The Rams end their season and time at the LA Coliseum against the Arizona Cardinals. This game contains zero consequence aside from the Rams finishing 9-7 ensuring three straight winning seasons for Sean McVay. Aside from that, this game is all about finishing on the highest note possible following their elimination against the 49ers.
Essentially the Rams begin their off-season soul search now. They came into the year following a disastrous showing in the Super Bowl looking to return but it wasn’t meant to be. Over the course of the season, the Rams experienced a slew of injuries, poor coaching, a desperate trade, and disappointing play from the newly extended Jared Goff. Despite what Rams Twitter believes, this season wasn’t a Cats level disaster but more of a Rise of Skywalker let down. The Rams are still loaded with talent but need to make a few tweaks to get back to where fans now expect them to be.
The Rams Offseason Begins With Soul Searching
It’s funny how a year can change the narrative. A year ago, Sean McVay was the wunderkind who revolutionized offensive football. He had coordinators, assistants, and acquaintances get jobs because teams were trying to replicate that magic. Now, the perception is he’s an overrated, one-trick pony, that’s been figured out by the league, and like the ancient Force tree, his coaching tree is on fire.
There’s actually a little more to it than that (for one thing LaFleur is a likely two seed and Taylor is in year one of a tear-down project). Sure, McVay has struggled to put a game plan together that can match all the adjustments the league has made since last year. He was met early on with teams running the infamous 6-1 defense that befell him in the Super Bowl. There were times this season where almost everything seemed to hum and others, where it looked like the team, was coached by Freddie Kitchens.
So why the inconsistency? McVay never seemed to trust running Todd Gurley full time after last season’s patella novella (RIP Turf Show Times) and because teams no longer respected Gurley it made it harder to do all the things McVay likes to do at the line. They became predictable BUT McVay did find ways to keep things interesting by utilizing his tight ends a lot more.
When he went with sets heavy on Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee it opened things up for Cooper Kupp (who backpacked the receiver corps all year), Robert Woods, and Gurley. Goff even saw his mistakes decrease (but NOT disappear) when running these formations. Unfortunately, McVay went away from his 12 personnel because like fetch he kept trying to make the 11 personnel happen even when it clearly wasn’t working.
So what needs to change? When teams plucked Matt LaFleur and Zach Taylor away from the Rams it was assumed that things would be fine because McVay was the puppet master. That turned out not to be the case. Taylor’s role as quarterback coach was more valuable than anyone would’ve thought. Goff’s play cratered this season and its hard to imagine Taylor’s absence not being a factor. The Rams need to hire a quarterback coach to fix Goff because despite what fans might want, there is no way on God’s green earth they can trade him. His cap figure jumps to $36 million next season and NOBODY is taking that on judging by what Goff put on the field this season. So, the best thing to do is to bring a coach in to clean up a lot of Goff’s bad habits.
The other thing McVay needs to do is hire an offensive coordinator. McVay seemed to spread himself way too thin this year. He wouldn’t need to give up play-calling but he needs another voice in the room because McVay’s offensive autonomy cost them at least two games (Dallas and Pittsburgh specifically). It isn’t clear who that would be but having another set of eyes on the offense would make the unit more consistent.
Defensively, there’s talk that Wade Phillips could be on the way out because the defense got blown out in several games (Tampa Bay, Dallas, and Baltimore in particular). The funny thing is that their run defense has given up fewer yards this season but the eye test obviously doesn’t help his case. He has gotten a lot out of his players despite all the injuries they sustained. At the same time, he still hasn’t found a consistent pass rusher.
Wade is in the last year of his contract and he still wants to coach. The defense’s performance wasn’t ALL his fault. He was without Clay Matthews for six weeks, he lost John Johnson for the year, and Marcus Peters was a liability (until he went to Baltimore apparently) for the beginning of the year. Troy Hill has been up and down and Jalen Ramsey while good, didn’t make the impact many hoped he would.
The reason certain sects of fandom are out on Wade is how unprepared they looked in the three aforementioned games as well as some of their closer calls (Seattle and both San Francisco games). If they are to move on from Wade they’ll either promote from within or go after someone like Ron Rivera if he’s unable to get a head coaching job (not likely). They shouldn’t throw Wade out but instead, allow him to reshuffle his staff.
Coaching is the first step as the Rams begin to fix their issues but to borrow a tired cliche, it’s not just about the Xs and Os but the Jims and Joes.
