LA Rams McVay names Whitworth and Fowler as priorities in free agency

(Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images) /

The LA Rams face a merciless 2020 free agency market. But head coach Sean McVay named LT Andrew Whitworth and OLB Dante Fowler Jr. as players to re-sign.

The LA Rams risk losing a lot of NFL talent this off-season.  With ten unrestricted free agents simultaneously testing the NFL Free Agency market, the Rams simply do not have sufficient salary cap to effectively negotiate to re-sign all the team’s players.

Per, the February 25, 2020 estimate for the LA Rams available salary-cap space is $23.2 million.  Putting aside a $5 million buffer for the NFL Draft rookies, the Rams have on or about $18 million to work with.  That’s hardly enough to retain ten free agents. In fact, it’s not enough to keep five players on the payroll for 2020.

So the team must realistically prioritize their free agents, both on the need of the team and the likelihood of affordability.  At the press conference scheduled today at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine, head coach Sean McVay named his two priority free agents: left tackle Andrew Whitworth and outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr.

Both Whitworth and Fowler are no surprises as the top free-agent priorities for the LA Rams.  Left tackle Andrew Whitworth was the only offensive lineman to play all 16 games for the Rams in 2019, and he had the best grade from Pro Football Focus of any Rams offensive lineman. Beyond that, the Rams simply do not currently have his successor identified on the roster right now.

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For defense, new defensive coordinator Brandon Staley knows the value of the edge rusher, having worked with Von Miller and Khalil Mack. In his defensive scheme, the edge rusher is the critical cog in the wheel. Pressuring the passer eliminates long pass plays, forcing quarterbacks to throw before they are truly ready to do so.

Of course, McVay was not asked about ILB Cory Littleton, nor about defensive end Michael Brockers. Fowler alone would cost the LA Rams $16.26 million with a franchise tag designation. The Rams would likely need to get about $4-5 million at a minimum to bring Whitworth back for one more season. This free agency market will truly test the ability of the Rams’ front office to navigate the nightmare of contracts already in place.

So the Rams quickly exhaust funds in 2020 without some significant steps to free up salary-cap space. Keep in mind that a great deal of cap space can be freed up with no impact on the players’ contracted amounts. The secret is changing roster bonuses and 2020 salary into signing bonuses, which then change for all impacting 2020 and instead are spread out over the remaining life of the contract.

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The LA Rams have a lot of work to do this off-season. That remains the main reason why the coaching staff is not attending the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine. They are tasked with building a winner with limited salary and picks.