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Rams mailbag: Free-agent priorities, possible coaching changes & contract situations

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  • Rams mailbag: Free-agent priorities, possible coaching changes & contract situations

    Rams mailbag: Free-agent priorities, possible coaching changes and contract situations
    By Rich Hammond Dec 24, 2019 6

    This Rams season is going to end sooner than most everyone expected, not in the Super Bowl or even in the playoffs but with an all-but-meaningless Week 17 home game against the Arizona Cardinals.

    The end is just the beginning, though, as the Rams, who will finish no better than 9-7, must face an extraordinary number of offseason questions that touch every aspect of the organization, from coaching to player personnel.

    Rams fans, understandably, have a lot of questions. They presented them via Twitter this week, so let’s jump into a season-ending Rams mailbag.

    Is hiring a OC/QB Coach with experience an option this upcoming offseason?!
    If you’re a Rams fan — and I know you are — you should hope so. Not even necessarily a coordinator. Sean McVay can call the position whatever he chooses, whether it be “senior assistant” or “analyst” or whatever. Steve Wyche of NFL Network, one of the best reporters out there, said on air this week that McVay might be open to adding someone like that to his staff. That’s a good thing. It’s not a failure on McVay’s part. This season — and really, going back to the end of last season — got more challenging, and it doesn’t hurt to have another voice and another set of eyes. I’ve yet to hear what the negatives would be for a move such as this one.

    Eddie in Santa Paula
    Littelton. Is he top priority? Or someone else.
    I know this is going to be an unsatisfactory answer, but I always want to be as honest as I can be … There really is no “top priority.” Things basically get done (or don’t get done) on their own schedule. Think back to the Aaron Donald contract situation, which I know we all remember with great fondness. You could say Donald, during that time, was the Rams’ “top priority,” but they ended up getting several other deals done before Donald, including the Todd Gurley extension.

    It’s fair to say, though, that the first step for the Rams, in terms of assessing their offseason moves, involves which free agents (or players with options) are most likely to return. That would include guys such as Littleton, Andrew Whitworth, Austin Blythe, Michael Brockers and Eric Weddle. You assess who might return and then the possibilities to replace them, either internally or externally. So it’s not necessarily a checklist, to where the front-office folks sit in a room and say, “OK, let’s start with Cory Littleton.” Everything is happening at once. Specific to Littleton, since you asked about him, negotiations have been ongoing for a quite a while and obviously nothing has been completed. That’s not a great sign if you’re hoping to see him back in 2020.

    Rams going to move on from Wade Phillips?
    It seems as though it’s at least a possibility. Reports surfaced over the weekend that defensive coordinator Wade Phillips might not return in 2020. At least one of those reports came out immediately after a national reporter touted his one-on-one chats with McVay, although those puzzle pieces were not directly put together. Beyond that, it’s not really my place to comment on the reports of others, unless I have some particular reason to refute it, and I do not.

    Phillips is in the final year of his contract, so certainly there’s a chance he might not return in 2020. My presumption is that those conversations will take place, in depth, after this weekend.

    Great work Rich. I enjoy the podcast and your writing. Question is with @SoFiStadium opening are the #Rams done traveling abroad?
    Thanks much! This is a question I’ll have to circle back to during the offseason, and I will do so. The quick answer is: not necessarily. The Rams were required to play one “home game” each year that they played in a temporary stadium. Obviously that’s now over, as the Rams are set to move to Inglewood. The other factor, though, is that a team hosting a Super Bowl — which the Rams will do at the end of the 2021 season — is required to play an international game within a five-year window.

    I have not asked about this in quite a while, but at one point, the Rams seemed inclined to make the argument that because they’ve already played so many international games related to the stadium opening that they should not have to do another one because of the Super Bowl. That said, I heard rumblings in recent weeks that the Rams might play in Mexico City in 2020. There’s also a chance that they could be selected as a visiting team and not have to give up a home game. Stay tuned on this.

    Mark I Williams M.D.
    Merry Christmas Rich, to you & yours!

