A young coach who led the Rams to the playoffs is in place. So is the franchise quarterback who made an exponential leap in his second season.
With Sean McVay and Jared Goff as building blocks, and a solid defense and a trio of All-Pro special teams players, the Rams appear positioned to contend for the postseason, and possibly the Super Bowl, for years to come.
But there are looming issues as the Rams enter the offseason. Some will be addressed quickly. Others could take months to resolve. Here are some of the biggest questions:
When will defensive lineman Aaron Donald get a new contract?
Donald earned his fourth Pro Bowl selection in four seasons while making a bargain-basement $1.8 million. He is due to earn about $6.9 million in 2018.
Donald sat out offseason workouts and training camp because he wants a new deal. He did not play in the first game, was held out of the regular-season finale, and still finished with 11 sacks.
With players such as star running back Todd Gurley now — and Goff eventually — coming into a similar situation, the Rams were not going to set a precedent and immediately reward Donald for missing camp. Linebacker Alec Ogletree showed up, and in October signed a four-year, $42-million extension.
Donald is seeking a much larger deal, one that will make him the league’s highest-paid defensive player. Oakland Raiders end Khalil Mack, the fifth pick in the 2014 draft, is due to earn about $13.9 million in the fifth and final year of his rookie contract. So Donald, the 13th pick in 2014, and his representatives could wait to see what kind of extension Mack gets before agreeing to a deal with the Rams.
Which other players are priorities?
Safety Lamarcus Joyner is set to become a free agent after earning $1.1 million in the final year of his rookie contract. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips likes Joyner’s versatility so the Rams are working to keep him.
Receiver Sammy Watkins also is a pending free agent. Watkins’ durability was a question mark when the Rams traded for him during training camp but he did not miss a game and led them in touchdown catches (eight). Watkins is a candidate for the transition or franchise tag, which would give the Rams another year to assess his value before deciding to offer him a long-term deal.
Cornerback Trumaine Johnson just completed a second season with the franchise tag, earning about a combined $31 million in 2016 and 2017. He has said that he would like to return but knows it’s a business.
Cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman, linebacker Connor Barwin and center John Sullivan are among other pending free agents.
What about Tavon Austin?
Austin signed a four-year, $42-million extension before the 2016 season.
But Pharoh Cooper supplanted Austin as the punt returner — and earned Pro Bowl and All-Pro recognition —while McVay utilized Austin mostly as a decoy receiver. Austin is scheduled to make $3 million next season but has a salary-cap hit of $8 million. So the Rams must decide if he is worth keeping.
Linebacker Robert Quinn is due to earn about $10.3 million in 2018. After two injury-plagued seasons, there were questions about his durability. But Quinn started every game except the season finale and had 8½ sacks. He also had a sack in the playoff loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
Linebacker Mark Barron is scheduled to make $7 million but has a cap hit of $10 million. Despite several injuries, Barron played well.
What will the Rams look for in free agency and the draft?
Other than starting quarterback and running back, no positions are necessarily off the table, though it will depend on what decisions the Rams make about some of the aforementioned players.
The Rams could focus on cornerbacks, edge rushers, linebackers, centers and offensive tackles.
Finding a tackle to learn at the elbow of veteran Andrew Whitworth is on the Rams’ wish list, along with finding a potential long-term replacement for Sullivan.
Will the coaching staff remain intact?
Quarterbacks coach Greg Olson is apparently leaving to become offensive coordinator on Jon Gruden’s Raiders staff. That means Goff could have his third quarterbacks coach in three seasons.
McVay said offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, the Falcons’ quarterbacks coach in 2015 and 2016, would continue to work closely with quarterbacks. If McVay promotes from within, he could consider assistant wide receivers coach Zac Taylor, who was a quarterbacks coach for the Miami Dolphins and offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the University of Cincinnati.