Yesterday afternoon the Los Angeles Rams made the first of what will be many tough choices they need to make to reload when they released veteran Bobby Wagner. Naturally, Rams Twitter handled this with their usual calm and rationale… Just kidding it quickly devolved into “OMG WE’RE REBUILDING”, “IS JALEN NEXT?!”, “THEY LIED TO US AND SAID THEY WEREN’T TANKING”.
Yes, some of that had to do with Wagner stating he wanted to win, so people got their corkboards and red string out to parse out what he meant. Everyone can take a deep breath. Yes, the Rams are going to have to make tough calls this spring if they are to reload but no that doesn’t mean Cooper Kupp is next or that Aaron Donald is at risk of retiring.
Bobby Wagner was incredible last year but he was always a luxury item meant to bolster a title defense that never came to be. There’s still a lot of off-season to be had but this move signals the Rams are going back to the fundamentals of who they are.
And Bobby Wagner was absolutely INCREDIBLE last year. He started all 17 games recording 81 solo tackles, two picks, and a career-high six sacks. He also blocked a field goal and was the Rams lone All-Pro selection. Not bad for a 32-year-old linebacker. Not only was he a leader on the defense, being voted captain despite being new to the roster, but he was a leader off the field as well. He took Ernest Jones under his wing and when Sean McVay was spiraling amidst a lost season, he leaned on Wagner to help stabilize himself and the locker room. Wagner also donated $5000 for the funeral cost of a deceased team employee.
His time in LA was supposed to be one last playoff run and homecoming as he grew up in Southern California’s Inland Empire, specifically Ontario. That said, his signing was antithetical to how the Rams view the middle linebacker position in that they don’t invest heavily in it, which isn’t too dissimilar from a lot of the league.
For all his greatness, Wagner’s big flaw was his liability in pass coverage and he also was a redundancy when the younger and cheaper Ernest Jones is also a starter. He would’ve carried a $12 million cap hit this season and honestly, the Rams could allocate his $5 million in cap savings elsewhere. Yes, it comes with a $7.5 million cap hit and they are still paying him his $3.5 bonus but in the end, this move was for the best.
Bobby Wagner Wants To Win
To the “I want to win” portion of the announcement, this doesn’t mean Les Snead called Wagner into his office and said, “we’ve decided we’re going to start Failing for Caleb.” Wagner is near the end of his career and wants a place that is turnkey and ready to win. He was always a one-year guy anyway hence the structure of his contract. The Rams could’ve traded him, sure but they did right by him and got him his $3.5 million bonus and gives him control over his destiny.
Surely, he’s eyeing Kansas City, Philly, Miami, etc. (god help him if he goes to Frisco), as a place he can have one last playoff run before he rides off into the sunset. The Rams will work to be competitive but Wagner and his cap hit aren’t in those plans. They have bigger problems to solve.
They still need to get under the cap (they’re about $13 mil over) and that won’t be as tough as it sounds. They can restructure Jalen Ramsey ( No. He’s not being traded or cut), Leonard Floyd (Assuming he’s not cut), and Cooper Kupp. They also have some players they can release post-June 1st like Brian Allen that can be cut at a minimal cap hit as well.
Despite what the media says, they have ten picks this year including a high second-rounder. The pieces are there to retool and, no, that’s not churching up a rebuild. Look at it as what happened in 2019 when the Rams rebuilt their defense on the fly culminating in trading for Ramsey.
The defense lost a vital part of what made it a success last year. They have the ability to add pass rushers and Ernest Jones now has the keys to the middle of the field. It remains to be seen how much he’s been able to absorb and apply from Wagner but he’s got the tools to be effective in year three.
Raheem Morris is back for his third season (yes, this is a good thing) which is a rare bit of continuity Sean McVay hasn’t been able to enjoy during his entire run, and the staff has been restocked with new blood like Joe Coniglio as well as bringing back voices like defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant that the team really needed.
Wagner’s loss will be felt but the pieces are there to reload. It was a mutually beneficial decision for both parties and his one year in LA almost makes up for all of the misery he caused fans while he was a Seahawk…ALMOST. But seriously, his one year will have ripple effects that will help the team long-term, and here’s to hoping he gets to go out with a ring.