Mason Thompson | January 18th, 2020
Following a trip to the Super Bowl in 2018, the Rams were set to make another deep playoff push in 2019, or so they thought. The Rams have tried milking all the opportunity they have out of the team that took them to the Super Bowl, while also pushing them against the salary cap barrier.
The Rams started the season 3-0 before losing the next three games to push them to 3-3. On October 15th, the team decided to send star cornerback, Marcus Peters to the Ravens for linebacker Kenny Young in a move that many thought would help save some cap space. Instead, hours later, the team decided to trade for Jalen Ramsey, sending back not one, but two first-round picks for him. Ramsey wouldn’t help the Rams much as they hoped as they miss the playoffs and are now watching the division-rival 49ers play in the conference title game tomorrow.
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What Went Right
Not much went right from the Rams standpoint. They started the year as a potential super bowl contender and ended the year without making the playoffs. Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods solidified themselves as one of the top wide receiver duos in the league. The two combined for 184 catches for 2,295 yards and twelve touchdowns. The tandem helped an up-and-down Jared Goff all year and might’ve won the Rams some games on their own.
Tyler Higbee stepped up as the team’s tight end in the final month of the regular season. He stepped in once Gerald Everett went down with an injury and ran away with the opportunity. Higbee finished the year with 69 receptions for 734 yards and three touchdowns. Rookie offensive linemen Bobby Evans and David Edwards shined for the Rams this year. The team has completely disregarded talent in the draft in recent years and will continue this year, but they found some steals in Evans and Edwards. The two were at their best as the Rams beat the Bears on Sunday Night Football.
What Went Wrong
Goff took a major step back this year after a year where he was in the MVP conversation. It got to the point where some fans were calling for Blake Bortles to step into the game rather than have Goff continue. He only had 22 touchdowns compared to 16 interceptions this year.
Todd Gurley still doesn’t look healthy. He wasn’t himself at the end of last year and was getting outplayed by journeyman C.J. Anderson. Gurley couldn’t even reach 1,000 rushing yards this year as he only had 857 yards. His touchdown total was still great as he had 14 this year but the Rams need to look ahead and see if he will ever return to what he was.
Ramsey didn’t have as much impact as the team would’ve thought when he joined the team in mid-October. The team shipped off two first-round picks to Jacksonville for him and he didn’t give that much effort for the team, especially against the 49ers.
Outlook for the Offseason
The Rams are in the bottom ten in terms of cap space, coming in with just over $21 million. They have put themselves in a tough position where they might not be able to re-sign valuable starters and have recently traded away their first-round draft picks to try to fill a hole with players that have issues, like Ramsey.
The Team’s Free Agents
Andrew Whitworth‘s contract is up. He is now 38 years old and isn’t as healthy as he once was. With Edwards and Evans developing already, there is a possibility that they let Whitworth walk if he doesn’t retire, though he has expressed a desire to return. If the money makes sense for both sides, he could be back in 2020 for one last run.
It might not have seemed like it at the time but when Luke Kuechly announced his retirement earlier this week, he helped Cory Littleton, a lot. He was already one of the top free agents in the class and with another linebacker-needy team in the fold, the Rams need to offer him something he can’t refuse. If not, they will need to franchise tag him.
Michael Brockers was Les Snead’s first draft pick when he became general manager in 2012. Brockers has since earned a second contract and is now looking for a third. He says he wants to be back in Los Angeles but the Rams are tight on cap space. They even have an internal solution in restricted free agent, Morgan Cox. I expect Brockers to be back on the team.
Dante Fowler was brought over in a trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars last year and showed some promise. Fowler had 11.5 sacks this year. If the Rams don’t sign him, he will have a large market in free agency.
Greg Zuerlein is a free agent but had a down year this year. However, kickers are now hard to come by in the NFL. If the Rams don’t bring him back, they could be making a huge mistake.
Overall, the Rams have put themselves in a very difficult spot. The trio of Littleton, Brockers, and Fowler are all starters on the team and will be paid in free agency if not retained. They can’t re-sign all three, and maybe not even two.
Open Market Free Agents
With Whitworth potentially out the door and maybe retiring, the Rams will need a tackle. Jack Conklin and Bryan Bulaga both play right tackle but could potentially make the move to the left side or have Edwards move to left.
Derek Wolfe and Vic Beasley are second-tier edge rushers that could be a stopgap if Fowler were to move on from the team. Even if he returns, the team still needs an edge rusher.
Christian Covington and Andrew Billings would be solid replacements for Brockers if they don’t have the room to sign him. Both are under 27 years old and offer great upside alongside Aaron Donald.
Nick Kwiatkoski might be re-signed by the Bears but if he doesn’t, he will have a large market. The Rams would be wise to offer him a contract.
Projecting the NFL Draft
2nd Round, Pick 52: Malik Harrison, LB, Ohio State
The Rams have a difficult decision to make with Littleton. He could potentially get a record-setting contract at the linebacker position and the Rams don’t have that type of cap space so linebacker is a top need. Harrison is potentially the third-best linebacker in the class.
3rd Round, Pick 84: Interior Defensive Line
Brockers might be out the door and Cox has limited playing experience. The Rams need to take a look at the defensive line early in the draft if they don’t in the open market.
The Rams are in a difficult spot right now. They are having to try and use stopgap players at focus positions. They are also tight against the cap to the point they are having to trade away first-round draft picks.
The Rams need to make the most out of this offseason and try to bring back 2018 Goff and Gurley. The draft will be key for the season as well as development from young players like Taylor Rapp and David Long.
Overall, the Rams are now in potentially the toughest division in the league and the other three teams are trending up while the Rams are trending down. I don’t expect the Rams to make the playoffs next year unless Gurley returns to his old form to take the pressure off of Goff. The Rams also play New England, Philadelphia, Buffalo, and Tampa Bay as well as the Cardinals, Seahawks, and 49ers twice. It will be an interesting year for the Rams that could lead to stripping the roster down.
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