Stockpiling talent and regularly drawing praise and/or astonishment for their salary cap gymnastics, the Rams finally saw their all-in operation lead to a championship. The Super Bowl LVI title, the franchise’s second Super Bowl crown and fourth championship, came after the team made multiple trades sacrificing two first-round picks and added Von Miller midseason by dealing away second- and third-round choices. Les Snead earned his “F*** them picks” meme status last season, and the maneuvering — particularly for Stafford — paid off for the perennial contender.
The Rams’ title defense will come after the team made major changes atop its cap sheet. Los Angeles found a way to fit three big-ticket extensions — two for players with multiple years left on their previous deals — into its plan, keeping essential cogs happy after they drove the franchise to its first title in 22 years. Los Angeles will again be positioned to vie for a championship. How much longer will the organization’s unorthodox model keep churning out Super Bowl-caliber rosters?
Extensions and restructures:
- Signed QB Matthew Stafford to four-year, $160MM deal ($63MM guaranteed)
- Reached agreement on three-year, $95MM deal with DT Aaron Donald ($46.5MM guaranteed)
- Reupped WR Cooper Kupp on three-year, $80.1MM deal ($35MM guaranteed)
As Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson and Kyler Murray leapfrogged Patrick Mahomes‘ $45MM-per-year contract this offseason, Stafford’s first Rams-negotiated pact came in on the quarterback market’s second tier. Stafford had become the league’s salary leader in summer 2017, with his Lions-constructed $27MM-AAV accord topping the NFL by $2MM per annum at that point. He played on that contract for five seasons. After making the biggest difference in the Rams’ Sean McVay-era quest to turn their splashy moves into a championship, Stafford could have pushed for a deal closer to Rodgers’ $50.3MM-per-year pact. The 14th-year veteran not doing so helped the Rams take care of younger stars.
Not exactly on the Hall of Fame radar before last season, being 1-for-12 in Pro Bowls in the easiest era for such accolades, Stafford giving the Rams a clear upgrade on Jared Goff and catalyzing the team’s Super Bowl pursuit could make him an interesting case one day. That case can become more solidified beginning in 2022. Stafford, 34, still led the NFL with 17 interceptions in 2021 but picked up his first four postseason wins and outplayed some superstar passers during a run that culminated with one of the Super Bowl’s great drives.
Stafford’s elbow issue bears monitoring, of course, even though he has only missed games due to injury in one of the past 10 seasons (2019, due to a back injury). Various ailments have cropped up, however, over the years. But the Rams took care of Stafford after his 2021 contributions. The cannon-armed QB will lock in $57MM more by March 2023, with an option bonus and 2024 base salary ($31MM) becoming guaranteed.
Kupp’s 2021 detonation doubled as an illustrator of Stafford’s value, and the duo’s immediate rapport led the Rams to give the sudden star-level receiver talent a third contract. The team had previously signed its slot weapon to a three-year, $48MM extension in September 2020, doing so during a summer in which both Kupp and Robert Woods signed similar contracts. Kupp’s 15-game 2020 season — a 92-reception, 974-yard, three-touchdown offering — did not provide signs one of the great wideout breakouts was coming. The Rams changed their receiver equation because of Kupp’s multi-tier 2021 ascent.
Although Kupp fell just short of Calvin Johnson‘s single-season record, his 2,425-yard number in 21 total games shattered the record for combined regular-season and playoff receiving yardage. Kupp’s 478 yards rank only behind Larry Fitzgerald‘s 2008 dominance (546) for a single postseason, and he used the January-February closing argument to secure a top-five receiver contract. Kupp, who was previously signed through 2023, scored a $10MM-per-year raise in June. His new deal comes in behind only Tyreek Hill, Davante Adams and DeAndre Hopkins for AAV ($26.7MM). Kupp’s new through-2026 contract sits only 13th among receivers for full guarantees, but $35MM shift from injury guarantees to locked-in cash in March 2023.
A player cashing in despite two years remaining on his deal is uncommon but not groundbreaking. Donald’s new contract broke precedent. Days after Donald signed his first Rams extension — a six-year, $135MM accord in August 2018 — Khalil Mack used it as a platform to surpass him as the NFL’s highest-paid defender. While Donald’s previous payout topped the interior D-line market for its duration, Myles Garrett, Joey Bosa and T.J. Watt joined Mack in eclipsing Donald. Maxx Crosby did the same in March. None of those players have a claim to being a Mt. Rushmore NFL defender like Donald, who used a retirement threat to leapfrog that lot of edge defenders.