    --When will the Big Reveal be, for new @RamsNFL uniforms?
    --Will you get a tour of the new Press Box soon?
    --Who's your favorite for the NFC Super Bowl slot?
    Merry Christmas, Mark!

    The last time I checked, which was in late September, the Rams had not made a firm decision on the rollout. From what I’ve gathered, the draft is a possible time, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was later than that, or even closer to the start of training camp.

    I do hope to get a tour of the press box! The Rams have done a great job of inviting reporters into the stadium throughout its construction and it’s been fascinating to track the progress. I know the location of the press box and it looks as though it will be in a good spot, but I’m eager to set foot in it.

    Oh man, NFC favorite? I might have to go Green Bay, especially if they’re able to get two home games. New Orleans has a ton of playoff experience and that helps. San Francisco would not surprise me, but to be honest, watching Jimmy Garoppolo on Saturday did not inspire a lot of confidence that he will hold up in an intense playoff atmosphere. I’d been eyeing Seattle but they have some new issues. I don’t think Minnesota or Philadelphia will get there.

    Michael Shea Walls
    McVay seems to struggle to vary his play calling, particularly on screens. Why do you think that is? Is it because of the coaches that have left recently and he’s not hearing the input? If I can tell when the team is going to run a screen or boot leg, I’m sure other teams can.
    It’s tough. I’m not making any excuses for McVay, because I have no problem taking him to task, but imagine what it’s like to be down there on the sideline having to make these split-second decisions. This was part of my argument for why having additional help might be good for him. Things happen so fast that perhaps a coach/play-caller isn’t even aware of some of his tendencies and that sort of thing. It’s not a bad idea to have something of a live self-scout — one who is not a position coach — who can help guide McVay on that sort of thing. I don’t necessarily think he’s been that predictable, but I understand what you’re saying.

    Is cutting/releasing Brandon Cooks a possibility this off-season?
    According to the great site Over The Cap, Brandin Cooks will carry a dead-cap total of at least $16.8 million if the Rams cut him before the start of next season. So that probably answers the question better tan I can.

    Chris Hernandez
    Any chance they would trade Everett with Higbee’s emergence? Unlikely, but what do you think they could expect in compensation?
    No, I don’t think so. And while I’m a fan of Gerald Everett and his continued potential, I don’t really think there would be much of a market for him beyond perhaps a lower-round draft pick. Everett and Tyler Higbee are two very different players, and I don’t think the emergence of Higbee negates the need for Everett. If anything, perhaps McVay can find ways to use Everett in new ways, as parts of different formations, to create some matchup issues for opponents.

    Chris Hernandez
    Any predictions on who will play RT next year? Is Allen staying on the bench or is that a camp battle?
    That’s .a great question about right tackle. The Rams have a decision to make here. Let’s just go with the facts first. Rob Havenstein turns 28 in May, he’s a proven NFL starter and he has a salary-cap hit of approximately $8 million per season through 2022. Even though Rams fans kind of soured on Havenstein because he had some issues at the start of the season — he wasn’t alone in that, remember — should the Rams decide to shop Havenstein, there probably would be a pretty decent market for him.

    Before they even thought about that, though, they’d have to be certain that Bobby Evans is ready to take over full time. Based on what I’ve seen over the second half of the season, I’d feel pretty good about that, but the way things went for the Rams’ line in 2019 makes me a little hesitant to say they should feel confident. That said, if moving Havenstein frees up money to upgrade/sustain at another position, then sometimes those tough decisions must be made.

    thomas lee
    I'm sure someone else has already asked, but why does he abandon the run at the first sign of trouble? Dont tell me its because you're behind!
    No, I don’t think so, because sometimes this even happens with McVay in close games. I don’t necessarily think McVay is unique when it comes to this. Look no further than last Saturday’s game. Even though the ***** were in a close game (and leading for part of it) and even though they were running the ball well, Kyle Shanahan still passed more than he ran. I think it’s the default for some coaches, particularly some of these young guys who “grew up” more on the passing side of things.

