For the fourth time in as many seasons under head coach Sean McVay, the Los Angeles Rams finished the season with a winning record. While it was a good year for the team, they fell short of the goal of winning the Super Bowl. In order to get there next season, LA will need to answer many key questions surrounding the team.
Between a new QB, starters set to be free agents, and not much draft capital to work with, McVay and general manager Les Snead have their work cut out for them. What are the biggest questions surrounding this team going into the offseason?
1. How does Stafford change the Rams offense?
On January 30th, the Rams acquired Lions QB Matt Stafford in a blockbuster deal, sending QB Jared Goff, two first round picks and a third rounder to Detroit in exchange for the veteran QB. Stafford is an immediate upgrade over Goff, and many pundits agree.
As I write this, the Rams have the third-best odds to win the Super Bowl next year according to Vegas. While that’s exciting to hear as a Rams fan, there’s a reason why games are determined on the field, and not on paper. Will Stafford have the same role Goff did in McVay’s offense, or will his talent allow McVay to be more creative?
With Goff, the Rams had to resort to numerous screens and check downs due to his ability as a passer. With Stafford under center, one would think the playbook becomes a lot more open. The veteran signal caller has one of the best arms in the league, and McVay should now be able to confidently call more deep passes.
2. Will the Rams keep key starters?
The Rams fielded the best defense in the league last season, but it will prove difficult to keep the band together. Cornerbacks Darious Williams and Troy Hill, safety John Johnson III and edge rusher Leonard Floyd are all set to be free agents this offseason.
All four started and played vital roles for Brandon Staley’s defensive unit. Williams is a restricted free agent, so it’s probable he stays. As for the rest of the group, they are set to be unrestricted free agents, along with backup defensive lineman Morgan Fox. A full list of pending free agents can be found here.
LA would surely like to bring back Floyd, Hill and Johnson, but they will command a large price tag after productive seasons, and the Rams simply may not be able to afford them. It might be time for young players like cornerback David Long, safety Terrell Burgess, and edge rusher Terrell Lewis to step up.
Additionally, center Austin Blythe, tight end Gerald Everett and wide receiver Josh Reynolds are pending free agents on the offensive side of the ball. Everett and Reynolds are likely to find new homes, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Blythe returns to LA.
3. How can the team squeeze value out of their limited draft capital?
While acquiring Stafford and Jalen Ramsey are exciting moves, they came at a cost: The Rams will be without a first-round pick until 2024. Not only will LA not have a first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, but they’ll also be without a third rounder (Stafford trade), their fourth rounder (Ramsey trade), and their fifth rounder (Corbett trade).
This leaves the team with just six total draft choices when you factor in the compensatory picks for losing Fowler and Littleton last year. Snead and McVay are no strangers to the draft process, however. Without a first-round pick since 2017, they have still managed to put together some nice draft classes.
Since McVay joined the organization, the Rams have drafted Everett, Cooper Kupp, Reynolds, Johnson, Kiser, John Franklin-Meyers, Joe Noteboom, Taylor Rapp, Darrell Henderson, Bobby Evans, Cam Akers, and Jordan Fuller, to name a few. All of them have made key contributions to the team at some point. Snead and McVay will need to work some more magic with the few draft choices they have.
4. Will the defense be able to reclaim its crown?
The Rams sported the best defense in the league this season, led by superstars Donald and Ramsey. However, with four starting members set to be free agents, can LA remain on top on the defensive side of the ball?
In 2020, Johnson led the team in tackles. Hill scored three defensive touchdowns. Floyd recorded 10.5 sacks. Williams had 4 interceptions, as well as a pick-six in the playoffs against Seattle. If any or all of these players walk, it will be tough to replace them.
The last team to boast the No. 1 defense in consecutive years was the Seattle Seahawks from 2012-2014. LA is capable of achieving this feat because the two most important players (Donald and Ramsey) are returning, but the pieces surrounding them need to fit right.
While they are tight on money right now, there are some very good free agents that could potentially replace their losses. Justin Simmons or Marcus Williams would be a great replacement for Johnson III, while Bud Dupree or Melvin Ingram could fill in for Floyd.
The loss of Brandon Staley to their cross-city rivals doesn’t bode well for the Rams, either. Raheem Morris has a solid track record, however, and he should be able to produce a fine defensive unit. It’s worth noting that Morris typically runs a 4-3 scheme, something the Rams haven’t done since 2016.
5. Is it Super Bowl or bust for the Rams?
The Rams have posted four straight winning seasons, with three trips to the playoffs. However, they’ve yet to win the most important game. With all the hype and expectations surrounding this team, is a Super Bowl victory the only thing that would make next season a success?
As mentioned earlier, LA has the third-best odds to win the Super Bowl at the moment, only behind Kansas City and Tampa Bay. The Rams will have a 2-3 year window but it would be a bit concerning if the season ended by the divisional round again. With a top-10 quarterback, two of the best defensive players in the league, and a very good coach, there’s no reason why the Rams shouldn’t at least be in the conference championship game next year. That being said, this four-year stretch is far more enjoyable than anything in recent memory from this franchise, so any form of success will be great.