Much ado has been made of the Los Angeles Rams 2023 rookie draft class and how their performances have run the gamut, but what about those lesser-known veterans who have provided cost-efficient play in a season where money was tight.
Rams General Manager Les Snead has the reputation of a wheeler-dealer, always with an eye to pulling the trigger on blockbuster deals. However, since joining forces with Head Coach Sean McVay in 2017, he has a string of low-cost additions that helped completely rebuild those early rosters and supported later ones to keep the Rams relevant and competitive.
Most were short-time rentals, brought in to bring presence to a void and while some moved on to other NFL opportunities, most quickly disappeared after their time in L.A. Some were well-known to NFL fans and others caused fans to shrug their shoulders. Certainly, there were busts, but generally speaking, most came in and plugged holes.
Would the Rams be playoff team without the performances of their 2023 veteran stop gaps?
Guard Kevin Dotson and cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon are having career years. On defense, safety John Johnson and linebacker Troy Reeder are back for a second go-round and serviceable backups. Maybe, we should quietly skim over kicker Bret Maher, but for better or worse, he’s our guy in the playoffs.
On the offensive side, wide out Demarcus Robinson has worked his way into a starting role and had some big catches. Quarterback Carson Wentz and wide receiver Tyler Johnson didn’t rate until the last game of the season, but you simply cannot put a value on knocking off the San Francisco 49ers. Running back Royce Freeman stepped in and helped stabilize the backfield when injuries threatened it.
What a DIME from Carson Wentz for the TD pic.twitter.com/sOiW5Bsdag— LA Rams Nation (@RamsNationCP) January 7, 2024
Here’s a look at past short-term additions in the Snead/McVay era.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield
His career had taken a downward trend, both the Cleveland Browns and Carolina Panthers had kicked him to the curb. He played pretty well in his five Rams games considering all the injury turmoil, but more importantly showed heart and guts. He was rewarded with a 2023 starting gig for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Linebacker Bobby Wagner
Although he had lost a step, his 17 game numbers in L.A. were very good. Rams LB Ernest Jones was the biggest winner, receiving the mentorship of a future Hall of Fame member. According to overthecap.com, he cost the Rams about $15mil in salary and dead money. L.A. and Wagner came to a mutual agreement on his 2023 release.
Offensive linemen Oday Aboushi, Matt Skura, and TY Nsekhe
When the Rams offensive line imploded last season, they were sent scrambling for bodies. Aboushi and Skura were street free agents, while Nsekhe was poached off the Indianapolis Colts practice squad. Amongst the three, 21 pro cities were visited over their careers, None were re-signed for 2023. One of my favorite all-time quotes from a sports profile comes from Nsekhe’s Wikipedia page,
“He couldn’t complete the season after being arrested and sent to the state prison C. A. Holliday Transfer Facility.”
Edge Takk McKinley
Poached off the Tennessee Titans Practice Squad in mid-September, McKinley lasted a month in L.A. Over his four-game span, he only saw 18 defensive snaps and five on special teams.
Running back Sony Michel
An under-valued addition to the Super Bowl-winning season that came to L.A. via the New England Patriots for future Round 5 and 6 draft picks. Brought in to replace injured Cam Akers, Michel saw time in every game and had seven starts. led the Rams in rushing with 845 yards and added 21 receptions for five total touchdowns. Even so, the Rams did not offer a contract for 2022.
Wide receiver DeSean Jackson
Jackson lasted eight games before requesting his release and the Rams obliged, both citing irreconcilable differences. Jackson did what he does, bring a big-play threat every time he touches the ball and averaged 27.6 yards per catch on only eight balls.
Wide receiver Odell Beckham
OBJ came to L.A. in November after the Cleveland Browns cut him. And while his overall stats were common, he gave the Rams a threat in the red zone with his ability to go get the ball and clamp it, even in sticky coverage. He was the go-to guy in the playoffs until tearing up a knee in the Super Bowl. He was on a one-year deal for 2021 and ended up not signing with anyone in 2022 to rehab his knee.
Wide receiver Brandon Powell
The Rams finally found themselves a true return man in December. In fact, his 61 yard punt return for a TD against the Minnesota Vikings was the winning margin that helped keep the Rams atop the NFC West. Even in those few games, his play earned him a return engagement in 2022 and he expanded his offensive role. But after 23 games in horns, L.A. did not offer him a contract for 2023.
Edge Jachai Polite
Polite was actually signed to the Rams practice squad a year earlier, They were taking a low-risk shot a fomer Round 3 draft pick that had a phenomenal senior year in college. He saw action in 11 games and 171 snaps, but was only able to record four tackles and released in December.
Running back Raymond Calais
True speed back that also had kick return potential. Poached off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice squad, he only saw action in four games. Calais had injury problems and for a couple years, bounced between the Injured Reserve List, active roster and practice squad until the Rams split with him for good in 2022 training camp.
Quarterback Blake Bortles
The Rams were coming off their first Super Bowl appearance and had a good, young nucleus of talent. Bortles had been a Round 1 draft pick and five-year starter for the Jacksonville Jaguars, before falling out of favor. Boasting a strong arm and good running ability, he was a whisper away from the 2017 Super Bowl. In his year in L.A., he was relegated to mop up duty and threw only two passes.
