The 2018 season is officially over now that the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. With the Los Angeles Rams listed as the fifth favorite to win Super Bowl LIII, maybe they’ll be next to get their “Spygate” revenge.
While the Rams did go 11-5 and the arrow is certainly pointed up, general manager Les Snead will have his work cut out for him if this team is to not only maintain the success of this past season, but improve.
Below I will go through every phase of the offseason and lay out a plan for the Rams and general manager Les Snead.
*Note this is what I think the Rams should do, not what I would do. Cap numbers from OverTheCap.com are used.
* What to do with Aaron Donald
The Rams have all of the leverage with All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Not only do they have him under contract this season, but they also can franchise tag the next two years. At that point, Donald would be 29 years old. Donald will make $6.9 million next season, which is a reasonable number for the Rams to pay him, according to how rookie deals are set up.
There are two sides with the Donald contract situation. Does it make more sense for the Rams to pay Donald $6.9 million or $25 million? The only downside of this is the longer they wait, the more they will have to pay. The more they wait, the more they could upset Donald.
As for Donald, he knows he’s worth more that the $6.9 million he’s making. Fans know he’s worth more than $6.9 million.
This could go 50-50, and we may get another holdout. When all is said and done, given Snead’s history, I’m not sure they get a deal done.
* Who to cut
The Rams currently have a little over $45 million in cap space. However, by cutting an under-performing Robert Quinn, Mark Barron, and Tavon Austin, they could find themselves with upwards of $62 million.
Cutting Barron opens up $4 million. Letting Austin go would give the Rams another $3 million. Releasing Quinn would help the most by opening up nearly $11 million. The Rams could also renegotiate with Quinn.
In Quinn’s case, while it would be nice to bring him on for less, if you’re Quinn, why do you take less? It would be nice to bring him back, but the fact is, he hasn’t totaled double-digit sacks in four years.
These sort of deals are complicated. A player isn’t just going to accept less money, or very few will. My guess is Quinn gets cut, he tests the market to see his value, goes back to the Rams with that value, and if they end up finding the number reasonable, he returns.
I don’t foresee the Rams making any player trades. A casual fan may ask well why don’t we just trade Robert Quinn or just trade Tavon Austin?
The thing with trades is, it takes two to tango. NFL general managers aren’t stupid either. They usually know if another team is about to cut a guy or that a player has little value.
That’s the situation with Quinn, Barron, and Austin. All three have contracts that the Rams can easily get rid of and other teams know that. If I know that, you can guarantee other teams know that.
The Rams would love to get some value for these guys, but it’s highly unlikely that they get a partner. Instead, the Rams will cut them and teams will pick them up.
* Franchise Tag
The Rams will use the franchise tag for the third straight year. This time it will be on wide receiver Sammy Watkins. They could try to bring him back on a one-year, prove-it-to-me type deal, but in the end I see them tagging Watkins.
Watkins is only 24 years old and came into training camp very late. There is a lot of talent there, elite talent maybe, that Snead can’t let walk out the door.
The cap number for a franchise tag on a wide receiver is $16.5 million. The Rams will bring Watkins back for one more year to see if he can fit into their offense. It would give him a full offseason and a fair shot.
*What to do with Trumaine Johnson
Once again, Trumaine Johnson will be looking for a deal. A top-five cornerback in the league is going for $15 million, and I’m not sure you can definitively say Johnson is a top-five cornerback.
Johnson has recorded on three interceptions in the last two years combined. Both of those numbers are equal or less than the career-low he put up his rookie year with two.
The argument would be that teams aren’t throwing at Johnson, but even Richard Sherman doubled Johnson’s output during that same timeframe.
He finished No. 1 in press-man effectiveness, but the Rams don’t press much. Instead, they play a lot more off-man and zone. Johnson just isn’t a fit for what this defense wants to run, and the Rams don’t have the consistent pass rush to be able to play press.
The Rams allowed 6.7 yards after the catch against Atlanta in their playoff loss. Against Julio Jones, who was in a down year, Johnson was targeted four times and allowed all four passes to be caught. In four of the last six weeks of the season, the Rams’ defense ranked 28th in passing yards allowed. With a top-5 cornerback those aren’t number that you want to be giving up.
Trumaine Johnson will get paid, but he will get overpaid and it won’t be by the Rams.
* Who to bring back
The Rams have their fair share of free agents they will need to bring back. Given the moves that have been made thus far in the process, they will have $45 million to work with.
Here are their top priorities and what value they could bring in:
– Lamarcus Joyner: $9 million
– Nickell Robey-Coleman: $6.5 million
They will be the Rams’ top-two priorities, but there are other free agents to consider. Do they bring back Connor Barwin and John Sullivan? What about Cody Davis and Troy Hill?
Barwin could probably be replaced by Samson Ebukam. The Rams could also try to replace Davis with Blake Countess and then draft or sign a depth cornerback in free agency to replace Hill.
