Here’s what Barnwell had to say, starting with what went right.
“The Rams pulled the rip cord on an aggressive rebuild. They are virtually unrecognizable from the team we saw last season, let alone the one that won the Super Bowl on home turf 15 months ago. It can’t be easy for an organization that had been successful for nearly the entirety of the Sean McVay era to admit it wasn’t going to be able to get back with its core, but L.A. moved on from Jalen Ramsey, Leonard Floyd and Bobby Wagner this offseason. The Rams ate money to deal away Allen Robinson, too. Now they have $32.6 million in cap space for the 2024 season, giving general manager Les Snead meaningful flexibility in a city that is always going to attract free agents. They also traded down twice in the third round of April’s draft, landing sorely needed draft capital in the process.”
I’m not sure where Barnwell is getting his $32.6M in cap space for 2024 as Over The Cap has the Rams at $53.6M for next offseason. It’s possible that $32M reflects the cap space created. With that said, the point remains the same. The Rams made these moves to open up cap space. They weren’t going to compete for another title with the current pieces in place. Following a 5-12 season, injuries or no injuries, changes were going to be made. The Rams now have cap space to go all in during the next free agency period to replace the stars that they just offloaded.
Now let’s see what Barnwell thought went wrong. Spoiler alert: It’s a lot.
“The Rams are stuck between stations. Moving on from their veterans made sense, but they still held on to some of their core in the hopes those players could be difference-makers in 2024 and 2025...If you’re keeping those guys, there’s a way to build around them without compromising 2024 flexibility. The Rams could sign players to short-term deals or go after players who were cut by other teams to avoid missing out on compensatory selections...Instead, the Rams ... didn’t sign anyone?...Snead finally used an early pick on an offensive lineman when he drafted guard Steve Avila, but he didn’t make any other significant investments to supplement a line that didn’t look good on paper even before being destroyed by injuries a year ago...If the Rams are tanking for local quarterback Caleb Williams (USC), nobody would fault their choice. But by keeping Donald, Stafford and Kupp in the same division with the Cardinals, they project to be just good enough to avoid landing a top-five pick in next year’s draft. And although we know the Rams have no qualms about dealing multiple first-rounders to land the star they want, there might not be any trade package that lands them Williams if a quarterback-needy team holds the No. 1 pick.”
While the Rams were making moves to go “all-in” on a championship and succeeding, Snead was criticized for not having an eye on the future. Now he has an eye on the future and is again being criticized for it. The media can’t have it both ways. Moves could have been made without offloading stars like Jalen Ramsey and Leonard Floyd. The Rams could have signed players to short term deals while not messing up the compensatory pick formula. However, they would have once again had minimal cap space next offseason. It’s fair to disagree with it, but that’s the reasoning behind this approach. Snead created flexibility so that he could go “all-in” one more time with Donald, Stafford, and Kupp as the core.
Barnwell brings up the idea of tanking for Williams. He even says that the Rams might be too good to do that. Still, next year looks like an overall good quarterback class outside of Williams. Even if they don’t take a quarterback, they are set to have a first round pick for the first time since 2018 (traded back from 31) to help Stafford or Donald.
There are serious concerns with the Rams and there is a reason that they have a negative outlook heading into the 2023 season. However, there does look to be a plan.
Here’s what Barnwell said what’s left for the Rams to do.
“Add literally any defensive player. Throw Morris a bone. I’ve advocated for John Johnson III, the 27-year-old safety who excelled in Los Angeles before a frustrating run in Cleveland. Eli Apple was a starting corner on a good defense in Cincinnati last season. Edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue is 28 and could net something at the trade deadline if he gets hot playing next to Donald. It’s difficult to think of a more inexperienced defense than what the Rams are set to roll out next to their future Hall of Famer.”
Not many would be opposed to a John Johnson III reunion. However, the Rams didn’t pay Nick Scott or Taylor Rapp. They likely won’t be signing JJIII. The Rams simply don’t pay the safety position and instead develop within the building.
The Rams may look to add a veteran before the season on the offensive line i.e. Dalton Risner or even on defense. However, at this point in the offseason, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them just go with what they currently have. If they suffer an injury somewhere, signing a veteran is a possibility. At the point, the Rams are looking at 2024. While frustrating, that just remains the fact of the situation.
Barnwell’s number 31 ranking for the Rams offseason is more than fair. They didn’t improve outside of one spot on the offensive line with the addition of Steve Avila. There will be a lot of pressure on the front office and coaching staff to develop the young players currently on the roster and then get next offseason right with more resources available.