The NFL offseason is usually crazy and full of surprises, some that we can see coming and some that we can’t. The Los Angeles Rams have made all kinds of bold moves with Les Snead as the GM from trading for Marcus Peters to signing Ndamukong Suh. The added talent in the NFC West has forced the Rams to be even more bold in their offseason than ever before. The Cardinals, Seahawks, and (defending NFC Champion) 49ers all project to be formidable teams in 2020 that are capable of making a serious playoff run. All things considered, 2020 seems to be a turning point for the Rams as a franchise. Let’s dive into the moves they made, the moves they didn’t, and why they went about their offseason the way they did.
Although I think every Los Angeles Rams fan understands why Todd Gurley was cut, it doesn’t make it any less shocking. As the workhorse back for the Rams, Gurley was instrumental in Jared Goff’s development and in the 2018 season he was widely considered one of the best players in the entire league. Many believed he might be traded based on his nagging knee issues and his reduced role in the 2019 offense. The dead cap hit of $20.2M across the next two seasons will hurt, but Gurley’s knee problems are a major concern and the Rams were clearly concerned that he’s not the same guy anymore.
Clay Matthews (PFF N/A)
The Los Angeles Rams brought Matthews in for only the 2019 season and based on expectations he did fairly well. His 8 sacks this season were the most he has had since 2014. HIs age is starting to show and the Rams don’t really need an aging OLB, though. Cutting Matthews makes a lot of sense, and his dead cap hit is only $2M.
Brandin Cooks (68.1- 63rd among WR)
This is a move most could’ve seen coming. The Los Angeles Rams traded Brandin Cooks to the Houston Texans for a second round pick (#57) in the 2020 draft, with the Rams also sending Houston a 2022 4th round pick. It’s remarkable that the Rams were able to get Houston to take on the remaining 4 years of Cooks’ massive 5 year/$81M deal. After a stellar 2018 campaign, Cooks struggled in 2019, mustering under 600 yards and only 2 TDs because of nagging injuries. The elite talent and speed are still there, but the consistency is not. His dead cap hit of $21.8M is the highest dead cap hit ever recorded. Therefore, the Rams made a poor decision in extending Cooks over paying Rodger Saffold, and they are paying the full price for that decision right now.
Read about the Texans side of the Brandin Cooks deal HERE
Lost in FA:
Cory Littleton (78.9- 8th among LB)
Littleton was one of the premier free agent linebackers available after his breakout 2018 and 2019 seasons. He signed with the Raiders on a 3 year, $36M deal. I’m sure Les Snead and company would have loved to keep him, but with the Rams current cap situation it didn’t seem feasible. Littleton’s departure creates a massive hole in the middle of the Rams defense. That MLB spot will need to be addressed in the draft.
Dante Fowler (72.1- 35th among EDGE)
As an edge rusher/OLB in Wade Phillips’ defense, Dante Fowler flashed some of the massive potential that made him a first round selection (third overall) of the Jaguars in 2015. He signed with Atlanta on a 3 year, $48M deal that the Rams simply could not match. Fowler has massive potential as an edge rusher and delivered a signature moment in overtime of the 2019 NFC Championship game in which his pressure of Drew Brees led to an errant pass that was intercepted. His production will be difficult to replace for the Rams, but the price tag on Fowler was simply too high and the Rams will have to look elsewhere.
Nickell Robey-Coleman (74.5- 16th among CB)
Robey-Coleman was, by all accounts, one of the better slot cornerbacks in the league while he was with the Rams. His departure is somewhat shocking. Therefore, given LA’s lack of depth at corner and the single year, $1.35M deal he signed to go to Philadelphia. The coaches really like what David Long Jr. has been able to do, but look for some additional depth to be a priority in the draft. Robey-Coleman’s absence puts even more on the plates of Long, Troy Hill, and Jalen Ramsey.
