The Los Angeles Rams are in a tough position when it comes to the signing (and re-signing) of free agents this offseason. Quite possibly the most questioned position heading into this offseason is the Rams’ linebacking core. More than one key starter could be playing his snaps somewhere else this time next year, and that could mean a whole lot of change is coming to the Rams’ defensive front lines.
Contract: Current Unrestricted Free Agent
Cory Littleton had his best professional season this past year, and that can’t spell good things for the Rams contract-wise. Littleton finished his 2019 campaign with 134 total tackles and 78 solos while recovering two fumbles and intercepting two passes. The ball just finds him. Contract-wise, Littleton looks to be in for a payday that should be in the area of $16.5 million-per-year, good for the third-highest paid linebacker in the league.
He would only trail Seattle’s Bobby Wagner and the Jets’ C.J. Mosely in that department. In terms of the overall contract value, Littleton could be looking at north of $75 million, which Mosley received last offseason with his five-year deal in New York.
Littleton won’t be getting paid just because of market inflation and the NFL cap number infinitely rising; rather, the home-grown former undrafted free agent and special-teamer has become one of the best in the game at his position. Earning a 78.9 PFF grade, Littleton was a top-performer on the 2019 Rams defense (although he was snubbed for the Pro Bowl). His tackle numbers and apparent magnetic superpowers aside, Littleton has grown and flourished in Los Angeles, so the Rams keeping him around should be a priority (but will of course be bank-breaking).
Contract Status: LA Rams through 2020
Travin Howard never became a household name for the Los Angeles Rams. How was he supposed to? Howard’s highest snap total in a game this past season was 33 in a game versus the Cardinals: he played in half the game. Howard had a total of 16 total tackles this season and he is getting paid $585,000 for the next season in total, so he isn’t costing the Rams much to keep around.
Howard, if not for his placement behind the physical mountain of Cory Littleton, would have gotten more game time and he was one of two bodies behind the starting inside linebackers. He was a part of the confusing linebacker carousel that went into motion this past season (due to injuries to ILB’s Micah Kiser and Bryce Hager), and the same carousel that gave Troy Reeder his starting spot.
Contract Status: LA Rams through 2021
Troy Reeder, the other starting inside linebacker at this past season’s end. Reeder came into 2019 unknown and already jaded in most Rams fans’ eyes. Reeder, on first look, doesn’t fit the bill as an NFL starting linebacker. He is a little slower than the average NFL athlete and he has gotten his ankles broken many a time, but that doesn’t make him below-average. Reeder, for the 2019 season, forced two fumbles and recorded 53 total tackles while starting in half of the Rams’ games.
As the linebacking core came into 2019 as the weakest unit on that side of the ball, Reeder and Littleton took care of business as majority starters. As the season progressed, the linebackers were rarely the reason for the defensive collapse. For the most part, Reeder did his part, and because of his absurdly cheap contract, he should be back next year.
Contract Status: LA Rams through 2021
Kenny Young is a confusing player. Or was he just not handled right? After the infamous Marcus Peters trade that the Rams made mid-season, Kenny Young seemed to be a crutch that many fans used to explain that trade. Young, the 25-year-old former rotation player for Baltimore, played an astounding ZERO snaps for a Rams team that needed linebacker depth at times. He was inactive for a lot of games as a Ram, even after being considered a key cog in that Peters trade.
Young is under contract for the next two years for under $800,000 each year. Much like Troy Reeder and Travin Howard, he is another body that makes as close to the NFL minimum as you can.
If the Rams want to feature him, he can be a key backup for a team that needs the depth at linebacker. Young started three games for the Ravens this year, making 13 tackles and hitting the opposing quarterback twice.
Contract Status: Current UFA
Bryce Hager could be a huge loss for the Los Angeles Rams, especially on special teams. If the Rams are to pay Cory Littleton, Hager is someone they should want back. Whether it be on a deal to become the second starter at inside linebacker or a deal to slide in as an immediate backup/special teams ace, Hager should be back in horns.
After Kiser went down last preseason with a season-ending injury, Hager was chosen to start over Travin Howard and Troy Reeder. He then played significant snaps until his own season was ended in week 6.
Finishing his short year with ten total tackles, Hager shouldn’t be on the books for too much heading into the 2020 season.
POTENTIAL OUTSIDE FREE AGENT SIGNINGS:
JOE SCHOBERT, Cleveland Browns
While hoping for Joe Schobert in LA isn’t exactly logical thinking, if the Rams really want to solidify the middle of their defense Schobert would be an outstanding signing. Finishing his year with 133 total tackles, 2 sacks, and 4 quarterback hits, Schobert put on a show on an otherwise disappointing Browns team.
Schobert should command a hefty payday (upwards of $9 million-per-year) and if the Rams are willing to pay that they will be set up well. Schobert missed only 10 percent of his tackles this past season.
KEVIN MINTER, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Rams are going to need depth at inside linebacker. Two of last season’s starters are free agents (Littleton and Hager) and if the Rams lock them up they’ll need quality depth.
This is where Kevin Minter comes into play. Minter finished his 2019 with nearly 30 tackles while only starting two games the entire year. He had two games with over five tackles when he started. Minter can be another quality player that can fill in when the injury bug comes around.
KYLE VAN NOY, New England Patriots
Kyle Van Noy, classified as an inside linebacker by Spotrac, finished his year with 56 tackles and 6.5 sacks. Van Noy should be getting a middle-tier payday this offseason if the Patriots decide to let him walk. The Rams should jump if his price tag is not significant. KVN is another multi-use weapon that can be used nicely alongside Cory Littleton shall he return.
Van Noy starting with three-to-four linebackers behind him and Littleton could be as close to a perfect scenario for that position this offseason. Van Noy was used as a blitzer 116 times and only missed nine percent of his tackles in 2019. His play was impressive, and with the Pats looking worse than usual Van Noy could be on his way out.