Tuesday, July 17, 2018
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Rams Postmortem

I can’t say I was surprised at all to see the Los Angeles Rams fall 26-13 to the Atlanta Falcons in their Wild Card game Saturday. The Rams were favored and rightly so and pretty much everybody picked them to win. In fact, according to NFL Pickwatch, the Rams were selected by 76 percent of all NFL prognosticators.

Still, there’s no great shame to lose to the Falcons, the defending NFC Champions. While it’s true that 75 percent of us picked Los Angeles, it was the lowest percentage of all the Wild Card game winners picked. The top? How about 100 percent of us picked the Kansas City Chiefs? That’s how bad that loss was. For the record, 93 percent of us picked the Jacksonville Jaguars and 96 percent picked the New Orleans Saints.

Unlike the Chiefs, who have found their mean, there’s nowhere to go but up for the Rams next season. That’s why no one is that broken up about this loss, at least outside the Los Angeles locker room. I never believed this team was going to the Super Bowl for even a second. They’re not ready. But, from the looks of it, they will be.

SEAN MCVAY

The first-year head coach is a shoo-in for NFL’s Coach of the Year. Though arguments could be made for Doug Marrone of the Jacksonville Jaguars, McVay taking the Rams from the worst offense in the league to the best is an accomplishment that won’t soon be matched.

Los Angeles will likely open next season as the No. 2 odds-on favorite in the NFC behind the Philadelphia Eagles with Carson Wentz back under center. They’ll have, as of right now, $45.732 million in available salary cap space, the 11th most in the league. They have a young roster filled with talent and really only a couple of guys they need to pay. We’ll get to that.

McVay will likely have to replace quarterbacks coach Greg Olson, who looks like he’ll be Jon Gruden’s new offensive coordinator in Oakland. It would also be smart to put a succession plan together for Wade Phillips at defensive coordinator. Obviously the job belongs to Phillips as long as he wants it, but he’s 70 years old. Realistically, how much longer will he stay? Joe Barry is the linebackers coach and the assistant head coach, so it’s probably him. McVay better be sure.

The Rams not only have plenty of cap, they’ll have a nice compliment of draft picks. Only their 2018 second round pick is missing, traded to the Buffalo Bills for Sammy Watkins. In its place, the Rams have three sixth rounders so far and that’s before compensatory picks have been doled out.

L.A. needs corners, linebackers and offensive linemen out of this draft. They’ll have the picks to add plenty, including the No. 23 overall.

AARON DONALD

Donald held out all preseason and the first game of the regular season trying to get a new contract done. The Rams should have blinked then, because under Philips, the All-Pro defensive tackle has only upped his value. If Donald doesn’t hold out again (and he will), next season is the final year of his rookie contract. With the money Los Angeles has available, Donald’s long term contract has to be priority one. They need to be working on it today.

SAMMY WATKINS

The Rams gave up their 2018 second round pick for Watkins and while he didn’t hit 1,000 yards this season, he was definitely a great weapon for the team, catching 39 passes for 593 yards and eight touchdowns. Watkins is in the exact opposite position as Donald. His numbers don’t warrant a monster contract. He should be looking at something in the $10-11 million a year range at the most.

TRUMAINE JOHNSON

Johnson is, without a doubt, the Rams’ best cornerback and one of the better cover guys in the league. This is easily the weakest spot on the L.A. defense and it would be tough to let a guy like Johnson go. Still, they won’t franchise him again. If they can’t get a deal done this off-season in a $11-12 million range, he’ll probably walk. It’d be a shame, but Donald and Watkins have to come first.

OTHER POTENTIAL FREE AGENTS

LaMarcus Joyner at safety is coming off his best season in the league, but he’s not irreplaceable. Defensive tackle Dominique Easley is a talented player and former first round pick the team stole off the waiver wire last season. John Sullivan has settled down the center position after being brought over from the Washington Redskins. Nickell Robey-Coleman was a good nickel corner and spot starter.

Out of all those guys, Sullivan is the priority and will get a nice contract over the next few weeks. Easley and Joyner will both probably be allowed to hit free agency, but I feel like Philips would like to have them both back if the price is right. Robey-Coleman will probably be the easiest guy to sign out of this crew. It wouldn’t break my heart to see Conner Barwin come back on a one-year deal too.

CUTS

Tavon Austin is getting released. There’s just no question about it. Austin cost nearly $15 million against the Rams cap this year. If they keep him, on his current contract, he’ll cost $8 million next year. They get $3 million back on that if they let him go. They definitely will. Don’t be surprised to see linebackers Mark Barron and Robert Quinn restructure their deals if more cap money is needed.

In fact, if Austin would take a significant pay cut, there’s a good chance he could stay. Los Angeles’ offense worked best when he was a decoy and a ballcarrier. He’s an asset. He’s not worth $14 million. For his sake, he should know that.

POTENTIAL FREE AGENT TARGETS

If the Rams do let Johnson go, they’ll have to sign a corner in free agency. Kayvon Webster and Robey-Coleman can’t be the starters alongside a rookie. If Johnson won’t sign for $12 million, maybe Malcolm Butler will? If they want to save some money, they can bring in Morris Claiborne for less than half that.

At safety, Eric Reid and Kenny Vaccaro would both be upgrades over Joyner, but they’d also cost more. Morgan Burnett might be the best option for the money, considering he’ll take a front-loaded contract and be looking at his final NFL deal.

With Jimmy Garoppolo with the San Francisco 49ers, Russel Wilson still with the Seattle Seahawks and a potential new head coach and quarterback combo with the Arizona Cardinals, the Rams can’t afford to stand pat. It’s time to make the moves to go to the next level.

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