Whenever the Rams struggled, one of the first jokes everyone would go to was how bad their cap/draft stock is in 2020 and beyond. Les Snead has spent money like he was Ted Sarandos at Netflix and like Netflix, he yielded a lot of over-hyped mediocrity.
The big mistakes were the deals handed out to Jared Goff (four years $110 million), Brandin Cooks (five years $80 million), and Todd Gurley (four years $60 million). Yes, he also signed Aaron Donald but that contract was worth it. Those three deals are unmovable which is a problem considering Cooks and Gurley can’t stay healthy while Goff swapped bodies with Joe Flacco. Goff has thrown 19 TDs with 16 picks and yet has also thrown for 4139 yards. He can possibly be salvaged with a quarterback coach and a better line (more on that in a minute) but the other two need to be healthy because there’s no way the Rams want to eat the $29 million to cut Cooks or the $34 million for Gurley.
The line has also been a disaster. The extension to Rob Havenstein was a mistake but he’s at least a trade piece (and he’d save $5.4 million). Beyond that, the fact that they’re hoping to resign Andrew Whitworth, who turns 39 next year, shows how dark things are.
They lost Joe Noteboom and Brian Allen for the year, and while Bobby Evans has been good, the rest of the line has been a train wreck. If they can trade Havenstein for a pick or two that’d help. Evans can be the full-time starter and Snead can maybe pick up a cheap vet if they don’t get Whitworth back. It would also be a good idea to draft more linemen for depth. Just a thought.
They don’t have a lot of flexibility for the rest of their offense. Luckily Kupp, Josh Reynolds, and Gerald Everett are going into the last year on their rookie deals. When the Rams move on from Jojo Natson and Mike Thomas they can sign some cheap wideouts but other than that they don’t have any real flexibility.
Their one BIG move could be to trade tight end, Tyler Higbee, for picks. Now, that might seem foolish as he’s had a great year with 61 catches, 650 yards, and two touchdowns. He’s been key in the offense’s turn around but with Everett and Johnny Mundt on the roster they can see what the trade market looks like. It’s possible they can get a pick or two plus cap relief and his stock will never be higher. With whatever picks they can get from him and or Havenstein they can rebuild the fringes of their team.
Defensively things are a bit more interesting. They’ll let Michael Brockers go since they not only save $10 million but while he’s been solid he’s never been that second piece to complement Aaron Donald. They can draft another defensive lineman while Greg Gaines gets more reps in his second year.
The big decision is whether to resign Cory Littleton and Dante Fowler. Littleton is one of the most underrated linebackers in the league while Fowler had a career year. The edge goes to Littleton as Fowler seems like the classic player to get big money after a contract year only to infuriate that team a year later.
They can also let Eric Weddle go because they have John Johnson (also in the last year of his rookie deal) to pair with rookie Taylor Rapp and they make up one of the best young safety tandems in the league. Troy Hill was resigned on the cheap and that leaves the big Jalen Ramsey conundrum.
On one hand, why trade all those picks only to let him go for a comp pick. The problem is he’ll command a huge extension which will leave them Kirk Van Houten level cash poor. Now, what they CAN do but it’s not likely is that they can sign and trade Ramsey. It’s never happened before and the Rams have little leverage but its worth exploring. If some team that feels they’re a Jalen Ramsey away then the Rams could net some picks back. Unfortunately, it looks more likely they’ll double down and resign him.
The lack of picks is also a problem but they’ll get picks for letting Brockers and Fowler go so maybe that’s where they can find young guys to fill out the fringes of the defense. The point is, as the Rams begin their off-season, they have more flexibility than most fans think. They have enough talent and coaching infrastructure to not fade away into obscurity like a former cast member of Glee.
Snead needs to stop gambling with picks and give out contracts like he’s giving out candy. His perception of the team doesn’t sync up with reality. They aren’t one piece away from a title and he needs to understand that.
Does it suck that they went from 13-3 and a Super Bowl appearance to missing the playoffs and finishing 8-8/9-7? Yes, but it’s not as if the team is a tire fire like the Jets, Dolphins, or Washington. Lest we forget how dark things were for the Rams just four years ago. Remember that?! Jeff Fisher was still the coach, they had nothing on offense, and it looked like they’d waste Aaron Donald. Now they’re moving into a new stadium and have a ton of pieces that could be part of a championship team. Its understandable fans have high expectations but things have been SO much worse. So let the Rams begin to get it together and see what they can do.