Edge Clay Matthews
After 10 seasons and sea chest full accolades, Matthews signed a two-year free agent deal with the Rams. He ended up with 13 starts, missing a month with a broken jaw that required surgery. He proved that he could still get after the quarterback with eight sacks and 11 QB hits, but L.A. decided not keep him around for the second year of the contract.
Cornerback Aquib Talib
Talib was at the end of a stellar career when the Rams added him for a Round 5 draft pick and he struggled with injuries during his L.A. tenure. He played in 13 games over 1 1⁄2 seasons, all told, and logged only one interception and 37 tackles. The Rams traded him to the Miami Dolphins in late October of 2019.
Running back C.J. Anderson
It was only a five game run, but I’d lay big chalk that most Rams fans will remember him as one of Les Snead’s best in-season moves. Todd Gurley was ailing with a bad knee and Anderson signed as a free agent in December after bouncing through the Carolina Panthers and Oakland Raiders earlier in 2018. Over the final two regular season games and three on the way to winning Super Bowl LVI, he rolled for 488 yards rushing on 89 carries. He was not offered a contract for 2019.
Defensive tackle Ndamakung Suh
The five-time All-Pro signed a one-year $14 mil contract and chipped in 59 tackles, 4.5 sacks and 19 quarterback hits in the regular season and added 10 more tackles, 1.5 sacks, and five QB hits in the post season. The Rams decided not to pursue him at the seasons end.
Linebacker Ramik Wilson
Fee agent signing as a “true” inside linebacker to backup Mark Barron and Cory Littleton, both hybrid players. He played in all 16 games with four starts logging 157 defensive snaps and 216 more on special teams. Contributed 35 tackles, three for loss, broke up two passes, and forced a fumble. The Rams did not offer a 2019 contract.
Cornerback Sam Shields
A high school track star who came into the NFL undrafted. He carved out a nice seven year career with the Green Bay packers, before joining the Rams in 2018. After four concussions, the Pack let him go and he sat out the 2017 season to recover. He had an interception and 22 tackles on 339 defensive snaps and 233 special teams.
Running back Lance Dunbar
Brought aboard as a free agent to be the change of pace back and kick returner, Dunbar was coming back from a major knee injury in 2015. It troubled him throughout his short time with the Rams, limiting him to some late season mop up work. They did not bring him back for 2018.
Wide receiver Sammy Watkins
After the Rams signed away Robert Woods from the Buffalo Bills in free agency, they traded for his Northeast teammate, Watkins was Round 1 draft pick and traits-based talent that never fulfilled his potential because of nagging injuries. He gave the Rams a true deep threat, catching 39 balls for a 15.2 yard average and eight touchdowns. A free agent at the end of the season, Watkins hinted about returning, telling Rich Hammond at Los Angeles Dailey News,
“You see this team building something, with the coaching staff and the players,” Watkins said. “It would be a pleasure to come back but, you know, it’s a business. I’m looking forward to talking to the coach and seeing where my future is at.”
But a deal was never worked out.
Tight end Derek Carrier
Carrier had played for Sean McVay at Washington and the Rams traded a future Round 7 pick to acquire him. Although L.A. had Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett, Carrier manned the TE#3 role and ended up getting 185 offensive and 242 special teams snaps. The Rams did not offer a 2018 contract.
Cornerback Kayvon Webster
After five years with the Denver Broncos, Webster signed as a free agent with the Rams. He was inactive for the first three weeks, but took over the starting corner role and had 38 tackles, seven passes defended, and an interception in 11 games. A ruptured Achilles ended his season and likely his career, Webster could not pass a Rams physical and he was released.
Edge Conner Barwin
When Sean McVay took over, he brought along Wade Phillips as Defensive Coordinator and his 5-2 (or 3-4) scheme. The Rams had Robert Quinn as the “defensive end” edge, but needed a “outside linebacker” edge for the other side. Barwin was a Round 2 draft pick with good size a plus athleticism and after an injury-plagued first two seasons in the NFL became a standup edge. The move led to six solid seasons before the eight-year veteran joined the Rams as a free agent. In L.A, Barwin had 13 starts and 656 snaps, he tallied 34 tackles, five sacks, and had nine quarterback hits. The Rams did not offer him a 2018 contract.
What’s that in the crystal ball? More veterans?
L.A. will have cap space and at least 10 draft picks in 2024, but currently only 36 players under contract, and there will be plenty of needs to be filled this off season. Getting the same amount of “right now” production as the ’23 rookie class offered cannot be relied on and while it’s well-documented that young players make strides between their rookie and sophomore years, bringing in some vets would fit the Rams profile. Even if it’s for mentorship. Hard not to think that having an experienced vet in the edge room wouldn’t have hastened the maturity of that young group.
Fans will wait breathlessly to see what big moves Les Snead pulls off now that he’s flush with draft and salary cap capital. But the under-the-radar finds might be just as important to round out a competitive roster.