    The other thing, more specific to the Rams, is that some of this has been circumstantial. When the Rams don’t have run-game success (they have not, for the most part, this season), that usually means that they end up in longer-distance second- and third-down situations. When a team runs the ball on first down and picks up five or six yards, it is more likely to run the ball again on second down. When the first-and-10 play is a one- or two-yard gain, then second down leans toward a passing situation. Too often, the latter has been the case for the Rams this season. That said, in general I agree with your assessment, and it’s been one of my continuing criticisms of McVay as a play-caller. There haven’t been many, to be honest, but that’s one.

    Daniel Kelley
    Thanks Rich for everything this year. Your a class act. Question....what is Sean's template for his offseason evaluation process? Does he evaluate coaches first players second? Does he look for new schemes from innovative college programs etc?
    Hey, thanks much, Daniel!

    I think you’ve probably listed them in the correct order. Evaluate the staff, evaluate the personnel and then look for ways to innovate and improve. The asterisk to this would be that players constantly are being evaluated. That happens every week and, really, every day in practice. But certainly when you get to the end of a season, it presents a new and better way to sit down with a complete set of thoughts and data and really do in-depth evaluation. I think in this case, though, the first step will be to look at the staff. If for instance, theoretically (and I’m just basing this off the reports mentioned above), the Rams were to bring in a new defensive coordinator, that new coach might have different opinions on things such as scheme and personnel, so you’d want to have that in place first.

    With higbee pretty clearly being breakout player of the year, who do you think breaks out next year?
    Good question! Given the possibility/probability of changes on the defensive side, I’d probably look there. How about outside linebacker Obo Okoronkwo? I think it still needs to be determined whether Okoronkwo has the ability to be a three-down player, but if Dante Fowler does not return in 2020, it seems likely that Okoronkwo would at least be given a chance to earn a bigger role. Maybe I’m thinking a little with my heart here, because I’m a fan of Okoronkwo’s skill set and his attitude. He still has to earn it, of course.

    Bobby Stanley Jr.
    Could the Rams realistically restructure or move any of thre larger contracts on next years books? Cooks is the first that comes to mind.
    Sure, this can always happen, and that’s why I roll my eyes a little when people talk about the Rams being “done” because they have some salary-cap challenges. First, they’re carrying over approximately $8 million in cap room from this season, and that’s a lot. Second, as you said, we regularly see top players restructure and turn base salary into bonuses and that sort of thing, to create short-term cap relief for the team. There are other things that a team can do, in terms of deferments, etc., but those aren’t always wise moves. But there are ways, and this is why teams specifically hire cap specialists who have Ivy League degrees and who are much better at math than most of us!

    John P. Moore
    The Los Angles Rams home opener in the 2020 season and first ever game in Sofi stadium is against..........I"m thinking Dallas or SF in that order
    Good thoughts, John. I’d throw New England in that mix as well, just because it would be such a high-profile game, but Dallas is an obvious one and if the NFL is looking to build up that Rams-***** rivalry (let’s hope!) then that also would be a great opener.

    Love and appreciate your work @Rich_Hammond Thank you!! Always solid and entertaining!
    One silver lining has been getting Edwards, Evans, Corbett significant playing time vs serious competition. Do any of them “stick”? (Noteboom? Allen?) Thanks
    Thank you!

    And yes, I think the offensive line situation is going to arguably be the most fascinating on the team. But let’s back up a second. Before the Rams figure out how those other guys are going to fit in, by far the biggest question involves who is going to start at left tackle? Is Andrew Whitworth open to returning for a final season? Can the Rams find someone for the short term on the free-agent or trade markets? Is one of the young guys ready to move over?

    I’m skeptical about the last part. Technically, Joe Noteboom or Bobby Evans could play left tackle, but Noteboom is coming off a serious knee injury and won’t have a full offseason, and while Evans has done a commendable job as a rookie at right tackle, it would be asking a lot of him to become the full-time left tackle at the start of his second NFL season. So that is, by far, the biggest issue the Rams need to figure out. I think, all things considered, the best option would be to bring back Whitworth for one more season (assuming he’s up for that), but that’s not certain.

