After losing to the Atlanta Falcons in the playoffs, the Los Angeles Rams have turned their focus to NFL free agency and the NFL Draft. While the Rams are still one of the youngest teams in the league, key contributors will be free agents.
Wide Receiver Sammy Watkins will be a free agent and is a candidate for the franchise tag. This will give the Rams another year to determine if they want to pay Watkins top-tier receiver money. While it is likely Watkins receives the tag, this will take up a large portion of the Rams cap space.
Defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman will be a free agent. Robey-Coleman showed off his versatility this year as he played in the slot, as well as covering receivers outside. Robey-Coleman will be made a priority by Snead and McVay, however he will be looking for a lucrative contract.
Shutdown cornerback Trumaine Johnson will also be a free agent. General Manager Les Snead and the front office need to decide if they are willing to pay the massive salary Johnson will demand. Johnson is coming off of his second franchise tag. While he is the Rams best defensive back, his large contract will limit who else Los Angeles can bring back in free agency.
Johnson isn’t the only key defensive player heading to free agency. Lamarcus Joyner who was often considered the Rams second best defensive back (behind Johnson) will also be a free agent. While the Rams will assuredly try to bring both back, they will both demand large salaries.
Joyner thrived in Wade Phillips 3-4 defensive scheme. While Joyner thrived, other players did not. LB’s Robert Quinn and Mark Barron could be cap casualties. While Quinn played very well down the stretch, the Rams would save $11 million is they cut the injury prone pass rusher. Mark Barron received a new contract last year after playing very well in Jeff Fisher’s 4-3 defense. However, Barron may not be big enough to be as effective in Phillip’s 3-4 defense as linebackers need to be bigger in this defensive scheme.
Cutting these two players would create holes at the linebacker position but would create more cap space to sign Aaron Donald to a new contract. Donald is arguably the best player in the NFL. He doesn’t get the attention he deserves simply because he is a defensive tackle. However, he had more pressures than anyone else in the NFL this year and had 11 sacks in 14 regular season games. As a defensive tackle. He is looking to become the highest paid defensive player and the league and frankly, he deserves to be.
The NFL draft will probably be used to find replacements in the secondary. In the first round the Rams pick 23rd. A couple of players that have commonly been linked to the Rams are cornerbacks Denzel Ward of Ohio State and Josh Jackson from Iowa. While both are excellent defenders, they are very different physically.
Josh Jackson is 6’1” who uses his length to his advantage and plays the run well. He’s a physical corner who isn’t afraid to fight through blocks and is also a good blitzer. Jackson is always looking for the ball and has shown his ball skills this year. However, due to how tall he is, Jackson struggles to stay low and flip his hips when covering receivers.
Denzel Ward isn’t as tall as Jackson but makes up for it with his athleticism. He is very fluid and understands how to use his athleticism to bate a quarterback into making a dangerous throw. Ward is an aggressive competitor who isn’t afraid of any receiver. However, Ward still needs to develop his frame as he isn’t as strong as he could be. He also struggles to fight off blockers and to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage.
Clearly the Rams will have their work cut out for them this offseason and if this season was any indication, the front office knows what they’re doing.