These are all questions the Rams must answer. I’m not sure who they’ll bring back, but heading into free agency we’ll assume they bring back Joyner and Robey-Coleman and then spend $10-million on bringing back a few other of their own free agents.
That puts them in free agency with around $20-million to work with, which isn’t a terrible number.
My free agency scenario is going to be based on my previous moves. I’m bringing back Robey-Coleman, Joyner and Watkins. Here are a few immediate names that pop out that would make sense for the Rams if they are available and what they may ask for in free agency:
– RB Rex Burkhead/Dion Lewis: $4.5 million
– C Ryan Jensen: $9 million
– C Weston Richburg: $10 million
– WR Allen Robinson (If Watkins doesn’t come back): $15 million
– TE Trey Burton: $8 million
– NT Bennie Logan: $8 million
– ILB Corey Nelson: $5 million
– CB Aquib Talib (If he’s cut): $8 million
These are names that pop out to me.
Digger deeper into those names
A name that really excites me is Rex Burkhead, who was with the Patriots all season and will be a good veteran presence as a pass catching threat out of the backfield. He’d be a great fit in McVay’s scheme. The Rams tried to get this type of role out of Dunbar, but he couldn’t stay healthy.
Bringing in a second tight end also makes sense. I think McVay really missed using the tight end last seasonast season and a lot of that is because they didn’t have the experience there. Trey Burton does make some sense. He’s an NFC East guy that McVay may have some familiarity with.
The Rams need a run-stuffer in the middle of their defense. Bennie Logan has been one of the best nose tackles in the league over the past five years. Star Lotulelei could also make some sense here coming from Carolina.
Corey Nelson may be a guy to watch out for. The former Broncos 2014 seventh round pick is a young, low-risk guy coming off of an injury that has experience with Wade Phillips.
By the looks of it, it seems like the Giants are going to let Weston Richburg walk. For a team that needs young building blocks, it seems odd to let one of the best young centers walk out the door, even coming off an injury, but that’s what reports indicate.
Who to target
When all is said and done, here are the top three free agent that I would target:
1. RB Rex Burkhead: $4.5 million
2. C Weston Richburg: $10 milion
3. NT Star Lotulelei: $8 million
Depending on the combination and the amount of money that the Rams have to spend, they should have an estimated the $23 million left over. They’d have to make some other moves to open up a little more space, but you get a versatile back, a young center to build around, and a run-stuffing nose tackle.
Most likely the Rams end up getting one or two guys and then add a few second-level players, but these three should be at the top of the list.
The Draft – move back?
The offseason is just getting started. We still have the 2018 NFL Draft. The team doesn’t have a ton of picks, but they will have some versatility.
The Rams have two extra sixth round picks that they can trade away if they want an extra 4th or 5th round pick. They can also use their position late in the first round to trade back to pick up an extra second or third.
The Falcons moved up from 31 to 26 last year and gave Seattle a third and a seventh in return. The Seahawks got the same value the year before trading down to 31 from 26 with Denver.
In 2015, Detroit moved back from 23 from 28 in exchange for two fifth round picks and a player.
The Rams have the opportunity to get value for that first round pick. It will all be a matter of finding the right deal.
Les Snead is a general manager that likes to move around in the draft. It is likely that the Rams would end up with at least an extra third round pick or an extra fourth or fifth round pick.
The Draft – Who to take
Drafting a cornerback is an absolute necessity. The Rams will also be looking at drafting a center as well as an offensive tackle that they can develop behind Andrew Whitworth.
Taking my seven round mock with no trades with some adjustments due to my mock free agency, here’s what I would like to see from the Rams come April.
1. CB Mike Hughes
3. EDGE Uchenna Nwosu
4. OT Brian O’Neill
5. ILB Micah Kiser
6. CB MJ Stewart
6. TE Tyler Conklin
6. WR Korey Robinson
This draft would fill a lot of needs for the Rams. They get their cornerback and edge rusher as well as a tackle they can develop in the first four rounds. In rounds five through seven, they get depth and high upside guys.
Looking at the Additions
I have the Rams signing Rex Burkhead, Star Lotulelei, and center Weston Richburg in free agency. This would give the Rams a flex weapon on offense, a run-stuffer on the defensive line, and a future at center that they missed out on last year.
In the draft, adding a guy like Mike Hughes at cornerback replaces Trumaine Johnson while Nwosu gives you a high ceiling as a pass rusher. On Day 3, Micah Kiser is another thumper at inside linebacker while Stewart is a solid nickel guy. Conklin and Robinson give you developmental guys that will compete in camp.
This wouldn’t be a terrible offseason for the Rams. It’s going to be difficult replacing guys like Trumaine Johnson and John Sullivan with young players. This may end up being a transition year. However, this sets them up well for the future, which is what the Rams have always been about.
Blaine Grisak is a staff writer for Rams Talk. He currently works in athletic communications for the University of Pennsylvania. For more of his opinions, follow him on Twitter here.