What the Rams’ draft needs are at each position
One major subtraction. No flashy additions. And one welcome home after a brief, ill-fated attempt at a departure.
Coming off their disappointing 9-7 season, the Rams made a bold move on the eve of free agency, cutting high-priced star running back Todd Gurley. They then sat out or dropped out of bidding for premium free agents, including their own.
Defensive lineman Michael Brockers, linebacker Cory Littleton, edge rusher Dante Fowler, cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman and rotational safety Marqui Christian agreed to terms with other teams. The Rams cut veteran linebacker Clay Matthews.
The Rams signed linebacker Leonard Floyd and defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson, and re-signed offensive linemen Andrew Whitworth and Austin Blythe. And on Friday, after a deal with the Baltimore Ravens fell through, the Rams welcomed back Brockers.
Now Rams coach Sean McVay and a remade staff that features three new coordinators can look ahead to a draft that is less than a month away.
Greg Zuerlein’s eight-year tenure with the Rams has ended, the free agent placekicker agreeing to a three-year, $7.5- million deal with the Cowboys.
Here is a positional breakdown of their roster:
Jared Goff is preparing for his fifth NFL season and, barring a restructure of his $134-million extension, carries a salary-cap number of $36 million.
Goff is coming off his worst season as the full-time starter. With Gurley gone, he will be called upon to carry more responsibility.
Backup Blake Bortles served what he planned to be a one-season apprenticeship under McVay, and aims to sign with a team that might offer competition for a starting role.
John Wolford was on the practice squad last season.
With Gurley gone — he signed with the Atlanta Falcons — Malcolm Brown, Darrell Henderson and John Kelly are the remaining running backs.
Brown served as Gurley’s backup for five seasons. Now he has a chance to prove he can start. Henderson flashed on a few plays as a rookie but also contributed to a turnover that helped the San Francisco 49ers defeat the Rams. Henderson is coming off ankle surgery. Kelly, a sixth-round draft pick in 2017, spent most of last season on the practice squad.
The Rams could add a veteran before camp or look for more help in the draft.
Brandin Cooks’ name — and contract — came up in trade talks, but the speedy veteran is still part of a receiving corps that includes Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Josh Reynolds.
Cooks is looking to rebound from a season cut short because of concussions. Woods is entering the fourth year of a five-year contract that — based on his production — continues to be a bargain for the Rams. Kupp and Reynolds are in the final year of their rookie deals.
Rams great and current team employee Eric Dickerson was sitting at his computer when the new logos were unveiled. His reaction mirrored that of many fans.
With four consecutive 100-yard receiving performances near the end of the season, tight end Tyler Higbee emerged as a huge weapon. His status is expected to grow more with Gurley gone — and McVay’s history of utilizing tight ends. Gerald Everett, a second-round pick in 2017, is in the final year of his contract. The Rams also re-signed Johnny Mundt.
Whitworth’s return for a 15th NFL season enables the Rams to put off finding an immediate replacement but they will be looking for prospects. Left guard Joe Noteboom was thought to be the heir apparent but he is returning from knee surgery. So is center Brian Allen.
Blythe has proven versatile as a starting center or guard. Austin Corbett filled in at left guard last season, showing signs of why the Cleveland Browns selected him in the second round of the 2018 draft.
The right side of the line might be in flux. Tackle Rob Havenstein struggled and then suffered injuries that enabled rookie Bobby Evans to step in and possibly wrest the position. David Edwards had never played guard before he was thrust into that spot as rookie.
Star tackle Aaron Donald gives new defensive coordinator Brandon Staley a building block. And the retention of Brockers ensures there still will be a reliable run stopper, locker room presence and mentor to young players, including nose tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day.
Robinson was a star at Alabama but he was not a consistent force for the Detroit Lions. Tanzel Smart and Greg Gaines, a fourth-round pick last season, are other linemen with experience.
End Jachai Polite slid to third round of the 2019 draft, was released by the New York Jets and the Seattle Seahawks and spent last season on the Rams practice squad.
Micah Kiser was on track to start last season before suffering a chest injury. Now Kiser is being counted on to help fill the void left by Littleton’s departure. Troy Reeder started as a rookie, and the Rams expect that Travin Howard, a third-year pro, can play a larger role after playing well at times as a backup.
Floyd is a former first-round pick but did not consistently play like one for the Chicago Bears. The Rams are crossing their fingers that Staley, his former coach with the Bears, can spur him to play to his potential as Fowler did when he joined the Rams.
Kenny Young, a former UCLA standout, was acquired in a midseason trade that sent cornerback Marcus Peters to the Baltimore Ravens, but he played no snaps on defense.
Samson Ebukam has starting experience as an edge rusher. Obo Okoronkwo, hampered by injuries for most of his first two seasons, played well when physically sound.
If Matthews does not sign with another team, it is not out of the realm of possibility that the Rams could attempt to bring him back on a cheaper, incentive-laden deal.
Cornerback Jalen Ramsey played up to his star billing after he was acquired in a midseason trade. He will make $13.7 million this season while waiting for a record-setting extension.
Troy Hill has started opposite Ramsey, as has Darious Williams. David Long barely played on defense as a rookie last season. Now he will be relied upon to replace Robey-Coleman. Dont’e Deayon also could find a role as a reserve.
Letters to the Los Angeles Times sports editor for March 28.
John Johnson, returning from shoulder surgery, and second-year pro Taylor Rapp will start at safety. Nick Scott and Jake Gervase are backups.
New coordinator John Bonamego inherits units that had featured unparalleled continuity under John Fassel.
But kicker Greg Zuerlein, a Rams mainstay since 2012, agreed to terms with the Dallas Cowboys on Friday. Punter Johnny Hekker and long-snapper Jake McQuaide are back for their ninth and 10th seasons, respectively.
The Rams released kick returner JoJo Natson, so Nsimba Webster will have an opportunity to fill the role.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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