Not exactly at the ideal age (31) or in the usual contract window to cash in, Donald kept his retirement talk going through May. Recognizing Donald’s status as an irreplaceable talent — crystallized by the eight-year veteran’s dominant Super Bowl showing that probably should have, were voting done after the game, earned MVP acclaim — the Rams not only gave him a monster raise but kept his previous contract length intact.
At $31.7MM per year, Donald’s current through-2024 deal is $3MM clear of Watt. Donald is a much better bet to collect on all the contract’s cash than the league’s other $30MM-AAV non-QB — Tyreek Hill, who has a cosmetic $43.9MM final-year base salary. Judging by Donald’s consistency (seven straight All-Pro seasons), it would not shock if he was still in position to collect another monster payday toward the end of this extension.
In a deal that includes a no-trade clause, the Rams used void years to spread out Donald’s signing bonus through 2026. The team did not do this for Stafford and Kupp’s extensions, and only Stafford’s features a monstrous spike in cap numbers. Stafford’s cap hit balloons from $20MM in 2023 to $49.5MM in 2024. That will likely require attention down the line, and the Rams will need to keep hitting on mid-round draft picks to sustain their star-extending setup.
- Dealt WR Robert Woods to Titans for 2023 sixth-round pick
- Reacquired CB Troy Hill from Browns for 2023 fifth-round pick
Kupp’s impending extension, the Allen Robinson signing and the endless Odell Beckham Jr. reunion talk left Woods out of the picture. And the five-year Los Angeles starter’s November ACL tear gutted his trade value. The Rams worked with Woods on the deal, sending him to a Titans team that ran a similar type of passing scheme. This trade soon increased in relevancy for Tennessee, which traded A.J. Brown a month later. It wraps a memorable tenure for the L.A. native in his hometown.
An understandably overlooked player in run-based Bills offenses, Woods was the most consistent receiver during McVay’s first four years running the Rams. Given a five-year, $39MM deal in 2017, Woods produced 1,100-plus-yard seasons in 2018 and ’19 and was the most available of Los Angeles’ receivers during the team’s early McVay years. Kupp’s 2018 ACL tear and Brandin Cooks‘ 2019 concussion concerns made Woods the team’s centerpiece target. After receiving a 2019 raise, Woods cashed in via a four-year, $65MM deal in September 2020. As a result, the Titans have him on their books through 2025.
After a one-year Cleveland stay, Hill is back in L.A. The prospect of reacquiring Hill surfaced in early March, and the Rams kept tabs on the Browns’ offseason to determine how open Cleveland would be to sending Hill back. Cleveland’s decision to, despite giving Hill a two-year deal and trading its top two draft picks for Deshaun Watson, use its top 2022 draft asset on cornerback Martin Emerson gave Los Angeles the green light to trade for Hill.
Hill, 31, joined the Rams during their initial season back in California (2016) and was their primary slot corner during McVay’s tenure. With one year left on his Browns-built contract, Hill will be back in that role. Pro Football Focus placed Hill outside the top 70 at corner last season but graded him as a top-30 player at the position in both the 2019 and ’20 campaigns.
Free agency additions:
- Allen Robinson, WR. Three years, $46.5MM. $30.5MM guaranteed.
- Bobby Wagner, LB. Five years, $50MM. $10MM guaranteed.
- Riley Dixon, P. One year, $1.04MM.
For multiple reasons, it will be interesting to see how Robinson looks in 2022. He has famously drawn short straws at the quarterback position — primarily featuring Blake Bortles and Mitchell Trubisky throwing him passes — through eight seasons. But Year 8 saw Robinson crash-land with a 410-yard season. Robinson’s Bears tenure did close contentiously, finishing on the franchise tag after acrimonious extension talks. The big-bodied target was also one of the NFL’s better pass catchers over the previous two years (back-to-back 1,100-plus-yard slates). Which version are the Rams getting?
Camp dispatches would seem to suggest the pre-2021 Robinson will resurface. With Beckham out of the picture (for now) and not expected to be ready until around November even if he does return, Robinson will be an important piece for the defending champs. The former Jaguars second-round pick has three 1,000-yard seasons on his resume, but he is running out of time to see how he looks with a proven passer. Playing in a McVay offense with Kupp as the lead target will also be a different role for Robinson, who has been his team’s top weapon for most of his career.
