The Los Angeles Rams have long possessed one of the league’s most talented defensive lines. Unfortunately, that talent has gotten older and more expensive over the last couple of years. Now the Rams have some important decisions to make concerning the defensive line heading into free agency.
The team has a couple of advantages. First, the Rams are close to $60 million under the salary cap entering the offseason. A large chunk of that cap space came from the club’s decision to release veteran defensive end Chris Long. Long’s cap hit for the 2015 season was $12.5 million, which was second on the roster to fellow defensive end Robert Quinn.
The Rams also released tight end Jared Cook and linebacker James Laurinaitis. Together, the team’s decision to cut them saved the team close to $25 million in cap space. Rams general manager Les Snead has plenty of options to fill the holes on the defensive line with such a large amount of funds available.
Second, the Rams possess four of the first 76 picks of the 2016 NFL Draft. If the team doesn’t find what it needs in free agency, there is plenty of opportunity to fill gaps on the defensive line in the draft. Right now the biggest gap appears to be at defensive end. Here is a look at the team’s options:
The Rams have some options in free agency, but the one that makes the most sense is someone the team knows well: William Hayes. The soon-to-be 31-year old Hayes consistently disrupted opposing offensive lines in extended playing time throughout the 2015 season. Hayes knows the Rams’ system, has little mileage on his legs for a player in his early 30s, and has a habit of making plays exactly when the team needs them.
Speaking of former players, the Rams could also consider bringing back Long at a reduced rate. Given the impact Long had on the locker room and his father’s history in Los Angeles, he is still a solid fit for the roster at the right price.
There are other players out there that might intrigue the Rams, including Jason Pierre-Paul and Eugene Sims, but time will tell whether or not the team chooses to invest in a veteran at defensive end.
Los Angeles has a lot of options in the draft, depending on which direction Snead takes. There are a couple of intriguing first round players available if the Rams continue their tradition of taking defensive linemen early. Clemson’s Shaq Lawson’s power and balance would provide the Rams with stability both in the pass rush and against the rush. Former Ohio State blue chipper Noah Spence would bring star potential to the table, if he can continue to steer clear of his demons.
If the Rams wait until the second or even the third round, the athletic Oklahoma State star Emmanuel Ogbah and Penn State project Carl Nassib will be available. Those aren’t bad choices for a team looking to improve production at the defensive end position.
Overall, there are few star options available for the Rams to fill their needs on the defensive line, but there are plenty of possibilities out there for the team to find production. Keep an eye on the draft though. I believe that’s where the Rams will try and find their defensive end of the future.