Now that the confetti has been swept, the hangovers are beginning to recede, and the talk show circuit is all but done, it’s time for the Rams to get back to work. At the parade, the rallying cry of “Run it Back” was uttered multiple times amid the rumors of Aaron Donald and Sean McVay retiring (spoiler alert they’re not leaving). The thing is, while every team has their own form of “Run it back” following a title because no team ever has said “thanks for this season and now we tank 2-15 baby!”, the Rams are built to run it back.
Now, if winning a title is hard, winning another, especially repeating, is damn near impossible. So much has to go right from injury luck (which the Rams were lucky to overcome), replacing departed players and coaches, the team not falling victim to Pat Riley‘s “disease of me”, the schedule, and what every team does to come after them.
In House Free-Agents
Despite the national media acting like Mordo telling Rams fans that the bill has come due and to enjoy the title because it’s over, to quote John Rambo “NOTHING IS OVER”. Yes, the Rams took an aggressive approach to win a title but they have more than enough ammo to make an honest attempt to repeat.
Again, the reason the Rams can make swings at Von Miller or Odell Beckham is that they have done a phenomenal job developing in-house players and the stars become the icing on the cake (take a drink). Look at the big plays that happened during the playoffs. Donald sacking Jimmy G and Travin Howard picking it off (take another drink) to seal the NFC Title was done via home-grown talent. The problem is that eventually, these homegrown players want to be paid, and deservedly so. Travin Howard, Obo Okoronkwo, Coleman Shelton, Donte Deayon, Joseph Noteboom, Johnny Mundt, Brian Allen, and Sebastian Joseph-Day are all in-house free agents coming up for renewal. All deserve to be paid at least a million a year which none of these guys were (yes, even Allen and Troy Reeder).
The problem is that while the Rams will have somewhere between $20-$70 million in cap space depending on how restructures, extensions, and Andrew Whitworth‘s retirement go (more on those later) the Rams will have to decide who to prioritize.
Beckham and Von as they are the biggest names and will command the biggest salary commitment (DUH). So who is next? Well, the offensive line is likely to be where a lot of the Rams’ resources will go (more on this in a later section). Joe Noteboom put in some solid work in Whitworth’s absence last season. He could be the successor to Whitworth (assuming Rob Havenstein remains at RT) and will be one of the top homegrown guys prioritized. Rookie Alaric Jackson played well against Minnesota this season so in case Noteboom leaves he is a young, albeit raw, in-house option. The Rams aren’t likely to sign big names on the line.
The Rams also need to figure out how important Sebastian Joseph-Day is to them given their depth on the defensive line. Greg Gaines had a breakout season especially when SJD missed most of the season with a torn pec. Gaines is in a contract year and with Earnest Brown IV, Bobby Brown, and Marquise Copeland, the Rams might decide they have enough depth and can find another vet to spell A’Shawn Robinson.
At corner, the Rams are likely to let Darious Williams test the market and give Robert Rochell more time to develop. Fans might laugh but teams flush with cash are always looking to give players like Darious Williams a ton of money because he was on a title team. To be fair, Williams had a down year but would easily command starter money elsewhere.
Obo isn’t likely to make it either because with Von and Floyd being the incumbents at the outside, and with Ernest Jones cementing his status as a starter, the fourth starting linebacker position isn’t likely to go to him with Justin Hollins being fully healthy and with the emergence of Travin Howard.
The Rams are also likely to lose Sony Michel and will look to replace him with another downhill runner either in the draft or through free agency. They can’t keep everyone but the good news is they’ll be flush with comp picks the next few years.
Much like the idea that the Rams pissed away their cap space like an eighteen-year-old with their first credit card, the fact that Les Snead’s “F— Them Picks” mantra will bite them is a myth. Fun fact, the Rams actually have eight picks in this year’s draft. True, they don’t have a first or second, but they will have a third-round pick (thank you Brad Holmes), and if Von does leave they’ll get an additional third as well.
The Rams thrive beyond the first round and as alluded to above, expect them to really go in on the offensive line. Last year new offensive line coach Kevin Carberry used primarily the talent he inherited with Alaric Jackson being the lone rookie to be part of the rotation. This off-season expects him to have input in who protects Matthew Stafford next season. They need to potentially replace at least three starting spots on the line, and with money needed elsewhere, expect the Rams to go young.