    But yes, I think there’s going to be a lot of evaluation and healthy competition during the offseason. Another decision for the Rams involves Austin Blythe, who played very well after a move to center. Do the Rams re-sign him based on that, and keep him at center, or go back to Brian Allen? Do they trade Rob Havenstein? I think, as you said, the “silver lining” of the second half of the season is that some of these young linemen have showed they can play. If the Rams decide to move on from Blythe and/or Havenstein, they have some good options.

    al oeste
    How much was offensive line?
    Why the losses to bad teams?
    Is there hope for next year?
    A lot was the offensive line. And I feel like we — and by “we” I mean “I” — probably got too far away from that when I started to dissect things like McVay’s play-calling, Goff’s efforts and even the defense. Yes, independent of anything else, those areas were problems, but I feel as though the offensive line really was the root of it all. If you don’t have a solid, cohesive offensive line, you don’t have much. I’ll continue to assert that the Rams made a big mistake last offseason by believing they could replace from within and not add any veteran depth. They paid for that early in the season, and by the time things started to come around a bit — Austin Blythe providing a big upgrade at center, Bobby Evans doing a commendable job at right tackle — it was too late.

    The Rams, to date, have lost to San Francisco, Dallas, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Seattle and Tampa Bay. Every one of those teams has at least seven wins this season, so there’s not a particularly “bad” loss on the ledger, but certainly it was surprising to see the Rams lose some of those games (particularly Tampa Bay and Dallas). The Rams ended up in a super-tough division and they let a couple winnable games get away.

    Is there hope for next season? Of course! The Rams likely will be a 9-7 team with a lot of in-their-prime talent. The gap between the playoff teams and the non-playoff teams is so narrow. Every free-agent signing matters. Every contract matters. Every draft pick matters. The Rams made a few too many mistakes last offseason, and that no doubt was complicated by how long their season went and the condensed offseason (no excuses, but it’s a factor). If they’re smart and sharp over the next few months, there’s no reason to think they can’t go back to the top of the NFC West.

    Great season coverage Rich, will you be covering the Rams again next season? You don’t let your fandom get in the way of objectivity. Keep up the great work!
    Thank you for the kind words! I’ve been surprised and humbled by how many people have said nice things on Twitter, even though I can be a little sarcastic and dark at times. To Jose and to everyone, thanks so much for reading, for subscribing and for your interaction. I enjoy it very much and it helps me to learn and grow as a reporter and writer, and I wouldn’t have a job without all of you, so thank you! I certainly will continue to follow the Rams for The Athletic, and by the start of the 2020 season we will have someone in place to fill Vinny Bonsignore’s spot, so look forward to even more coverage then!

  • #2
    Very interesting views by Rich Hammond.

    Thanks Nick for posting.

    Go Rams 2020!


    • #3
      Quite informative. Particularly the dead money associated with Cooks and the sense it makes to bring Whitworth back. Thanks for sharing.


      • #4
        Will McVay play any starters in the 2020 preseason? I bet he does.


        • #5
          Wade Phillips is 72. I remember when Bud Wilkinson was hired by the St. Louis Cardinals he was thought to be "too old" at 62. Times have changed.


          Related Topics


          • Nick
            Where do the Rams, now a team in transition, go from here?
            by Nick
            Where do the Rams, now a team in transition, go from here?
            By Rich Hammond
            2h ago

            There’s always a certain amount of tumult in an NFL offseason. Rosters turn over, popular players leave and fans are left with an understandable level of angst regarding the future.

            It’s greater for the Rams now than for most teams, not only because two important linebackers (Dante Fowler and Cory Littleton) left via free agency but also because they chose to cut Todd Gurley and trade Brandin Cooks, two offensive cornerstones who received massive contract extensions one week apart in July 2018.

