This offseason is becoming all about address changes for the Rams. With the news of the Rams moving back to Los Angeles still fresh in most people’s minds, the official start of the NFL offseason has brought even more news of movement and change.
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It is becoming very apparent that the Rams defense, looked at as the strength of the team going into 2016, may be a bigger question mark heading into the first return season Los Angeles. First, came the news that veterans Chris Long and James Laurinaitis would be released from their contracts and not expected to resign. Next, before free agency was even officially underway, the Rams were already looking at the departure of Janoris Jenkins to the New York Giants and Rodney McLeod to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Given that the Rams indicated at the combine that retaining their defensive backfield was ‘Priority A’, it is easy to see why these moves would make Rams fans think the sky is already falling in Los Angeles.
But it may be a little too early for Los Angeles Rams fans to panic. Both Jenkins and McLeod were key members of the Rams secondary that also provided a certain level of veteran leadership so important for such a young team. But it could also be argued that both players were overpaid, as often is the case in free agency. If the Rams hope to sign Trumaine Johnson to a long-term deal next year, matching a deal to your other starting cornerback worth $62.5 million over 5 years with a signing bonus in the range of $30 million doesn’t make much sense. This is especially true if the front office is confident promising young CB E.J. Gaines will be ready to make a full recovery from the Lisfranc injury suffered last year.
If Gaines is indeed healthy, the loss of McLeod might actually prove to be the bigger blow. His numbers don’t jump off the page. But he had a very solid year last year and, at only 26, he is just entering into his prime years. In addition, there are some real depth issues at the Safety position. Does the organization believe Maurice Alexander is capable of playing an even larger role? Will Cody Davis, recently signed to a new two-year deal according to Myles Simmons, be asked to play bigger role as well?
Most reports indicated that the Los Angeles Rams will not turn to free agency to fill starting spots in their secondary (though acquiring depth is a strong possibility). This leaves the draft. Much talk has been spent on whether the Rams should go QB or WR with their first pick. Is it possible the free agent departures might make secondary an even higher priority than anticipated? If so, players such as William Jackson III out of Houston and Vernon Hargreaves III are both seen as potentially strong picks in that 8 to 20 range.
If 15 is too high in the draft, the Rams do have some added flexibility thanks to the Sam Bradford trade that awarded them an additional second round pick. Kendall Fuller out of Virginia Tech and Mackensie Alexander from Clemson are both seen late first round, early second round talents that might fall to the Rams or be available if they are willing to use one of their picks to move up in the draft. Beyond Cornerback, there are also a number of Safeties with second-round grades such as Jayronn Kearse or Vonn Bell that might be an option for Los Angeles.
It is not just the secondary, however, that has questions. The Losses, along with key free agents within the front seven have created concerns for the rest of the defense as well. Even with potential departures in form of players like Nick Fairley, the defensive line remains a strength for Los Angeles. This is especially the case if Robert Quinn returns healthy next season. The return of Alec Ogletree from injury will vastly improve the linebacker position as well.
To add to the optimism, Josina Anderson of ESPN has recently announced that William Hayes has opted to resign with the Rams on a three-year deal, while Ed Werder of ESPN is reporting that Mark Barron has agreed to a contract that will keep him in LA for the next five years. Both of these moves, along with the return of Quinn and Ogletree make the situation in Los Angeles far more promising when compared to how things might have looked this morning.
Do the signings made by the Rams so far solve all of the team’s problems? Of course not. But the activity at the start of free agency is a perfect example of why fans often panic far too prematurely in this process. Losing key players like Jenkins and McLeod will certainly have an impact on the Rams during the upcoming season. But a more in-depth look at the potential options both through free agency and the draft show that the Rams have options. These options, along with the Rams being smart with their money, should give the team some real opportunities to turn what has initially been a difficult offseason into some very promising.