The entire NFL has been on watch this past week as free agency broke and deals were being made left and right. Fans of the Los Angeles Rams had even more to look out for because not only are they in the middle of a major transition, but they also have limited options in the upcoming draft. Moves needed to be made and personnel issues needed to be addressed.
So, what exactly did the front office and rookie head coach Sean McVay accomplish in this free agency period (which by the way has not yet concluded)? We will take a look.
Los Angeles Rams Free Agency: The McVay Era Takes Shape
Offensive Line As a Priority
Every Rams fan knows that the plan is to enable offensive players Jared Goff and Todd Gurley. The organization has made it clear that these two young men will be the spine of the franchise’s future.
The team made perhaps its boldest move to back that claim up by signing All-Pro tackle Andrew Whitworth. The former Cincinnati Bengal has been outstanding across his ten-year career, earning three trips to the Pro Bowl and both first team and second team All-Pro honors.
Whitworth not only brings proven talent, but he also brings experience to a young line and a very young offense. The tackle will replace the underwhelming Greg Robinson on the left side and spark competition on the right side for Robinson and Rob Havenstein.
Obviously, the move signals an emphasis on protection for Goff, a right-handed quarterback. It also provides a very mobile blocker for Gurley. However, the most pertinent takeaway from this signing should be the wisdom of McVay. He was praised for hiring very experienced defensive coordinator Wade Phillips as one of his first moves, pairing experience with youth. In this signing, he works similarly, bringing in a veteran lineman to fill in the blanks for the young team that is filled with players still on their rookie contracts.
Whitworth should make quite an impact on this offensive line and his signing should satisfy any Rams’ supporter. McVay is taking notice of the league’s emphasis on strong, effective linemen and adapting to today’s game appropriately.
The next high profile free agent signing was former Buffalo Bill Robert Woods. The young wide out has roots in southern California and has an attractive mix of NFL experience and youth. Just wrapping up his rookie contract, Woods is prepared to take the next step in his career with his fellow young players on this newly-relocated franchise.
At six feet tall, he will not tower over defensive backs like new Cleveland Brown Kenny Britt, but his reliability will be welcome with a team that saw a slew of dropped passes last season. No doubt, the team will expect to augment Woods’ role in this offense. He will be expected to compete with Tavon Austin and with Austin’s lackluster 2016, it will be a tight race.
By bringing Woods in, McVay has helped build a foundation for Goff and the passing game. Unfortunately, Britt enjoyed a nice chemistry with the young quarterback, but going with the younger target will have the benefit of allowing both players to grow together. The Rams were in desperate need for targets and Woods is a great step in creating a corps of reliable route runners and dependable pass catchers.
However, as the draft comes up, look out for the team to pick up a taller wide receiver. They still need that legitimate deep threat, and with the dynamic traits of Woods and Austin, it could be the last factor they need to make a substantial leap in their passing attack.
The next major addition to the team this free agency period was Kayvon Webster. The athletic defender will add desperately needed depth to the Rams secondary.
Though the team had their franchise tag accepted by Trumaine Johnson, there has been talk of the team entertaining trade offers. If Johnson is retained, Webster could likely start opposite him, or at least compete with the easily-injured E.J. Gaines. If Johnson is traded for an offensive player, Webster will have the opportunity to take that number one spot.
The secondary has been a problem for the Rams defense for far too long. Injuries, poor talent, and inconsistency have cost them game after game. The 2016 campaign included embarrassing losses to the Miami Dolphins, San Francisco 49ers, and an obliteration by the powerhouse Atlanta Falcons.
Grabbing an effective and affordable cornerback was an excellent move by the franchise to bolster their talent at the position. In addition, he will reunite with his previous coordinator in Phillips, which will make the transition easier and save valuable acclimation time. Webster is another player that has yet to break out as a league-wide star, but in this current situation, he will have the tools to do just that.
The Rams, somewhat ironically, showed great maturity this free agency period, filling gaps at key positions, while not going overboard with spending. They still need answers at center and safety, but the moves that have been made should give supporters confidence.
It should also be mentioned that Greg Zuerlein was retained after his excellent bounce-back year. This will be a big boost to their stellar special teams and help them grind out those close games.
Overall, the Rams are making the right decisions. They are working slowly, but effectively in building this team. Only time will tell how wise these signings and cuts are, but as it stands right now, before the draft, things are looking better than they have in a long while.