            Those two moves created approximately $34.5 million in dead-cap money that must remain on the Rams’ books in 2020. Their effective cap ceiling is $205 million, which means roughly 17 percent of their cap total will be dedicated to guys playing in Atlanta (Gurley) and Houston (Cooks).

            That’s a jaw-dropping figure, although front-office folks will note that cash totals — the figure they actually can spend — are more important than the cap total, which is a league-mandated accounting figure.

            Nonetheless, it’s done. There’s no way to go back to 2018 and shred those contract extensions. The moves, in the context of 2020, were the correct ones in terms of cost-efficiency. Debate about the Rams’ front office will continue, and there’s no question that after a two-year run of heaping praise, the Rams now are feeling the heat of fair criticism and questions about past decisions and about where things are headed.

            So let’s examine the situation. It’s clear that the Rams are a team in transition. That’s a scary word because transition means change and change is scary. It’s also frustrating for many fans because, just 15 months ago, they believed the Rams were set up for a long run of success. That still might be true, but it will look different.

            Ultimately, the Rams decided to rip the bandage off all at once. They’re changing the offense. They’re changing the defense. They’re absorbing the body blow of the dead-cap space now, essentially all at once, rather than being slowly bled by Gurley and Cooks contracts that likely would worsen with age.

            A lot has changed. More clarity will arrive next week through the NFL Draft, and all of it will come into sharper focus whenever the Rams are allowed to return to the field for OTAs or training camp. For now, let’s look at all three aspects of the team and what changes to expect from the Rams in 2020.

            Why did Cooks fit so well with the Rams in 2018? He was the perfect complement to Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp in the “11 personnel” three-receiver sets that coach Sean McVay favored. Woods and Kupp worked the sidelines and the middle of the field, while Cooks was the over-the-top threat.

            Opposing defenses evolved late in the 2018 season and into 2019, forcing McVay to readjust with more...
            -04-14-2020, 02:21 PM
          • Nick
            Clues to plans, identities of Rams’ new coordinators emerge
            by Nick
            Clues to plans, identities of Rams’ new coordinators emerge
            By Jourdan Rodrigue
            5h ago

            So, what exactly are the Rams getting in new coordinators Kevin O’Connell and Brandon Staley? Will their respective offensive and defensive units reflect their own identities?

            As the team inches closer to in-person and on-field workouts — with hopeful estimations of holding training camp on time in July, and in California — we can glean clues bit by bit about O’Connell, the offensive coordinator who also will have a big say in the continued development of quarterback Jared Goff, and about Staley, the first-time NFL defensive coordinator who one national pundit called a “secret weapon” for the Rams last week.

            They share more than similar backgrounds with head coach Sean McVay
            Each of McVay’s new coordinators was, like McVay himself, once a high school quarterback. And we know that while McVay went on to play receiver at Miami University (Ohio), O’Connell stuck with quarterback at San Diego State (and in a few places in the NFL), while Staley played quarterback at Dayton.

            And O’Connell shares a vaguely similar NFL coaching path with McVay. Both worked under Jay Gruden in Washington as offensive coordinators, with both serving as position coaches before their promotions (they never worked on the same staff).

            But more important, perhaps, than any parallels on their resume seem to be — upon early appraisal — the similarities in their approaches to coaching, teaching and studying the game.

            “We’ve been able to really slow it down, strip it down to the point where we’re teaching every single day. Great detail on the technique and fundamentals as well as scheme and growing, kind of putting it all together so that players can really understand the sequence of the ‘why,'” said O’Connell, of how offensive meetings have adjusted in an all-virtual setting.

            Yes, O’Connell is a “why” guy — something McVay emphasized heavily upon his own arrival in Los Angeles in 2017. As McVay searched for his coordinators, he wasn’t looking for a “mentor” type anymore — instead, he seemed to key in on specific qualities that he has known to work for himself over the years. Understanding not just what a plan is, but why it is — and teaching accordingly — seems to be one of them.