The Eagles were his other known suitor, and while that would have been an interesting sliding-doors moment due to the team’s decision to acquire A.J. Brown in April, but the Rams blew their offer out of the water. Legacy-wise, this will be a pivotal year for Robinson. The Rams guaranteed two years of his deal and have a $5.75MM roster bonus due in March 2024 — if Robinson remains a Ram by then.
Other teams, most notably the Ravens, wooed Wagner. But he will give the Rams two future Hall of Famers on their front seven. The team now has the NFL’s top two players for active first-team All-Pro nods in Donald (seven) and Wagner (six). The latter notched a career-high 170 tackles last season, despite missing a game, and finished as a second-team All-Pro for the second time. This will be Wagner’s age-32 season, but his consistency opens the door to the Rams unlocking another dimension on defense. A Wagner-Ernest Jones pairing promises to be one of the NFL’s better off-ball linebacking duos.
The Rams have not invested much at inside linebacker in recent years; they have higher-value players to pay. The team’s last notable ILB deal — a five-year, $45MM pact with Mark Barron in 2016 — came before McVay’s arrival. L.A. let Cory Littleton walk in 2020 and has used rookie-deal players here since. The Ravens’ fully guaranteed $18MM offer bettered the Rams’, but the Utah State alum is a Los Angeles native. The Rams did guarantee $3.5MM of Wagner’s 2023 salary, making it a reasonable bet this will be at least a two-year partnership. Wagner’s Canton case is sewn up, but he can continue to move up the all-time linebacker ranks with more production in southern California.
- Joe Noteboom, T. Three years, $40MM. $16.5MM guaranteed.
- Brian Allen, C. Three years, $18.04MM. $6MM guaranteed.
- Brandon Powell, WR/KR. One year, $1MM.
The Rams’ stars-and-rookie deals strategy forces them to let talented supporting-casters walk each March, but the team has done well to retain O-linemen at manageable costs. Noteboom and Allen join Rob Havenstein — extended in 2018 — on mid-tier contracts at their respective positions. Los Angeles’ payroll does not feature much of a middle class, but it is comprised almost entirely of up-front players, with Tyler Higbee also attached to a manageable veteran deal.
Never a full-time starter at the position he is being paid to play, Noteboom nevertheless cashed in. That speaks to both the Rams’ need at this premium position and the lack of blindside talent — excepting Terron Armstead — on the market. Andrew Whitworth‘s two-year apprentice rebounded after a season-ending 2019 injury halted his first-string guard run. PFF rated Noteboom as its worst full-time guard in 2019, albeit grading only his six-game pre-injury sample, and slotted him outside the top 60 at tackle in a nine-start 2020 (two of those starts came at guard).
PFF saw better work from Noteboom, who only started three games (counting the Rams’ wild-card win), last season. This baton pass going smoothly would check off a big box on the team’s itinerary and ensure the McVay era has a reliable left tackle for a sixth straight season.
After slotting Allen near the bottom at his position in 2020, PFF viewed the former fourth-rounder as a top-10 pivot last season. Allen continuing to hobnob with the top-graded snappers would make re-up a steal for the Rams. Despite coming off a nice contract year and the salary cap being restored after its COVID-19-induced 2021 plunge, Allen is tied the 11th-largest center contract. Allen’s retention also gives the Rams three blockers who have been in place as starters for at least three seasons, alongside Havenstein (since 2015) and left guard David Edwards (since 2019).
The Rams will pay a bit more collectively up front, with only two rookie-contract players (both guard spots) set to start, but these contracts could age well as the cap growth from the 2020 CBA and TV deals materializes.
- Austin Corbett, G
- Donte Deayon, CB
- Johnny Hekker, P (released)
- Sebastian Joseph-Day, DT
- Sony Michel, RB
- Von Miller, OLB
- Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, OLB
- Troy Reeder, LB
- Eric Weddle (retired, again)
- Andrew Whitworth, T (retired)
- Darious Williams, CB
Even more so than their 2018 Dante Fowler deadline trade, the Rams’ Miller acquisition proved seminal. After missing all of 2020 and going into a slump during his final Broncos stretch, Miller recorded nine sacks over the Rams’ final eight games. His two in Super Bowl LVI helped the franchise finish off its elusive championship quest. This performance and the capital the Rams surrendered (second- and third-round picks, which helped the Broncos acquire Russell Wilson) made it logical the team wanted him back. But the Bills, who kept their pursuit of the future Hall of Famer quiet, won the race.
