Following an absolute dud of a game to close out their season, the Rams must look to the offseason once again. Whether they have the ammunition to gear up for another Super Bowl run is a story in of itself. However, these are three steps they must to ensure the good of the team.
Convince left tackle Andrew Whitworth to return for one more year
When the Rams signed the veteran offensive lineman away from Cincinnati prior to the 2017 season, few could have expected that Whitworth would be the reason why the Rams would eventually become a juggernaut in the NFC West. Yet the addition of Whitworth and veteran center John Sullivan solidified an offensive line that was one of the league’s worst in 2016. Although, they struggled a bit in protecting quarterback Jared Goff in the Super Bowl, Whitworth was not the issue by any means. Pro Football Focus graded Whitworth at 86.3 this past season, which keeps him near the top of the “best left tackle in the league” discussion. The only real issue with Whitworth is his age. At 37 years old, spending a 14th season in the trenches might not be looking so great right now, especially coming off of a brutal loss in the Super Bowl. Whitworth’s somewhat morbid post game comments, which included the phrase “at the end of the day we are all going to die” suggest that he might be facing the mortality of his playing career.
Whatever the circumstances are right now, GM Les Snead and head coach Sean McVay must do everything in their power to coerce one more year out of the stud left tackle. Without Whitworth keeping Jared Goff upright, the Rams stand no chance in defending their NFC Championship. The absolute best case scenario for Whitworth and the team as a whole would be if Whitworth returned for this season, the Rams drafted his successor in the draft, and Whitworth mentored the rookie into a solid starter at tackle. If Whitworth decides to retire, I don’t even want to imagine what kind of player they would replace him with. With not much cap room and a dearth of draft picks, the Rams are not in the optimal position to bring in a proven tackle. Keeping the pressure off of Goff is going to be the key to the 2019 season for LA, and it starts with the return of their veteran tackle.
Let DL Ndamukong Suh and FS Lamarcus Joyner walk in free agency
When the Rams franchise tagged safety Lamarcus Joyner and signed former all-pro defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh, many labeled their defense as the best in the league. After all, the team also brought in pro bowl corners in Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters. What could possibly go wrong? Well Joyner took a step back, as he graded out with PFF at 73.1, which was still slightly above average, but a far cry from his grade of 90.8 in 2017, including a 94.0 grade in coverage. The regression is a bit concerning, as is the money that the 28 year old safety will likely demand from the team in order to stay. The best move for the Rams would be to let Joyner go, and sign or draft a cheaper, younger option to slot alongside John Johnson.
Another expensive yet disappointing defensive player for the Rams this year was infamous defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Suh was far from the complementary player to DPOY Aaron Donald, that the team had envisioned when they gave him a one year, 14 million dollar deal. Suh had just 4.5 sacks and 4 tackles for loss, not elite numbers by any means. Suh graded out with PFF at 82.5 this past season, a good number but not worth the price tag.
The issue with these two players was mostly that they seemed to lack the high motor and overall motivation that had driven them to previously great seasons. Whether that is due to age, money, or just plain indifference, the Rams need to let these two players go. They simply cannot afford to pay two underachieving players as if they are the best at their position.
Draft EDGE Jaylon Ferguson
Besides Aaron Donald, Samson Ebukam, and occasionally Dante Fowler Jr (a FA this year as well) the Rams did not have as potent of a pass rush as Wade Phillips would have liked. That could all change if they draft Ferguson in this year’s draft, as Ferguson actually broke the NCAA record for career sacks with 45. If Ferguson does not fly up draft boards with a crazy combine or pro day, the Rams should be all over him. Sacks are not easy to accumulate, so even if Ferguson is only used as a designated blitzer, his impact could be profound. He has a long frame and is as quick as he is strong, with a couple years learning from Wade Phillips, Ferguson could be a superstar.