            “You come in, and you have to learn first,” O’Connell said. “You have to really submerge yourself in the details of how the ‘why’ has come about, because that’s the only way you can coach it.”

            In Staley, McVay seemed to seek another similar quality represented in himself: Experience coaching a ton of different positions, and the ability to translate all of those different “languages” into a smart, cohesive...
            -05-26-2020, 01:35 PM
          • Nick
            How the Rams’ ‘open competition’ at inside linebacker could play out this fall
            by Nick
            How the Rams’ ‘open competition’ at inside linebacker could play out this fall
            By Jourdan Rodrigue and Rich Hammond
            Jul 8, 2020

            Inside linebacker Cory Littleton worked his way up from special-teams contributor to a standout starting role for the Rams, but because they could not re-sign him this spring, his vacancy looms large, right in the middle of the field.

            It wasn’t just Littleton’s leadership that will be missed — he also provided excellent coverage ability. The Rams will enlist cornerback Jalen Ramsey to play in a big nickel role when help is required, but which player among a young, promising group of inside linebackers can fill a full-time starting role?

            There is nobody quite like Littleton, who signed a three-year, $35 million contract with the Las Vegas Raiders in March, but can the Rams reproduce a similar success story in 2020?

            Jourdan Rodrigue: First-year defensive coordinator Brandon Staley said a lot to like in his comments to media this spring. Among the key items that most stood out to me was his labeling of the inside linebacker spot as an “open competition.” And it makes sense! The Rams will be without Littleton in 2020, and behind him is a wealth of unproven talent — and perhaps potential, too. And the bottom line is, whoever the starter is has a long way to go in a hurry.

            Rich Hammond: This is a big swing by the Rams, in my mind. They didn’t bring in any free agents — or early-round draft picks — at inside linebacker. They have talent. Micah Kiser probably was on his way to being a starter last year before a pectoral injury in training camp ended his season. Travin Howard came on strong at the end of last season. But neither of these guys has proven much over the long haul in regular-season games and now — going back to our discussion about the offensive line — there’s not going to be much time to sort this out. Training camp is going to be unconventional and there might not be any preseason games. I wonder what Staley is thinking right about now.

            Rodrigue: And I get it, honestly. Rising talent can’t rise if not given a chance, and a financially unviable ILB market in the spring (plus no salary-cap room) led to the inability to pay Littleton long term and also probably hindered their options to sign a veteran there. This is quite a gamble the Rams are taking, and in some ways it means it’s not super surprising to hear they will play Ramsey in the slot some to help lock down the middle of the field. But that’s basically against bigger receivers and tight ends. So the rest of the time, the incoming starter will have a steep learning curve. And I don’t even know how you begin to separate yourself when there will be extremely limited on-field time once training camp begins.

            Hammond: And to your point about Ramsey, the Rams have safeties in John Johnson and Taylor Rapp who are very comfortable playing closer to the...
            3 weeks ago
          • Nick
            Analyzing the Rams’ offensive line — Better the second time around?
            by Nick
            Analyzing the Rams’ offensive line — Better the second time around?
            By Jourdan Rodrigue and Rich Hammond
            2h ago 1

            Here they are again.

            A year ago, the Rams — having jettisoned veterans Rodger Saffold and John Sullivan — went into the season hoping a new-look offensive line could come together. It did … halfway through the season, and only after a lot of instability, poor play and injuries. Somehow, by the end of the season, the Rams found a five-man unit that worked, albeit not soon enough to secure a playoff spot.

            So while many fans clamored for a big-swing offseason, with a lot of changes to the line, the Rams stayed quiet and confident. They enter 2020 essentially with the same unit that ended 2019, plus three linemen — Rob Havenstein, Joe Noteboom and Brian Allen — who suffered season-ending injuries. Quantity is not a problem with this Rams line, but what about quality?

            First, let’s look at the pool of available linemen.

