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Rams could be open for business once again at NFL combine

Rams could be open for business once again at NFL combine
Rams general manager Les Snead speaks during a news conference at the NFL scouting combine in March 2018. (Michael Conroy / Associated Press)

By the time general manager Les Snead and coach Sean McVay arrived at the NFL scouting combine last year, the Rams already had pulled off a trade for star cornerback Marcus Peters.

A few days later — with the annual draft evaluation event in full swing -- they traded away linebacker Robert Quinn, and an offseason of frenzied moves kicked into high gear.

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When the dealing was done, the Rams had added several stars to a team that advanced to the Super Bowl.

A year later, the NFL buzz Tuesday was not about a Rams transaction. It concerned the retention of one of their most valuable assets: Veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth announced he would play a 14th season.

“Can’t wait for the opportunity to ride with the boys again!” Whitworth tweeted.

Quarterback Jared Goff was thrilled.

“Big 77 is back...Let’s Goooo,” Goff tweeted.

After the Rams’ Super Bowl defeat to the New England Patriots, Whitworth said he would take some time to evaluate his future, an annual rite for the four-time Pro Bowl player. The 6-foot-7, 335-pound Whitworth will carry a salary-cap number of $16.5 million in the final year of a three-year, $33.75-million contract, according to overthecap.com.

Whitworth’s return answers at least one offseason question regarding the offensive line. Left guard Rodger Saffold, 30, is a pending unrestricted free agent. Center John Sullivan, 33, carries a cap number of $6.25 million, a figure that could make him a candidate for release or restructure.

Tackle Joseph Noteboom and center Brian Allen backed up Whitworth and Sullivan as rookies last season.

This week, as they continue preparations for the April 25-27 draft, the Rams could be eyeing cornerbacks, edge rushers, inside linebackers, defensive linemen and offensive linemen. But no positions will be exempt from evaluation, including a potential backup for Goff. Snead, McVay and a contingent of coaches, scouts and medical personnel are on site as more than 300 prospects will go through physicals, interviews and on-field testing.

Snead and McVay are scheduled for individual news conferences Thursday. They are expected to be questioned about the offense’s Super Bowl flameout, running back Todd Gurley’s left knee, and players they might target in trades, free agency and the draft as they attempt to return to the Super Bowl.

The Rams hold seven draft picks, including one in the first round for the first time since 2016. Three years ago, the Rams selected Goff No. 1 overall, adding him to a core of drafted players that included Gurley, defensive linemen Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers and offensive linemen Saffold and Rob Havenstein.

“We believe here — truly believe — hey, try to use every method available to you to acquire the best players,” Snead said before the Super Bowl. “But we also know that the core of your team’s probably built through the draft.”

Snead, however, is seemingly always open for business, especially at the combine.

It was here, after all, where the groundwork was laid with the Tennessee Titans for the historic deal that enabled the Rams to move up 14 spots and select Goff. It also was the site where the Rams in 2017 expressed interest in trading former cornerback Trumaine Johnson to the New Orleans Saints for receiver Brandin Cooks. The Saints ultimately sent Cooks to the Patriots, who traded him a year later to the Rams for a first-round pick in last year’s draft.

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The Rams hold the 31st pick this year. But if recent history is any indication, Snead probably will be in the market before and on draft day to trade it for more picks.

The Rams also are set to pick at No. 94 (third round), 99 (third-round compensation), 133 (fourth), 168 (fifth), 203 (sixth) and 251 (seventh).

The Rams in the last two years enjoyed success drafting in the later rounds.

Two years ago, they selected tight end Gerald Everett in the second round, receiver Cooper Kupp and safety John Johnson in the third round and receiver Josh Reynolds and linebacker Samson Ebukam in the fourth.

Last year, the Rams took Noteboom in the third round and Allen and defensive lineman John Franklin-Myers in the fourth. Linebackers Micah Kaiser and Justin Lawler, who became special teams stalwarts, were chosen in the fifth and seventh rounds, respectively.

“When you step up to the plate, maybe, in the third, fourth round, sometimes it's best to [say], ‘hey, let's hit a single instead of try to swing for the fences and strike out,’” Snead said, adding, “If we get a role player… then that's fine.”

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