Starting defensive linebackers
I. ILB Bryce Hager started five games for the LA Rams before his season ended due to injury. Although his contract expired in 2020, the LA Rams did not re-sign him to return this year. He remains a free agent.
II. ILB Cory Littleton was one of the most coveted free agents in the 2020 NFL Free Agency market. As such, he quickly signed on with the Las Vegas Raiders. The Raiders linebacking corps from 2019 needed a lot of help. They added both Littleton and an excellent run stuffer in ILB Nick Kwiatkoski. The Raiders run a 4-3 defensive alignment, which will give Littleton a bit of a learning curve.
Does the team stick with his coverage skills on tight ends, and put him as the strong-side linebacker? Or will the team use him in a pass rush, and give him a weakside role? Or does the team keep him entrenched in the heart of the defense, and assign him as the middle linebacker. However the Raiders plan to use him, they are already celebrating his signing as one of the best in the NFL. It remains to be seen if his play suffers from no longer playing in the shadow of All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald. The Las Vegas Raiders hopes he will be just as effective.
III. OLB Clay Matthews was released from the LA Rams roster as a cap casualty. He played in 13 games for the Rams in 2019 and was quite productive despite it being his 11th NFL season. He recorded 37 tackles, eight quarterback sacks, three defended passes, nine tackles for a loss and 11 QB hits. His production is still among the upper ranks of players at his position, and he will likely be signed to a contender this year. For now, he remains an unsigned free agent.
IV. OLB Dante Fowler Jr. was another sought-after free agent who joins teammate Todd Gurley with the Atlanta Falcons. While the addition of Fowler has been correctly assessed as an upgrade for the Falcons defense, concerns remain that the defense has more work to do next season. Meanwhile, they already have Fowler aiming to break Michael Strahan’s record of 22.5 sacks in a single season. That seems optimistic, as Fowler no longer enjoys the benefit of teammate Aaron Donald to attract double and triple teams from blockers.
I think Fowler will have a good enough season with the Atlanta Falcons. Will he do more than nine sacks? That’s hard to envision with the Falcons defense under such tremendous pressure and now facing not only Drew Brees but also Tom Brady twice a year. That’s a tough schedule for a defense to face.
In the end, it’s a new chapter for the LA Rams. And for 11 starters from the 2019 Rams roster, it is a new chapter as well.