Foundation is Set Now the Rams Must Build on It

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Updated: January 9, 2018

The Rams turnaround season ended on Saturday night with a 26-13 to the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons. The offensively schizophrenic Falcons were able to run the ball down the Rams throat while shutting down the Rams offense with an athletic defense. As upsetting as it is for fans its clear that they have a foundation for success. A year ago the team was in disarray. They were searching for a head coach and were focused on salvaging Jared Goff. Now? The Rams have an incredibly creative offensive coach in Sean McVay who revitalized Goff and running back Todd Gurley. Defensively, Wade Phillips came in and brought a sense of discipline and toughness to an already talented unit. The foundation is there but general manager Les Snead has several issues to address in order to build on it.

  1. Get Out of Tavon Austin’s Deal

For reasons still beyond grasp, Les Snead signed Tavon Austin to a $42 million dollar deal. This was despite the fact that Austin hadn’t developed into anything resembling a number one receiver. He is a luxury item akin to the bone density scanners Will Smith had to sell in “Pursuit of Happyness”. The Rams have $50 million in cap space but need to free up more in order to take care of Aaron Donald and build the rest of their roster. Finding a trade partner (unlikely but doable) or simply cutting Austin could save somewhere between $3-$8 million dollars. This would also free up roster space and playing time for Josh Reynolds and possibly another receiving option.

 2. Pay Aaron Donald Whatever he Wants

Aaron Donald is one of, if not the best defensive player in the league right now. His holdout generated many headlines throughout training camp and some fans foolishly thought he should be traded. After being an absolute monster all season and flourishing under Wade Phillips, Donald proved his worth. Its risky signing any player to a massive deal because it hampers the future. But Donald is more than worth that risk. He’s just entering the prime of his career and should be even better with another year with Wade. Pay the man whatever he demands and figure out the rest later.

3. Use the Draft to Build the Defense

The Rams used the draft last season to rebuild their offense. They drafted Cooper Kupp, Gerald Everett, and Josh Reynolds. They did so without the benefit of a first round pick. This draft should focus on the defense. Yes, the Rams defense was a dominant unit this season but they had some weaknesses. The Falcons were able to run all over the Rams and that starts with the linebacker corps. Connor Barwin turns 32 next season and isn’t a long term option. Robert Quinn came on strong but Mark Barron and Alec Ogletree have struggled against the run. The secondary had a few pleasant surprises like Lamarcus Joyner at safety and rookie safety John Johnson III.

Corner Trumaine Johnson will no longer be franchised so the Rams can either let him walk or try to work out a cap friendly long term extension. He played quite well in Wade’s defense and could actually be the long term solution at corner. Keyvon Webster played well until he ruptured his Achilles tendon. If he can comeback then great but they need to devote draft resources at replenishing the corner back position. That position was the most vulnerable and it reared its head against the Falcons. They could also be a factor in picking up veteran defenders on friendly contracts to fill in the gaps. This would be especially relevant on the defensive line as they need a few more quality pass rushers to help Aaron Donald. The Rams have a first round pick (23rd overall) and could use it to add a blue chip defender.

 4. Figure out What to Do with Sammy Watkins

The Rams traded for Sammy Watkins in August surrendering their 2nd round pick to the Bills. Watkins in was able to stay healthy which was a first for him. He was an expiring contract and the Rams will likely let him hit the open market. They are likely not to get into a bidding war because his health will always be a risk factor. If Watkins doesn’t find a situation that is more financially advantageous and or creates a better situation he could be back. He was a solid deep threat in flashes but the Rams could look elsewhere for a deep threat.

5. Build Depth Along the Offensive Line

Jared Goff and Todd Gurley flourished under a rebuilt offensive line. The problem is that while Roger Saffold and Rob Havenstein are young pieces, Andrew Whitworth and John Sullivan are not. Whitworth turns 36 and Sullivan will turn 33. They will be back this season but beyond that it is highly unlikely they are on the team. Snead needs to find a combination of veteran and young talent to keep Goff and Gurley afloat for the future.

Snead will have to do some cap gymnastics to make a lot of these moves work. Luckily, the cap rules allow for some creative accounting tricks as long as they don’t do anything stupid. The Rams are finally on an upward trajectory and the question remains whether or not they can take the next step.

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