Not too experienced with losing derbies for superstars in recent years, the Rams folded against the Bills’ six-year, $120MM offer. The kicker here became a guaranteed 2024 season. Miller placed a 90% likelihood he would stay in L.A., but the Rams’ proposal — worth more per year through 2024 than the Bills’ — only guaranteed two seasons. At 33, Miller placed a greater value on Buffalo’s longer-term commitment and will attempt to become the first player to win a Super Bowl with three franchises.
This is not the first time the Rams have entered a season undermanned on the edge. They acted accordingly in 2018, trading third- and fifth-round picks for Fowler. The team did not reinvest at the position this year, leaving a ragtag group of backup types (headed by Justin Hollins and former third-rounder Terrell Lewis; neither of whom have topped three sacks in a season) opposite Leonard Floyd. The Rams will likely be in the mix to add another veteran OLB piece. L.A.’s 2023 first-round pick is gone (Stafford), but the team holds its second- and third-rounders next year.
In signing Whitworth in 2017, Rams made the seemingly aging (at 35) left tackle a central figure in their McVay-era turnaround. Whitworth, 40, not only played out his first Rams contract (three years, $36MM) but signed another three-year deal ($10MM per) and nearly finished out that accord. Whitworth’s five-year Rams run included only one Pro Bowl (2017), but he both proved durable (save for a half-season 2020 absence) and provided steady leadership as the team ascended from its Jeff Fisher-years mid-tier place to multiple Super Bowl berths and a title under McVay. It will not be easy for the Rams to replace what Whitworth brought.
This year’s lot of Rams role players deemed replaceable included Corbett, Joseph-Day, Williams and Michel. The Rams sending the Browns a fifth-round pick for Corbett at the 2019 deadline both turned around the guard’s career and gave Los Angeles a three-season starter. PFF graded Corbett as a top-25 guard in each of the past two seasons, but the organization brought back Allen and Noteboom, sending Corbett to the Panthers (three years, $26.25MM).
Williams broke through in 2020, helping the Rams replace Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. Although his 2021 coverage marks worsened a bit, the Jaguars still offered a three-year, $30MM contract. The Rams’ business model does not have room for such payments. The team did investigate the Stephon Gilmore market, which closed when the Colts signed him for $10MM AAV, but will go with rookie-contract performers alongside Ramsey and Hill. David Long (Round 3, 2019) and Robert Rochell (Round 4, 2021) represent the top internal options.
Michel led the Rams in rushing last season, morphing from injury-prone Patriot to 21-game Ram, but Cam Akers‘ return made the former first-round pick an obvious departure candidate. The Dolphins signed him to a low-cost deal. A sixth-round find, Joseph-Day played just seven games last season. The three-year defensive tackle starter returned from his chest injury for the Super Bowl but did not start. The Rams have A’Shawn Robinson and Greg Gaines set to stay in their starting roles alongside Donald. It will be on the organization to keep turning Day 2 or Day 3 picks into future Williamses and Joseph-Days.
Despite the Rams’ star-seeking tendencies, they had found room to carry a top-tier punter contract for years. Hekker, whose four first-team All-Pros are second only to Shane Lechler‘s six among pure punters, finished with lower yards-per-punt figures in each of his past two seasons (45.6, a career-low 44.2 in 2021) and could not avoid being a cap casualty. The Rams bailed on the final two seasons of Hekker’s five-year, $18.8MM deal; they are paying the league minimum to their new punter (Dixon).
- 3-104: Logan Bruss, G (Wisconsin)
- 4-142: Decobie Durant, CB (South Carolina State)
- 5-164: Kyren Williams, RB (Notre Dame)
- 6-211: Quentin Lake, S (UCLA)
- 6-212: Derion Kendrick, CB (Georgia)
- 7-235: Daniel Hardy, OLB (Montana State)
- 7-253: Russ Yeast, S (Kansas State)
- 7-261: A.J. Arcuri, T (Michigan State)
While the Rams’ draft checks in as a low-profile event annually, the team does need these overlooked picks to hit to round out its high-priced starting lineup. When Van Jefferson returns from his August knee surgery, Day 2 or Day 3 draftees still on rookie deals are set to comprise eight starting spots for this year’s Rams.
The team will need members of this year’s draft class to rise into those roles by 2023. Safety represents one of the possible vacancies. Both Nick Scott and Taylor Rapp are heading into contract years, putting Lake or Yeast in the mix to be a back-line starter in 2023.
