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If it’s a rebuilding year, how should the Rams handle 2024 free agents?

Resume the veteran purge and let the youngsters play, or stand pat and try to win now.

NFL: DEC 25 Broncos at Rams
Larrell Murchison pulls down Russell Wilson
Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In an offseason of big changes for the Los Angeles Rams, surprising roster moves may not yet be finished. As OTAs wind down leading to training camp, the L.A. braintrust is still at work, weighing many factors into which players will forge a spot on the opening roster. One of those factors is the upcoming 2024 free agents.

Is it a coincidence that the Rams drafted players in every position that has a 2024 free agent? Tight end, interior offensive and defensive line, wide receiver, and safety were all acknowledged with picks. L.A. has nine unrestricted free agents next year, and decisions will have to made on their short and/or long term Rams futures.

Here are the Rams 2024 free agents and possible decisions that need to be made.

Tight end Tyler Higbee

Love him or hate him, Higbee is the most productive tight end in Rams history. Could he be a better blocker? Sure. Now why he hasn’t been more productive in the McVay is up for debate. Is the tight end role in McVay’s offense secondary because of not having enough balls to go around? or because Higbee isn’t talented enough to earn those targets.

Decisions to be made: Will the Rams go back to a rotation at tight end? In Higbee’s first five seasons, he played around 65% of snaps. In the last two, it’s up around 90% and he has played banged up too often. L.A. still has Brycen Hopkins hanging around and added Hunter Long, a former Round 3 pick, and brought in Davis Allen in this years draft. Will Higbee stay in the Rams future? How much will it cost to retain him? As much as I would like to see him retire as a Ram, he will be 32 next year. That’s tough spot to make a lucrative offer, particularly to a solid, but not outstanding player. He’s at $7.25 mil per year now, 18th most in the league.

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers
Tyler Higbee jukes a San Francisco 49er
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Center/guard Coleman Shelton

Over 2018 and 19, Shelton spent time with the San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals, and Tennessee Titans before joining the Rams. Last season, he earned 13 starts, beginning this season at left guard and also getting calls at center, for a total 719 snaps. This came after bouncing between the active roster and practice squad in the previous three years. Over that four-year span, he had two starts and 238 snaps.

Decisions to be made: Does he beat out Brian Allen at center or go back to guard? The drafting of Steve Avila and return of Logan Bruss from injury, hint that his 2023 role will be in the pivot. Shelton is a good player to have on the roster to support the interior and although he projects best to a backup role, he can fill in admirably. Because of the way his contract is structured (no cap space gain if released), he’s a seeming lock to make the 53.

Wide receiver Van Jefferson

After showing good growth in his second year, Jefferson needs to get back on track after an injury-filled Year 3. He’s firmly entrenched as WR#2 in L.A., it’s a role, I think, that fits his late Round 2 draft pedigree.

Decisions to be made: How much should the Rams pay to retain him? You may notice, I am not questioning his upcoming 2023 play. He’s healthy by all reports and in that state he’s a solid, consistent receiver. There is no realistic reason to think he won’t produce. Now, on to paying him in the future. He currently gets $1.785 mil, so he’s in line for a large raise. It’s difficult to make a case for WR#1 money, but it is within reason to expect somewhere between $7-10 mil.

NFL: NOV 15 Rams at 49ers
Van Jefferson hauls in a deep pass
Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Quarterback Brett Rypien

Backup grade NFL quarterback. He earned himself three starts in his first three years, all with the Denver Broncos. Unless Matthew Stafford gets a serious injury, mop up duty and as an insurance policy to Stetson Bennett’s development are his 2023 ceiling.

Decisions to be made: Rypien or Bennett? Bennett is the backup of the future at a good price. Even at comfortable $940k, Rypien may be one and done, I just can’t believe he would be content at QB#3.

Tight end Brycen Hopkins

The enigma. Hopkins must be a terrible practice player. In his three seasons in L.A., he’s played in 24 games and earned one start. If fans hadn’t read the news reports, would anyone have really missed him when he was suspended for three games last year.

