The Rams said goodbye to defensive lineman Michael Brockers, might be doing the same with pending free agent linebacker Cory Littleton and pending free-agent edge rusher Dante Fowler, and are exploring trading star running back Todd Gurley.
That, as anticipated, all became clear Monday as the NFL’s so-called “legal tampering” period began in advance of the start of the new league year and free agency on Wednesday.
The Rams started the day by letting the deadline pass for applying the franchise tag to Littleton or Fowler. That enabled the players to remain among the team’s 10 pending unrestricted free agents, including offensive linemen Andrew Whitworth and Austin Blythe.
Late in the day, Brockers reportedly agreed to a three-year, $30-million deal with the Baltimore Ravens, ending his eight-year tenure with the team that selected him 14th in the 2012 draft.
In between, the Rams were part of the daylong buzz surrounding Gurley’s possible fit into trade scenarios, and major deals executed by other NFC West teams that could affect the competitive landscape in what was already one of the toughest divisions.
The Arizona Cardinals traded for star receiver DeAndre Hopkins, giving second-year quarterback Kyler Murray another high-profile target to go along with future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald. The San Francisco 49ers signed defensive lineman Arik Armstead to a long-term deal and then traded defensive lineman DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts for the 13th pick in the draft. Buckner then agreed to a $21-million-a-year contract that could make it too pricey for the Seattle Seahawks to re-sign edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney.
And there is still one day to go before deals can be made official.
Gurley’s contract — he signed a $60-million extension before the 2018 season — and a balky left knee that diminished his performance have made him a trade candidate. Receiver Brandin Cooks also is regarded a potential trade piece because of his big contract.
The Rams, with about $15 million in salary-cap space, according to overthecap.com, are feeling the weight of massive deals given to four players since the end of the 2017 season. Gurley received $45 million in guarantees, Cooks $50 million, quarterback Jared Goff $110 million and defensive lineman Aaron Donald $87 million. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey, acquired last year in a midseason trade, also is in line for a record-breaking deal.
Since the end of last season, the Rams had not dismissed the possibility that they would shop Gurley. He has a salary-cap number of $17.3 million for the upcoming season and is due about $10.5 million in injury guarantees this week, according to overthecap.com.
Late in the 2018 season, the three-time Pro Bowl selection was sidelined and slowed by a left knee injury. Last season, coach Sean McVay attempted to manage Gurley’s workload by utilizing backups Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson. The strategy, combined with injuries suffered by the offensive line, did not work. A year after playing in the Super Bowl, the Rams finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs for the first time in McVay’s three seasons.
A few days after the season finale, general manager Les Snead did not rule out the possibility of trading Gurley, the 10th pick in the 2015 draft. When asked if any player other than Goff or Donald was off the table in terms of a trade, Snead sidestepped.
“I don’t want to get into that and who is on the table or not because it can be misconstrued in many ways,” he said. “At this point, I’d rather go, hey, let me and our staff sit together and try to come up with the best plan on that.”
At the NFL scouting combine last month, when asked whether any players other than Goff and Donald could be traded, McVay followed Snead’s lead.
The Rams “always explore things — you always listen,” McVay said, adding that, “You’re always trying to upgrade.”
On Monday, Michael Silver of the NFL Network reported that the Rams were shopping Gurley. That sparked speculation from Charles Robinson of Yahoo! Sports that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, for example, could take advantage of cap space to trade for Gurley and boost a pitch for pending free-agent quarterback Tom Brady.
Cooks, 26, has given McVay a speedy deep threat and amassed more than 1,000 yards receiving in 2018, the fourth time he achieved the feat. But he also has suffered multiple concussions, including one in 2018 and two last season.
Cooks is due to earn $12 million in guarantees this season with a salary-cap number of $16.8 million. He is due a $4-million bonus on the third day of the league year.