The Los Angeles Rams have made five notable moves when it comes to free agency in 2020. The first three were allowing Michael Brockers, Cory Littleton and Dante Fowler Jr. to walk and the last two were signing Leonard Floyd and A’Shawn Robinson to contract.
It has been the defensive side of the ball that has made headlines, and those moves don’t even account for the team not picking up the option for Nickell Robey-Coleman.
What makes these moves curious is that all four of these players have been part of the core group on the Rams defense.
Brockers has been a stalwart on the defensive line since he was drafted in the 1st round in 2012 by then HC Jeff Fisher.
Littleton has played in the middle of the defense over the last two seasons as he became one of the premier linebackers in the NFL.
Fowler disrupted Brees enough to cause what would be the game-winning interception against the Saints in the NFC Championship game before racking up 12.5 sacks in 2019 — the most by a player not named Aaron Donald since Robert Quinn in 2013.
Robey-Coleman is responsible for the most memorable Rams play since “The Tackle”. The Bears were in the top-10 in the NFL in nickel defense personnel frequency in both 2017 and 2018 and the Rams just got rid of one of the best nickel cornerbacks in the NFL.
These are players that have been with the Rams through the big moments and now they’re gone.
Over the offseason, the Rams decided not to bring back Wade Phillips and instead hire a younger, more innovative defensive coordinator in Brandon Staley. Therefore it only makes sense that he would want to bring in his guys to implement his system.
What is concerning, however, is the turnover and how quickly it’s happening. Staley has been in Los Angeles for a little over a month, and seemingly already has a huge voice in terms of personnel.
EDGE Leonard Floyd
The Rams seemingly made an effort to bring back Fowler, but in the end, he chose to go to Atlanta over remaining in Los Angeles. Floyd is a player that Staley is familiar with as he was Floyd’s position coach with the Bears.
What is concerning here is that the Rams paid up to $13M for a player that has seven sacks over the last two years while playing next to the second-best defensive player in the league in Khalil Mack. Floyd recorded 27 Tackles, three sacks, and zero forced fumbles last season. It’s hard to see how he warrants the contract he got and it’s fair to question if he’s a difference-maker. He had one-less quarterback pressure and one less quarterback knockdown than pressures and QB hits than Yannick Ngakoue, but sacks still matter.
Floyd does excel more in coverage than Fowler and is better against the run, but it still seemed like an overpay for an edge player that was outright cut while on his rookie contract. He’s a very good linebacker, but not a great pass-rusher. For what the Rams paid for Floyd, they could have paid to keep Littleton.
At 27-years old though, Floyd is still young and will be exactly the type of player that Staley needs to help implement his defense. If he plays well while not in the shadow of Mack, Floyd may just turn his deal into a multi-year deal as Fowler did.
DL A’Shawn Robinson
The Rams lost Michael Brockers which came as a mild surprise as someone who was one of the longest-tenured players on the team. This is, however, another player that Staley is familiar with as Robinson played with the Lions while Staley was coaching the Bears. Staley got a first-hand look at Robinson twice a year.
Lining up the 330lb. A'Shawn Robinson this far out is wild but I'll be damned if he didn't stab & forklift his way to a sack w/Romero Okwara's bullrush meeting him in the middle – pic.twitter.com/uh3PDNebd5
— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) September 18, 2019
Over the past three seasons, the Rams have been struggling to transition to a 3-4 defense. While the defense has been fine and excelled at times, not having the right personnel has hurt them. Robinson is perfect fit to play defensive end in the 3-4 scheme.
Like Floyd, Robinson brings a physicality and expertise in stopping the run. The former Lions defensive lineman will step right into Brockers’ spot as the 3-technique or 3-4 defensive end while giving the defense a big body upfront.
McVay has always been a head coach that allows his staff to have control over their respective areas. With Phillips, McVay could be seen on the bench while the defense was on the field. This was a sign of trust. However, it seems fair to question this method when Staley has yet to earn that level of pull. He has never been a defensive coordinator at the NFL level.
Floyd and Robinson are both solid starters and will help Staley run his defense. It just seems fair to question the amount of say that he seems to be getting this early into his tenure. With new coaching, turnover is inevitable. However, the Rams will have new starters in at least one-third of the positions on defense.
Fans will find out soon enough if these moves are the right ones. For now, Brandon Staley is a defensive coordinator in a perfect situation – having full control over his defense and its personnel. Only time will tell if giving the coach that’s been in Thousand Oaks for a month was the right call.