- The contract-year statuses of Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters may force the Rams to consider the big picture when finalizing their roster. Les Snead could well keep an extra corner this season because of the potential 2020 departures of the team’s starting corners, Vincent Bonsignore of The Athletic writes (subscription required). In addition to Talib and Peters, slot starter Nickell Robey-Coleman, Troy Hill and third-round pick David Long will be roster locks. That leaves one or two spots left for a host of players who have shown well in camp, with Bonsignore singling out 2018 waiver claim Darious Williams and 2017 UDFA Kevin Peterson as the leaders to round out the corner corps. The latter missed all of 2018 due to injury, but both players have had standout camps. In addition to the Colts, Patriots and Saints, the Rams may begin receiving trade calls on some corners.
- Going into their preseason slate, the Vikings have leaned toward Sean Mannion being Kirk Cousins‘ primary backup. That is not surprising, given Mannion’s status as the Rams’ QB2 recently. Mannion and 2017 UDFA Kyle Sloter were rotating No. 2 reps recently, but Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press points out Sloter is now rotating with rookie UDFA Jake Browning with Minnesota’s third-team offense. Both backups are playing for league-minimum money.
- Rams rookie linebacker Justin Lawler underwent foot surgery Tuesday, Lindsey Thiry of ESPN.com tweets. The Rams drafted Lawler in the seventh round out of SMU. He profiles as a full-season IR candidate. Teams must carry players through to the 53-man roster for them to be eligible for IR-return status during the season.
Here are Tuesday’s minor moves:
- Signed: T Jarron Jones
- Released from IR: WR Blake Jackson
- Signed: OL Lukayus McNeil
- Signed: CB Johnathan Alston
- Waived/injured: Tarvarus McFadden
- Placed on IR: LB James Onwualu
Los Angeles Rams
- Signed: P Brock Miller
New York Jets
- Waived: TE Nick Truesdell
- Signed: DE Kasim Edebali, CB Ajene Harris
- Placed on IR: DE Joe Ostman
- Waived/injured: T Casey Tucker
- Signed: CB Jermaine Ponder
- Waived: CB Derrek Thomas
- Signed: LB Chris Worley
- Waived: WR Nyqwan Murray
The Rams recently extended both head coach Sean McVay and general manager Les Snead through the 2023 season, and Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com reports club owner Stan Kroenke was the “driving force” behind the dual deals. McVay was set to enter the upcoming campaign as one of the lowest-paid head coaches in the NFL, and — given the youthful coach’s success — Kroenke wanted to reward him. Additionally, Kroenke wanted McVay and Snead’s contract to align and run through the same season, per Breer. It’s unclear exactly how far into the future Snead had previously been under contract, but it was for fewer than the three years McVay had remaining.
- In case you missed it, the Rams gave wideout Robert Woods a raise for the 2019 season. In a rare NFL occurrence, Los Angeles handed Woods an extra $1MM in base salary and a new $2MM roster bonus with no strings attached.
The All-Pro back looked like his old self early, showing an ability put plenty of weight on his knee and cut without any apparent issue. That knee, of course, underwent reconstructive surgery in college and gave him issues down the stretch in 2018, leading to C.J. Anderson‘s breakout stint in the playoffs.
As Bonsignore writes, that he looked good doesn’t mean much at this point. It’s all about getting him on the field and keeping him there over the course of a 16-game season. The Rams will be sure to take it easy with Gurley, but this is a great first step for one of the league’s most dynamic playmakers.
A healthy Gurley, who led the league in rushing touchdowns for a second consecutive season in 2018, would make the reigning NFC champions the conference’s favorites once again thanks to its loaded offense and talent-rich defense.
Here’s more from around the league:
- Buccaneers safety Orion Stewart was carted off the field on Sunday with an apparent serious right knee injury, Eduardo Encina of the Tampa Bay Times writes. The safety was covering Cameron Brate when their legs tangled, leading Stewart to come down awkwardly. A free agent acquisition in 2019, Stewart was working with the Bucs’ second unit.
- Colts defensive end Jabaal Sheard suffered a knee injury in training camp and is expected to “miss some time,” Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio writes. Just how long that “some time” is remains unclear, but the defensive end didn’t return to practice on Friday due to swelling and soreness. Colts head coach Frank Reich said the injury isn’t season-ending.