            Rich Hammond: A year ago, I predicted on our podcast that the offensive line would be the single biggest determining factor in the Rams’ success or failure in 2019. I also feared they were taking too many risks with the construction of the line and with incorporating inexperienced players. Now, I’m not patting myself on the back here. … Just kidding, I’m totally patting myself on the back here. Because that’s how it worked out during the first half of the season.

            So, going into 2020, do you think there’s still some instability here, or are the Rams in good shape on the O-line?

            Jourdan Rodrigue: Ha! If there is one thing I remember about following your work before the draft and free agency, it’s that you were totally right about the offensive line. Go ahead, take a victory lap (and don’t forget to wear a mask). We’ll allow it.

            I do think there is still some instability, and I say that because this is still a line that has to find its rhythm. Veteran linemen will talk about “wordless communication” and “moving like a fist,” meaning each “finger” has its own job, but the fist as a whole is in sync. You see that from the really great offensive lines in history. And in some cases, it starts at center — while in others, it starts at left tackle. Luckily for the Rams, they have Andrew Whitworth back.

            Hammond: OK, I’m back from the victory lap. That’s the most exercise I’ve had since early March.

            We have the same concern about this line. I think, position by position, the talent is there. Young linemen like Evans, Edwards and Blythe (after his move to center) stepped up, and with Havenstein, Noteboom and Allen coming back from injuries, the Rams have great depth. The problem is: When will chemistry be developed? The OTAs in May and June always present the best opportunity for that. Now, in a best-case scenario, players will be coming in cold in late July. And the...
            -06-29-2020, 11:18 AM
          • Nick
            Did Marcus Peters play his way back into the Rams’ long-range plans?
            by Nick
            Did Marcus Peters play his way back into the Rams’ long-range plans?
            By Vincent Bonsignore Mar 26, 2019 5

            PHOENIX​ —As the Rams shift​ attention​ from​ free agency to​ the draft, they​ face two​ urgent and​ obvious roster matters​ — neither​​ of which is easily addressed.

            The free-agent departure of Ndamukong Suh isn’t yet official, and Rams head coach Sean McVay actually cracked open a door on Tuesday for a possible return while speaking at the NFL’s annual league meeting. But the expectation is they’ll soon need to find a replacement for the veteran defensive tackle. The same is true at one inside linebacker position, after Mark Barron was released in a salary-cap savings move and then scooped up by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

            The Rams are relying on a combination of the draft, in-house options and the second phase of free agency to fill the two holes. But it might not be until training camp that it all gets sorted out.

            Meanwhile, another long-range issue is lurking.

            As it stands now, the Rams will head into the 2019 season with starting cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters entering the last year of their contracts. That’s a vulnerable position to be in and likely will necessitate them investing draft capital in a cornerback this month, or maybe two, given Talib’s age (33) and the cost it might take to lock up Peters beyond this year.

            Peters, in particular, represents an interesting situation, as it looked for long stretches last season like he was playing his way out of a long-term relationship with the Rams. He rallied midway through the season, and finished so strong it prompted McVay on Tuesday to lay out a compelling argument for making Peters part of the plan moving forward.

            “Absolutely,” McVay responded when asked by The Athletic if Peters is someone he’d like to move forward with long term.

            That might seem like a surprise, given how Peters struggled through the first half of the 2018 season while giving up a slew of big plays. The killer was when he got burned for 12 catches and 211 yards by Michael Thomas in Week 9, including a 72-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter to secure the New Orleans Saints’ 45-35 win over the Rams. It marked the low point of a rough stretch of games in which Peters seemed to be taking himself out of the Rams’ plans.

            It was easy at that point to write him off as a bust and rule the Rams’ trade for him an abstract failure. Not only was a long-term extension seemingly off the table, so too was the certainty he’d be back in 2019. That wasn’t what the Rams had in mind when they sent a 2019 second-round pick to the Kansas City Chiefs last offseason for a player they felt would be a cornerstone of their defense.

            But two things immediately happened.

            First, Peters stood at his locker after the Saints...
            -03-30-2019, 06:11 AM