2022 Los Angeles Rams Offseason Team Needs
Because the Los Angeles Rams decided to ignore the offensive line in 2021, it is the biggest team need for the second year running. It is evident that the Rams offensive line was good enough in 2021, but 2022 is about to heap on additional obstacles.
The elephant in the room is the possible retirement of Andrew Whitworth. He earned the league’s best pass-blocking grade among tackles from PFF. Replacing that is no small feat. His heir apparent, Joe Noteboom proved this season that he has taken the leap from backup to starting grade. This would make for an easy transition for the Rams, but Noteboom is a free agent starting March 16th. This adds a layer of complexity to Whitworth’s decision. There’s a good number of tackle-hungry teams in the league and thanks to some high-level play in the playoffs, Noteboom is officially on their radar. The Rams can’t afford to lose both, but they also can’t keep both.
What this means is that Whitworth is on a deadline when it comes to his decision about retirement. If he does decide to hang ‘em up, then the Rams will likely seek to make Noteboom the starting left tackle. If he stays, they will need to look for a quality backup to replace Noteboom. Whitworth has missed several games over the last two seasons due to injury, so some insurance will be required heading into next season.
Whitworth’s retirement will also open up a good amount of cap space. This could allow the Rams to turn around and use that money on a veteran left tackle. The most recent news is that Whitworth is leaning toward retirement.
While that is the most complex knot to untie over the next two weeks, that isn’t the end of the problems on the offensive line. Starting guard Austin Corbett and starting center Brian Allen will also be free agents. As well as backup center Coleman Shelton. The biggest question is will the Rams want to re-sign either Corbett or Allen. Followed closely by, will they be able to afford to?
According to Spotrac, both Corbett and Allen are due for pretty significant raises. They estimate Allen’s market value contract to be a 5-year $5.4 million deal. His last contract was a four-year rookie deal of 3.2 million. Spotrac estimates Corbett is worth a four-year $35 million deal, up from his rookie contract of four years $7.6 million.
Allen’s contract is much more doable for the Rams than Corbett’s. But that is just the “can they afford to.” Do the Rams want both of these guys back? Interior pressure did the Rams in on more than one occasion last season. Teams that have talented interior pass rushers, like the 49ers and the Titans, were able to run roughshod against Corbett, Allen, and David Edwards. The three accounted for 107 of the team’s 173 total pressures and Corbett and Edwards were by far the worst offenders, allowing 41 pressures each. For more context, Whitworth allowed 20 despite facing off against edge rushers.
The Rams didn’t invest in the offensive line in 2021, neither with draft picks nor in free agency. This year they will have to do both to make up for turning a blind eye last offseason.
Cornerback is the second largest area of concern. The offensive line edges the cornerbacks because they have at least one piece in place, Jalen Ramsey. Their next two top corners, Darious Williams and Donte Deayon are both free agents. While they are the Rams next best cornerbacks, the drop-off from Ramsey to these two is precipitous. That isn’t a slanderous statement, both Williams and Deayon came into the league as undrafted free agents and have worked their way into starting roles. It’s impressive from that perspective, but there is an expected gulf between the talent of a fifth overall pick and UDFA’s.
That said, Spotrac expects Williams to get paid this offseason. They project that he will fetch $14.6 million per year on his next contract. Williams made $4.8 million per year on average while on his last contract. Williams is one of several players that allowed the Rams to build the team that won it all this year. The Rams have been relying on developmental players on cheap deals. Luckily they have had a steady stream at cornerback. Troy Hill was the Williams of last season, but will the Rams have a next Williams?
If Williams walks in free agency, the pressure on Robert Rochell gets turned way up to be the next man up. Rochell had ups and downs in his first season. Rookie corner’s mistakes are always more pronounced than those of other positions, but they were nonetheless mistakes and he certainly wasn’t ready to take a starting role.
Rochell also missed several games due to a few different injuries. That raises questions about long-term durability, but that missed playing time limits his experience. Experience, of course, is a rookie’s best resource when it comes to development. Could Rochell be the next Williams? That is unknown. The Rams have a great track record of developing defensive backs. But it won’t just be on Rochell, the stream relies on everyone making the jump. That is a risky proposition. So, at this point cornerback is very much a team need.
It should also be noted, that former standout cornerbacks coach Aubrey Pleasant left last offseason for Detroit, and this year’s outstanding Defensive Backs coach, Ejiro Evero is now the Defensive Coordinator for the Denver Broncos. So two key pieces in developing talent are no longer with the team.
Les Snead has drafted nine running backs and a fullback in his 10 seasons selecting for the Rams. So far one has panned out, for a while. Todd Gurley was one of the best players in the league, until he, very suddenly, wasn’t. To be fair the jury is still out on Cam Akers. He had a good rookie season, but an injury denied him the ability to prove he’s a perennial starter. The jury is technically still out on Jake Funk. Technically because he played a total of 27 offensive snaps in 2021 and missed seven games with a hamstring injury. Not off to a promising start.
If the Super Bowl was any indication of how the Rams will prioritize their running backs it looks like this; Akers tops the depth chart, Darrell Henderson is next and Sony Michel will leave in free agency. But hopefully, the Super Bowl and the Rams playoff run wasn’t a good indication of what’s to come for the Rams running game. In those four games, they averaged just 2.75 yards per carry.
While it’s not the direst circumstances on the roster, it’s hard to feel assured that Akers, Henderson, and Funk can weaponize the Rams ground attack. Adding an additional back in free agency may be the best way to go given the Rams track record with identifying rushing talent late in the draft. There are several inexpensive options the Rams could target. Some that are cheap and have had intriguing production in the recent past. Jerick McKinnon, J.D. McKissic, Chase Edmonds, and Phillip Lindsay to name a few.
It is very apparent that the Rams don’t place a high value on this position. Last year they moved Micah Kiser and Kenny Young, leaving Troy Reeder, Travin Howard, and rookie Ernest Jones to contain the middle of the field and the second level of the run defense. Reeder struggled to make tackles and was a liability in coverage. It took several weeks, but Jones was able to take the starting role, but was injured shortly thereafter. Jones was able to come back just in time to make some huge plays in the Super Bowl.
Jones looks to be the odds on favorite to be the starting inside linebacker for the Rams, but they will need to upgrade the depth at this position. While Jones is a good tackler and pass rusher, the Rams need a gap-filling run stopper and a coverage backer for second and long passing downs. Not only that but both Reeder and Howard are free agents. Neither will be priorities this offseason.
Looking for a veteran in free agency will be a good option for the more traditional backer. But they should look for a hybrid safety/linebacker in the draft. Tweener players like that often fall to lower rounds which will give the Rams a shot at one.