The 2018 NFL season just ended, so it’s time to look forward to next year. The Ringer has broken down what went right, what went wrong, and where each franchise in the league could go from here. Our last entry is the Rams, who limped to a 13-3 loss in Super Bowl LIII.
What Went Right
L.A. went all in for a Super Bowl—and it almost worked.
What Went Wrong
You already know how the Rams blew it on the NFL’s grandest stage. Let’s skip ahead: What’s next for a team that went all in on 2018?
The Rams’ all in approach has given the team a limited title window, as quarterback Jared Goff’s salary will balloon starting in 2020, and that will alter how the team constructs its roster—yes, even despite his struggles in the Super Bowl, Goff remains the team’s franchise QB. The good news is that Goff will still be on his rookie salary next season, so the Rams will have financial flexibility for at least one more year.
L.A. will enter the offseason with a projected $28.3 million in effective cap space, which is 16th in the league, per Over the Cap. That space could rapidly dry up, though, as the team has a number of high-profile players set to hit free agency.
First up is Ndamukong Suh, who had a solid but unremarkable season until the playoffs, where he dominated the divisional and championship round. The Rams gave him a one-year $14 million deal this offseason, which Suh said was a discount compared to other offers he received. There’s a world where the Rams and Suh agree to go championship hunting again, but this has always felt like short-term partnership, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Suh leave in free agency.
Next up is Lamarcus Joyner, who has been a reliable safety in Wade Phillips’s defense for the past two seasons. He was also on a one-year deal this season, earning $11.3 million on the franchise tag.
At the trade deadline, the Rams, desperate for an edge rusher, dealt third- and fifth-round picks for Dante Fowler Jr., who will be a free agent. Fowler delivered 2.0 sacks in the regular season and another 1.5 in the playoffs. But pass rushers are always in high demand, so keeping Fowler could be pricey for the Rams.
Cory Littleton will be a restricted free agent. The linebacker earned a Pro Bowl nod in his first full season as a starter, though that accolade may be misleading—he placed just 39th among linebackers in Pro Football Focus’s grading.
Other defensive contributors who are also up for free agency this offseason include Matt Longacre, Dominique Easley, Sam Shields, Ramik Wilson, and Troy Hill. All of those players started at least one game for the Rams this season, so Phillips and his staff will have a great deal of retooling to do this summer.
On offense, the story is of continuity: The Rams’ only major free agent on that side of the ball is guard Rodger Saffold, who’s been an anchor on the Rams line for nearly a decade, starting 111 games since he was drafted by the franchise in 2010. He’ll be 31 years old when the 2019 season begins, but he’s still at the top of his game: He earned Pro Football Focus’s seventh-highest grade for a guard in 2018.
Saffold may be the only free agent, but he’s not the only offensive player the Rams could lose. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth is 37. While he earned Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors in 2017 (and was snubbed this year), he’s the oldest offensive lineman in the league and could retire. The Rams had the best offensive line in the NFL in 2018, and for all of the attention paid to Goff, Todd Gurley, and Sean McVay, much of their success came from dominating in the trenches.
The Rams should be able to weather these decisions, but after 2019, things become messy. In 2020, Goff will be playing on a fifth-year option that will pay him north of $20 million, a massive bump from his $8.9 million cap hit in 2019. After that, the Rams will likely be locked into a long-term deal for Goff that could pay him north of $30 million per year. By 2020 the Rams won’t be able to afford the kinds of deals they made to reach the Super Bowl this year.
That means the Rams can’t lock themselves into any more massive deals this offseason. They already have Aaron Donald, Gurley, and Brandin Cooks signed to big-money deals through 2023. And Robert Woods and Rob Havenstein will each make at least $6 million per year for the next three seasons. Once Goff’s deal is in, the Rams will be strapped for cash.
The best time for the Rams to win the Super Bowl would have been Sunday. The second-best time is next season.
With all of the dealing the Rams have done, it’s almost a shock that the team still owns its first-round pick. L.A. doesn’t have its second-rounder (traded to the Chiefs as part of the trade to acquire Marcus Peters) or its third-rounder (traded to the Jaguars as part of the Fowler trade), so it will have to make this selection—the 31st overall pick—count.