The Rams line was decent to great at pass protection but mediocre to downright abysmal at run blocking so that is probably a major priority with their draft prospects. They did this the year after their last Super Bowl trip and they need a major infusion of youth and depth.
Also, expect them to find a back in the draft as Darrell Henderson’s insurance (he’s in a contract year).
They’ll also look to fill depth at defensive back and at linebacker once some major departures occur.
The above aspects are going to depend on what happens with the marquee talent and how the extensions work. Von and Odell are of course the two biggest questions but the Rams also have to extend Matthew Stafford. The structure of all these extensions plus how Cooper Kupp, Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, etc. restructures go are going to dictate everything else the Rams do with their roster. Sean McVay’s extension will be the first domino as it’ll signal just how long the “Win Now/ Run it Back” window will be open.
Much like the Salmon flocking to Capistrano, this time of year, Sean McVay will be rebuilding his staff. This year he’s tasked with replacing offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell and tight ends coach Wes Phillips, both of whom are the head coach and offensive coordinator in Minnesota. The reason McVay can lose multiple staff members every year and have everything hum along is that the “We Not Me” culture is strong enough to withstand it, but McVay is great at hiring talent.
He can replace Wade Phillips with Brandon Staley and then with Raheem Morris and not miss a beat (it took Morris a bit to prove that right but he did). While on a yacht with Morris, McVay hired Kentucky offensive coordinator Liam Coen to the same position and Coen was on staff in 2018. He also is giving running backs coach Thomas Davis a bigger role in shaping the offense and helping him become a coordinator either for him or with someone else. Today he also hired Greg Olson back to possibly be the tight end coach and brought in former LSU OC Jake Peetz to the staff in an unknown role. Peetz previously worked with McVay in Washington.
Defensively, he still needs to replace secondary coach Ejiro Erivo who is now the DC in Denver, and Assistant Special Teams Coach Dwayne Stukes who is becoming the head Special Teams coach in Denver. There is less turnover than there has been in years past so this bodes well for the Rams going forward.
The underrated thing about the Rams title run was all of the injuries they had throughout the year. Yes, there were high-profile ones like Robert Woods and Cam Akers but they also lost a lot of people from their draft class.
Jacob Harris had the potential to be a solid contributor, especially after DeSean Jackson left and Tutu Atwell got hurt. Atwell and Harris can have the biggest leaps in year two. With Odell sidelined until most likely November, there is a chance for another target to emerge and help keep coverage off of Cooper Kupp. Robert Woods and Van Jefferson will be the primary receivers with Kupp, but there’s a chance to compete with Ben Skowronek and his Olive Oyl arms for the other spot.
Brycen Hopkins and Kendall Blanton are also going to be featured more prominently given their major contributions in the post-season and with Tyler Higbee struggling to stay healthy as of late. If some of the young guys can make a leap it’ll make it so Les Snead doesn’t need to go hunting for a star.
The Rams GM isn’t afraid to make a massive swing. The mystery this year is there isn’t an obvious move to make. Matthew Stafford was the big swing because the Rams absolutely needed a quarterback. There isn’t a glaring need this year so he likely won’t be trading any future picks unless Von departs, which isn’t likely. That’s not to say he’s going to grow melons like he’s post-Snap Thanos but he might scale back the aggression a little. There aren’t any specific free agents that the Rams are linked to at the moment but never count out Snead for making a move. He might be content to actually Run it Back with some minor tweaks and use the draft to restock the cupboard and a few positions, specifically the offensive line.
The Rams have a good enough roster and with Russell Wilson, Jimmy G, and Aaron Rodgers all likely on the move, the NFC will be wide open. The Rams overcame a lot of injuries, covid, and integrated new pieces all year long. This year Stafford won’t have to work to generate chemistry and learn a new playbook. Continuity is going to make this team that much better.
Assuming health is better than last year, Stafford’s rhythm with Cam Akers should be much more noticeable, and the defense will get to start the year with Von Miller, and Raheem Morris will be more comfortable with the system, the sky is the limit. It’s not going to be easy for the Rams to repeat but they’re going to do everything they can rather than retreat under a bridge like a common troll.