At this point, you’re either with Sean McVay or you’re against him.
That seems to be the message sent by the L.A. Rams head coach this year, from the decision to trade Jalen Ramsey to the incredible effort—or lack thereof—it took for Cam Akers to reach the dog house not once, but twice in less than a year.
We’re seeing signs if it all over this year and it could be the reason that the Rams haven’t played as poorly as you might expect of a team that had few experienced players going into the season: If you don’t buy in, Sean McVay ain’t got anything left for you to do here.
Ramsey was one of the first, Akers is the latest, but I guarantee you that he isn’t the last.
Didn’t have time for that
Jalen Ramsey trade
If you’re just a fan of players doing good business, then you should admire the heck out of Jalen Ramsey. It’s sort of like how people talk about Darrelle Revis and Kirk Cousins: They know how to get paid the most money possible, whether they’re at their peak time to earn it or not. Ramsey is one of the ultimate manipulators of putting himself in the best position to get paid.
He did it when he had a “back injury” to force the Jaguars to trade him to the Rams in 2019. He did it again when he pretended like he didn’t know where trade rumors were coming from earlier this year, only to later tweet that he “prayed for a month” to be traded to the Dolphins, one of the only teams willing to guarantee his 2023 and 2024 base salaries.
The Rams weren’t one of those teams. Ramsey, who could miss the entire season with a knee injury, now has a fully-guaranteed $14.5 million base salary and a guaranteed $11 million roster bonus due in 2024.
I am confident that Jalen Ramsey would be on the Rams this season if he had told the front office that his contract was fine as is, but the only thing that the All-Pro (deservedly so) cornerback buys into his Jalen Ramsey. People like to twist or confuse statements like that into “Wow, you’re hating on Ramsey” but that’s not what I’m doing. He helped the L.A. Rams win a Super Bowl because he’s such a talented football player and I don’t fault anyone for getting paid the most amount possible, if that’s the path they choose to follow.
I mean, Ramsey’s decision to get guarantees has helped him secure an extra $25 million that he otherwise wouldn’t be getting after injuring his MCL in training camp. Good for him!
But the Rams were not in the business of rewarding their stars in 2023 like they were in 2022, coming off of a Super Bowl and renewing deals for Cooper Kupp, Aaron Donald, and Matthew Stafford. The timing wasn’t right for Ramsey and the team said, “We ain’t got time for this no more.” That’s when the tone was really set.
Allen Robinson trade
It would be one thing to say that the Rams traded Robinson just because he was such a poor fit for the offense and it would be best for both parties to move on. But Robinson has since also criticized McVay for not knowing how to use him best, so it appears that they also had “philosophical differences” like Akers. You think McVay got time for that?
The Rams chose to pay over $21 million against the cap to not have Robinson this year and so far he has had seven catches for 76 yards through two games on the Steelers. This despite the fact that star receiver Diontae Johnson was placed on IR this week and didn’t play on Monday against the Browns. Robinson had two catches for 12 yards, getting targeted fewer times than Calvin Austin and Jaylen Warren.
Leonard Floyd release
In addition to paying $21.5 million in dead money to Robinson and $19.6 million in dead money to Ramsey, L.A. is paying $19 million in dead money following the release of Floyd and $7.5 million for Bobby Wagner. The truth is that Floyd and Wagner, by all accounts, were good teammates and willing to buy in. Those situations are different than the first two mentioned here.
But nonetheless, I wanted to mention them and note that the team had moved on, choosing to pay $26.5 million in dead money when keeping them wouldn’t have cost much more.
I’m not sure if Floyd is happier in Buffalo and Wagner is happier being back in Seattle. Each may have felt like they had better opportunities to win elsewhere, although the Bills and Seahawks and Rams all have 1-1 records right now.
Similarly, when it came to free agents like Taylor Rapp, Nick Scott, A’Shawn Robinson, Troy Hill, David Edwards, and Greg Gaines, L.A. may have felt like “Thank you for your service, we’re just not doing that season ever again” and chosen to get fresh stars with younger, cheaper players.
It’s a different sort of “no time for that”, but still no time for that.
Stetson Bennett NFI
Where is Stetson Bennett, y’all?
The #Rams have placed rookie QB Stetson Bennett on the reserve/NFI list, taking him off the active roster.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) September 13, 2023
"Out of respect for him and the situation, I’m going to leave all of those specifics and particulars in-house." -- coach Sean McVay.
The rookie fourth round pick out of Georgia didn’t come to the NFL without controversy.
He was arrested for public intoxication in January, and he has been criticized—rightly or wrongly—for things like “bad body language” and “high opinion of himself” and the NFL Scouting Combine. An AFC coordinator reportedly said:
“He’s a talented thrower, man. He’s competitive. He’s got the ability to make all the throws. He’s a playmaker. He’s accurate. He has a high football IQ. He’s just undersized. You see bad body language. He has a super-high opinion of himself. He’s talented, but is he going to be one of those dudes that sits behind just thinking he’s better than everyone else?”
Then he played poorly in the preseason, then he reportedly had a shoulder injury come out of nowhere, then he was placed on NFI and removed from the active roster with McVay refusing to elaborate.
It is really confusing that L.A. would even draft Bennett given his history and there being so many quarterbacks in the class without character concerns, but maybe McVay felt that fellow Georgia alum Stafford would “model the way” for him to gain maturity and become the best version of himself. I don’t want to speculate too much about Bennett’s reasons for being on NFI because that would be unfair, but it is hard to not connect those dots when McVay says that he’s no longer going to be practicing with the team and it’s not because of his shoulder and then leave it at that.
