Rams’ free-agency foray likely to target receivers and offensive linemen
The Rams mollified the fan base last week by unveiling a retro-style home uniform.
There won’t be many cheers at the Coliseum next season if they don’t upgrade the players who will be wearing them.
Especially receivers and offensive linemen.
Those are expected to be the Rams’ main areas of focus this week when NFL free agency begins.
The Rams must find players to complement and protect quarterback Jared Goff, the No. 1 pick in last year’s draft, and improve what has ranked as the NFL’s worst offense for two consecutive seasons.
“There’s a lot of things that we’re looking to do moving forward where it’s figuring out what do our players do best?” Coach Sean McVay said. “And then there’s also going to players we’ll acquire in free agency and the draft that are going to try to help that process of becoming a good offense.”
The Rams last August signed receiver Tavon Austin to a four-year $42-million extension. They are expected to let Kenny Britt, who had a 1,000-yard season in 2016, sign with another team.
General Manager Les Snead said the Rams have studied available receivers for McVay’s offense.
“We’re confident that we know that market and who, in that market, fits Sean the most,” Snead said, adding, “We’re confident we’re prepared to test that market, and that we’re prepared to test the market in the draft as well.
“We know we want to get better on offense, that includes wide receivers and other positions as well.”
The NFL set the 2017 salary cap at $167 million. That Rams have about $40 million in cap space, but nearly $17 million is expected to go to cornerback Trumaine Johnson if he signs a one-year franchise tender.
On Tuesday, the 48-hour period known as the “legal tampering” begins. Representatives for free agents can negotiate with teams but not sign contracts. Players can start signing contracts Thursday.
Britt is among eight Rams player who will be unrestricted free agents, including safety T.J. McDonald.
“It’s a big-picture map,” Snead said. “Where does T.J. fit? Do you need something else instead of him? Things like that. That’s what we’re working through now.”
Here is a look at some of the players might be considering as free agents:
Alshon Jeffery, Vincent Jackson, DeSean Jackson, Brandon Marshall and Terrelle Pryor are among the marquee names available, but the Rams are not likely to go that route.
Jackson and Pierre Garcon thrived last season with McVay as the Washington Redskins’ offensive coordinator. Jackson played at Long Beach Poly High, but a homecoming is not expected because Austin is already in place as a player that could potentially fill that role. Garcon, however, could be the Rams’ main target after catching 79 passes for 1,041 yards and three touchdowns last season.
Former USC receiver Robert Woods, who played his first four NFL seasons with the Buffalo Bills, is among other receivers on the market.
The Rams won’t make a determination about tackle Greg Robinson’s status until offensive line coach Aaron Kromer works with him during organized-team activities during spring.
So the most pressing issue is finding a center who can help protect Goff, who was sacked 26 times in seven games.
Veteran Nick Mangold has the resume, but at 33 probably not the health. Green Bay’s JC Tretter, at 26, could grow with Goff. Cincinnati’s Andrew Whitworth, Baltimore’ s Ricky Wagner, Detroit’s Riley Reiff and Minnesota’s Matt Kalil, who played at USC, are among available tackles. Cincinnati’s Kevin Zeitler, Green Bay’s T.J. Lang and Dallas’ Ronald Leary are among available guards.
Veteran Lance Kendricks and second-year pros Tyler Higbee and Temarrick Hemingway are on the roster. The Rams recently signed 6-foot-7 Travis Wilson, a former Utah quarterback, as a tight end.
Martellus Bennett, who helped the New England Patriots win a Super Bowl title, is among the free-agent tight ends. Indianapolis’ Jack Doyle, former Ram Jared Cook and Miami’s Dion Sims are among others available.
The Rams are switching from a 4-3 to 3-4 under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. That is not as drastic as it appears because in the pass-happy NFL defenses are often in five-defensive- back alignments.
Still, the Rams are thin at linebacker. Alec Ogletree and Mark Barron are expected to fill roles on the inside so the free-agent search will be focused on players who can play outside and rush.
Green Bay’s Nick Perry, Houston’s John Simon and Denver’s DeMarcus Ware are among the outside linebackers about to hit the market. Ware, 34, played for Phillips in Dallas and Denver.
With nearly $17 million earmarked for Johnson, the Rams are not expected to spend heavily, or perhaps at all, for another free-agent cornerback.
And this is a draft deep in cornerbacks.
So free agents such as Houston’s A.J. Bouye, Buffalo’s Stephon Gilmore and New England’s Logan Ryan are most likely not in the mix with the Rams.
With Phillips having assessed the roster, and the inability of teams to get onto the field with their players until April, this will be interesting to watch.
If the Rams let McDonald sign elsewhere, are they prepared to go into the season with Maurice Alexander and Cody Davis as the top safeties?
Arizona’s Tony Jefferson is probably too expensive for the Rams, but perhaps they will take a look at players such as Arizona’s D.J. Swearinger, Jacksonville’s Johnathan Cyprien or Dallas’ Barry Church.
More likely, they will look to the draft.
Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein
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