The only Day 2 draftee in this year’s class will not contribute in 2022. Bruss going down with ACL and MCL tears thins out the Rams’ guard group. Wisconsin’s right tackle for most of the past three seasons, Bruss represented a key interior investment for the Rams, who have Edwards going into a contract year. For now, Coleman Shelton — whom the Rams plucked off the Cardinals’ practice squad in September 2019 — is positioned to replace Corbett. Given an ERFA tender this offseason, Shelton can be kept on an RFA tender in 2023. Depending on how the team proceeds with Shelton and Edwards’ respective free agencies next year, there could be one or two guard spots available. Bruss should be expected to commandeer one of them.
- Extended HC Sean McVay
- Hired Liam Coen as offensive coordinator, replacing now-Vikings HC Kevin O’Connell
- Hired Greg Olson as senior offensive assistant
- Vikings hired Rams passing-game coordinator Wes Phillips as OC
- Expressed interest in re-signing WR Odell Beckham Jr.
- DT Bobby Brown drew six-game PED suspension
- Signed 17 UDFAs
Few coaches in modern NFL history have made the kind of impact McVay has in five-plus years in Los Angeles. After becoming the rare 20-something offensive coordinator (in Washington), McVay has done the most to elevate the Rams into a perennial Super Bowl threat. The Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf” offense fizzling out had led to 12 straight seasons of playoff absences. Although Jeff Fisher‘s 2010s stay pulled the team from bad to average, the Rams struck gold with McVay. This marks his second extension and undoubtedly pays him top dollar among HCs.
The close links between McVay, 36, and a TV career are worth monitoring. Tony Romo‘s CBS extension ($17.5MM per year) has made TV gigs more attractive, and rumors annually connect high-profile HCs and players to those jobs. John Lynch nearly moved back into the booth this year — for an offer that dwarfed his 49ers GM salary. McVay would be tough to replace for the Rams, who have made the second part of Les Snead‘s GM tenure far more successful than his Fisher leg.
The Rams are 55-26 under McVay, who managed this record mostly with Goff at the controls. Although the team moved up for Goff during Fisher’s final year, the trading of first-round picks did not become a regularity until McVay’s arrival. The Rams roaring back to relevance under McVay has also helped the NFL’s Los Angeles return, making his Rams role rather important to the league as a whole.
Coen, 36, will be the third official OC under McVay. The previous two — Matt LaFleur, Kevin O’Connell — are now head coaches, with O’Connell parlaying his two-year non-play-calling OC gig into a Vikings HC shot. Key assistants from 2018-19, when the Rams went without an OC, have also moved up, with Zac Taylor taking over as Bengals HC and Shane Waldron in place as the Seahawks’ OC. Coen is beginning his second Rams stint, having been the team’s assistant wide receivers coach from 2018-19 and its assistant QBs coach in 2020. After taking over as Kentucky’s OC in 2021, Coen helped the Wildcats’ offense rise from 108th in 2020 to 36th in scoring last season.
From Snead to Demoff to McVay, the Rams will not stop mentioning interest in re-signing Beckham. The former Pro Bowler was on the cusp of a quality Super Bowl performance and a lucrative free agency landing, but two ACL tears in 15 months have brought yet another deterrent. OBJ would also seemingly have better opportunities with other receiver-needy teams (one Wisconsin-based franchise comes to mind) than he would with a Rams team that signed Robinson and has Jefferson also complementing Kupp. The Rams saw their hopes of deploying Beckham alongside Kupp, Woods and Jefferson dashed when Woods tore an ACL last November. Will they continue to view OBJ as a luxury worth pursuing when he is healthy enough to play around midseason?
Top 10 cap charges for 2022:
- Aaron Donald, DL: $27MM
- Jalen Ramsey, CB: $23.2MM
- Cooper Kupp, WR: $17.8MM
- Matthew Stafford, QB: $13.5MM
- Rob Havenstein, T: $9.6MM
- A’Shawn Robinson, DL: $9.5MM
- Tyler Higbee, TE: $8.1MM
- Leonard Floyd, OLB: $8MM
- Allen Robinson, WR: $4.3MM
- Joe Noteboom, T: $3.5MM
From Stafford’s elbow problem to Whitworth’s retirement to the defections of Miller and Darious Williams, the Rams have questions at the game’s highest-profile positions. Excepting their non-playoff 2019, the Rams have been able to keep this train on track no matter the draft capital or finances required to do so.
The NFC once again appears thin, at least compared to the AFC, and the 49ers’ move to Trey Lance makes their status less certain as well. With McVay and Donald back, the Rams are still in a prime Super Bowl window. Barring injuries to their stars, which the team has largely been able to avoid, McVay’s squad figures to be in the thick of this year’s NFC championship pursuit and make a good effort at becoming the first repeat champion since 2004.