Decisions to be made: Should the Rams move on from Hopkins? I guess there needs to be one hot take in this article. If he hasn’t grasped the pro game yet, why spend $1 mil+ for 20% of offensive and special teams snaps. With Hunter Long and Davis Allen now in the fold, it’s not that far-fetched that Hopkins could be released.

Defensive Tackle Larrell Murchison

Claimed off waivers last December after being released by the Tennessee Titans. A backup in Nashville, he was originally a Round 5 draft pick. Performed well for L.A. in the three games he was active. In 54 Rams snaps, he logged six tackles, four of those for loss, and two sacks.

Decisions to be made: Where does he project on the Rams defensive line? Is his hot motor and relentless effort better suited to rotational work or can he build on what he showed at the end of last season and compete for a starting spot? With a cap hit of $1 mil, Murchison should offer value either way.

Defensive tackle Marquise Copeland

Signed by the Rams as an undrafted free agent out of Cincinnati, Copeland’s versatility has helped him increase his snaps in each of his three seasons. Last year, he played in 15 games, nine starts, and 342 snaps. His final stat tally included 31 tackles, two for loss, and one sack.

Decisions to be made: The Rams look to be going with a smallish defensive front, will Copeland be passed over by other faster, more athletic candidates? Copeland is one of those football players whose overall game is better than its individual parts. HIs price is fine, under $1 mil, but can his future in L.A. be more than a roster bubble player?

Safety Jordan Fuller

When Fuller has been available to play, he’s been a solid free safety. He formerly wore the green dot as the Rams captain and defensive play caller, but out of 50 possible NFL games, he’s only been able to answer the bell in 31 of those with 29 starts. Fuller’s 2023 cap number is $2.786 mil, with only $43k in dead cap.

Decisions to be made: Making a judgement that his play is strong enough in the face of his injury record to extend into the future. The Rams have young safeties that need to be on the field to see what they can offer. What happens if Fuller gets nicked up in the preseason, or worse, has to spend time on the IR? $2.7 mil+ is a lot of cap space for a team that doesn’t have any.

Los Angeles Rams v Houston Texans
Can Jordan Fuller evade the injury bug in 2023?
Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Guard/tackle Tremayne Anchrum

Former Round 7 pick who enters the final year of his contract with a grand total of five offensive snaps and 53 more on special teams. Last year, an injury to Brian Allen gave Anchrum his big chance at a starting role, but it was not to be, he suffered broken fibula two snaps into his maiden NFL start. He also spent a stint on the IR in 2021 with an ankle injury.

Decisions to be made: Can Anchrum be of value or is he another Bobby Evans, Jeremiah Kolone, Jamil Demby, etc.? Is that value of a rising player who still has potential or a bottom of the roster swing backup with versatility. The Rams have a handful of inexpensive candidates for backup roles. Letting Anchrum go would save $1 mil of cap space.

So who goes and who stays?

In the short term (for this season), Anchrum, Copeland, and Hopkins just haven’t produced enough to really be missed. With the new NFL quarterback rules, Rypien is in. If the Rams are going to have any success, starters Higbee, Jefferson, and Fuller are must haves. Backups Shelton and Murchison both provide the value to be kept.

For whom to keep in the long term, I’m not so opinionated. So much of it depends on how the large 2023 draft class develops. And next year, the Rams will have a full slate of draft picks, including their first Round 1 pick since 2016. The free agency kitty will be re-stocked, as well. That said, here goes.

Again, I would be happy to see Higbee retire as a Ram and now with two consecutive strong tight end draft classes, the market should keep his price down. I am indifferent towards Shelton, Rypien, Hopkins, Copeland, and Anchrum. As the roster replenishes, this tier of players appear to be easily replaced. I think Jefferson can play and would be extended. I like Fuller and Murchison, but consider them tweeners. L.A. has a history of not re-signing safeties and I need to see a full season from Murch.

This years roster churn, and to a lesser extent, next years as well, boils down to the extent of the Rams “rebuild”. Do you buy into it fully? Should the veteran purge continue and let the youngsters learn on the job? Or should L.A. play it close to the vest and attempt to compete now?