Greg Zuerlein (65.1- 14th among K)
Zuerlein and Punter Johnny Hekker combined to be arguably the best special teams duo in the league for the past few years. His departure to Dallas means the Los Angeles Rams will have to rely on recent ex-CFL signee Lirim Hajrullahu. Zuerlein signed a 3 year, $7.5M contract to continue his career in Dallas. The Rams front office decided that they could no longer justify spending premium money on a kicker after the 2019 season. Special Teams coach John Fassel will join him and the Cowboys in 2020. Zuerlein is beloved by Rams fans because of his many clutch field goals, chief among them the 57-yard overtime game-winner in New Orleans that sent the Rams to Super Bowl 53.
[Others lost in FA: WR Mike Thomas (Bengals), S Marqui Christian (Jets), WR/KR JoJo Natson (Browns)]
A’Shawn Robinson (PFF 56.0- 95th among DI)
Robinson’s addition came at a time where the Rams thought they were going to lose Michael Brockers to Baltimore. He is still valuable depth, and in 2018 he was one of the best interior defenders in the game. Robinson’s 2019 season left something to be desired. His 2018 PFF grade of 89.7 would’ve ranked 4th in 2019, however. Robinson, Brockers, and Aaron Donald form a trio of highly capable interior defenders.
Leonard Floyd (PFF 69.8- 41st among EDGE)
Floyd is a former first-round pick (9th overall) of the Chicago Bears who has ridiculous physical tools but underperformed relative to expectations. He will be the immediate replacement for departed EDGE Dante Fowler. Floyd’s 1 year, $10M contract makes him an easy candidate for an extension if he puts it all together this year and shines. The Rams are hoping all he needed was a change of scenery because his elite ability still flashes at times. He projects to be a key piece of the defense in 2020.
Andrew Whitworth (72.8- 28th among T)
Oh man was this one important. After contemplating retirement, Whitworth returns to his role as Jared Goff’s left tackle on a 3 year, $30M deal that should see him stay with the Rams through his retirement. The Rams OL even with Whitworth is relatively suspect, but without him, they’d be among the worst in the league. Therefore, this is possibly the most important Rams offseason transaction.
Austin Blythe (50.3- 67th among G)
Blythe showed some promise in 2019, leading the Los Angeles Rams to sign him for 1 year and $3.9M. The Rams desperately need offensive line help, and if nothing else Blythe provides necessary depth. As a result, look for the Rams to address Guard and Center early in the draft. Blythe and Noteboom should not be the starting Guards day 1 of the 2020 season. Both need significant development to become consistent starters.
Michael Brockers (74.6- 23rd among DI)
After a whirlwind story that involved Brockers agreeing to terms with the Baltimore Ravens, Brockers is back in LA on a 3 year, $31.5M deal. Brockers and Donald combine yet again to form arguably the best DI duo in the league, as a result. This is a major boost to the new look 2020 Rams defense. In addition, the Rams added A’Shawn Robinson to solidify their front.
The Rams also retained CB Donte Deayon for depth.
Eric Weddle (69.0- 43rd among S)
The Los Angeles Rams picked up Weddle in the 2019 offseason to man the starting free safety role. As a stopgap, he performed admirably in the role before announcing his retirement in February. The Rams have adequate safeties in John Johnson III and Taylor Rapp. It’s doubtful they will chase a coveted one in the draft or free agency. Above all, Weddle was a huge locker room presence, and he will be sorely missed.
The impending extension of Jalen Ramsey is going to send the Rams further into the Salary Cap void. He will want to be the highest-paid CB in the league, which will amount to at least $17M/year. Making the tough decisions to move or let go of key pieces allowed them to escape salary cap hell for the time being. Contract management going forward is imperative if they want to rebuild a team that can compete for Super Bowls, though. The lack of first-round picks in the near future is concerning, but it seems they’re doing what they can. Look for the Rams to try and get OL and Linebacker help early in the draft.
Anand Nanduri is a Rams writer and Salary Cap specialist for Time Skew. Follow him on twitter @NanduriNFL for more content and analysis!