It seems like, to me, that McVay...aint got time for that!
Joe Noteboom’s injury-not-injury
Facts: Noteboom was L.A.’s top pick in 2018, he started only 17 games in four years but still got a $40 million contract to replace Andrew Whitworth at left tackle, then he played in six games before going on IR again.
There’s going to be some frustration with any career like that and so it leads me to believe that Noteboom’s mysterious “injury” that caused him to work on the side for most of training camp instead of with the offensive line was at least partially related to McVay wanting to motivate him again.
Now instead of being a cheap left tackle, Noteboom is an overpaid right guard. Not only overpaid, but hurt again, although his recent shoulder bruise isn’t expected to keep him from playing in Week 3.
I really don’t think McVay had time for that when he threw Noteboom into a left tackle competition with a former undrafted free agent and lost. L.A. will leave $15 million in dead money if they cut Noteboom in 2024, which is a paltry sum compared to some others, so I don’t think that McVay is necessarily going to have time for a $20 million right guard if he doesn’t show improvement and sustained health.
Logan Bruss released
Releasing a third round pick in his second year is always kind of a big deal, even if he wasn’t in the top-100 of the 2022 draft and even if his release is partially related to injury. Bruss had plenty of opportunities to play at a good enough level in training camp and preseason and he didn’t do that. McVay has shown patience in the past for players like Bobby Evans, he wasn’t going to do it this time with Bruss, a clear indication that something has changed in his coaching philosophies this year.
On a lighter note, we could probably add Lance McCutcheon, Robert Rochell, and Tanner Brown to that list. There wasn’t patience for “okay enough” anymore. Furthermore, would the Rams of past tried to convince Sony Michel to stick around?
Cam Akers back on the block
Is McVay regretting let Cam Akers come back into the fold after his 2022 absence? Patience can be an admirable quality, but Akers clearly didn’t atone for whatever it was that put him in the dog house last season. McVay had time for it last season, he doesn’t anymore.
Those are past examples, but they aren’t the last examples.
Won’t have time for that no more
WR Van Jefferson
Personally, I lost patience with Van Jefferson as a rookie and thought at worst he should be on the chopping block over the 2022 offseason. It’s one thing to write off rookie seasons as a mulligan, but part of the reason that L.A. chose Jefferson in the second round of the 2020 draft was that he was a 24-year-old prospect, the son of a former NFL receiver who is also an NFL receivers coach, and ready to go with a high floor, low ceiling.
He didn’t show any of that in 2020, then he became a full-time starter in 2021 and never made a difference. What Jefferson does on the field is good compared to maybe an undrafted free agent or a college player, but also attributes you can find from the majority of NFL receivers. When a receiver makes you long for the days of Josh Reynolds, it’s time to stop thinking of him as a “former second round pick”.
Jefferson has never had 100 yards in a game before despite myriad of injuries at the position since 2021. This season, he has caught five of nine targets for 31 yards even though he has played in 141 snaps through two games. That includes one pass that led to an interception that was probably more on Jefferson than Stafford.
I hear talk of “Wow, you could trade Van Jefferson for X, Y, and Z!” How?
If he’s the third-best receiver on a team with Puka Nacua and Tutu Atwell, and arguably undeserving to be ahead of Demarcus Robinson and Ben Skowronek, then why should he be starting for any offense? I could see Jefferson on a practice squad before he ever gets to 100 yards.
When Kupp returns from IR, Jefferson could be the one to leave in order to make room.
CB Derion Kendrick
To what degree McVay and Raheem Morris are going to be patient with their two 2022 cornerback draftees, nobody knows. The Rams are probably going to have a below average pass defense and secondary no matter who is starting, but Kendrick now leads all NFL defensive backs in penalties, which is maybe only a sidenote to his typical coverage abilities.
There have been constant calls by fans to give Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson the job, which I understand because by comparison you may think anyone is better. Maybe that’s true! It wouldn’t be the first time that McVay had a better player on the bench than someone who was starting.
However, the odds of L.A.’s 2023 sixth round pick being better than L.A.’s 2022 sixth round pick probably aren’t necessarily as high as one might hope. Playing cornerback in the NFL is extremely hard and takes years to get good at, if you’re even lucky to become good at it. It could be that starting Tomlinson now would ruin his confidence and lead to another Robert Rochell situation.
It doesn’t mean that McVay won’t eventually run out of time for Kendrick, but would he first go to Duke Shelley than his rookie day three pick?
OLB Michael Hoecht
By some accounts, Hoecht has been fine. By others, he has apparently been one of the least impactful edge rushers in the entire NFL. This may be more about a positional experiment than the player himself, because how much longer can McVay start a defensive tackle at outside linebacker and call it a real “solution”?
Would Zach VanValkenburg or Nick Hampton make more sense?
Like at most defensive positions that could use reinforcements, there are no easy answers for the edge right now. Byron Young has been better than the highest expectations and it could be a wait until 2024 before McVay has the luxury to run out of patience on the other side.
We could probably go back and forth on a lot of names who will be in constant competition for a job this season as McVay sorts through his options, so I’ll leave it at that.
RG Joe Noteboom
He’s not out of the woods!
There’s nothing to be concerned about yet. Brett Maher has missed two field goals, but at least they were both over 50 yards. Ethan Evans has only punted three times, the fewest in the NFL, so there’s not much to evaluate with regards to “outkicking the coverage” as was the case in the preseason. Even if Evans does have a low net average, that should fall on special teams coordinator Chase Blackburn and we know that McVay has never had patience for special teams coordinators.
I would expect a lot more changes ahead...unless something changes.