- Just four days after the Cardinals signed linebacker Matt Longacre, the team released him on Sunday, Florio writes. The move comes just a day after the team activated Brooks Reed from the physically unable to perform list. In 2018, Longacre appeared in 13 games with the Rams, recording one sack and 17 tackles.
- Lions defensive lineman Mike Daniels said he received interest from 13 teams but decided to join Detroit because he wanted to play for head coach Matt Patricia, Florio writes. Though the pair have never worked together before, Daniels called the coach “a genius.”
- Originally, a meeting was to be held on Monday to discuss the Collective Bargaining Agreement between owners and the NFLPA. That will no longer take place, as the meeting has been rescheduled for early August, Florio writes.
According to Schefter, the Rams are “adding an additional $1 million to 2019 Base Salary, and fully guaranteed a new $2 million Roster Bonus for next year.” He notes that there aren’t any extra years being added or strings attached, and that it’s just a straight raise. It’s a gesture of good will that doesn’t happen too often in the NFL. Woods has been playing at a level well above what he’s being paid, so it does make sense why the Rams are feeling generous.
In March of 2017, Woods signed a five-year, $34MM contract with the Rams. He’s locked in for another three seasons, and that deal looks like an absolute steal for the team now. He had a career year last season, racking up 1,219 yards and six touchdowns on 86 receptions. He also played a big role as a runner/decoy with Sean McVay’s frequent jet motions, carrying the ball 19 times for 157 yards and a touchdowns.
Woods led one of the league’s best offenses in receiving yards last season, and he’d shatter the less than $7MM annually he’s earning under his current deal if he were to hit the open market now. Woods was a solid player his first handful of seasons in Buffalo, but he’s taken his game to a new level under McVay. Alongside Cooper Kupp and Brandin Cooks, he’ll be apart of one of the game’s best receiving corps in 2019.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
“I’m very thankful to be a Ram for many years to come, working with great ownership, people, coaches, and players,” McVay told NFL.com. “It’s exciting to get camp going and we’re ready to roll up our sleeves up and get to work.”
McVay, 33, has brought youthful energy to the franchise and a high-powered offensive game plan. In his first year, the Rams went 11-5 after finishing out with a 4-12 mark. Then, last year, they took another huge step forward with a Super Bowl appearance. This year, McVay will look to build off of that momentum as the Rams figure to be one of the strongest teams in the league.
Snead, meanwhile, will continue in the role that he assumed in 2012, way back when the Rams were in St. Louis. His next big task will be to hammer out an extension with quarterback Jared Goff, who is slated for free agency after the 2020 season.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
You can expect the Seahawks to add a veteran defensive tackle following Jarran Reed‘s suspension, Brady Henderson of ESPN.com tweets. He also offers a couple of names to keep an eye on: Earl Mitchell and Corey Liuget have both been linked to Seattle and are still available.
Here’s more from the NFC West:
- Rams receiver Cooper Kupp will not have to start training camp on the physically unable to perform list, Steve Wyche of NFL Media tweets. That’s huge for Kupp, who tore his left ACL in November. The receiver has been vocal about his desire to play in Week 1 and it sounds like he’ll be ready to go for the opener if all goes well from here. Last year, Kupp had 40 catches for 566 yards and six scores before succumbing to injury.
- A minor bit of news – Cardinals lineman Justin Pugh will shift from right guard back to his native left guard this season (Twitter link via Pugh). Pugh, 29 in August, started in all seven of his games for the Cardinals last year before landing on IR in November. The former first-round pick, unfortunately, has not played a full season since his 2013 rookie year.
Following the 2016 season, the Rams’ offensive line looked like one of the worst units in the NFL. Los Angeles’ front five was fresh off a campaign in which it had ranked 29th in Football Outsiders‘ adjusted line yards, 29th in adjusted sack rate, and 21st in pressure rate allowed. No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff was sacked 25 times over the final six games of the year, and there was at least some concern that the rookie quarterback would languish à la David Carr, eternally too worried about incoming pressure to ever succeed.
Sean McVay took over as the Rams’ head coach that offseason, and the club’s new regime made fortifying its offensive line a priority. Longtime Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth was signed to a three-year, $33.75MM deal to replace failed former No. 2 overall selection Greg Robinson on Goff’s blindside. Tim Barnes struggled as Los Angeles’ center in 2016, so the Rams inked veteran John Sullivan to a cheap, one-year pact. McVay also added Aaron Kromer — who’d previously worked wonders in New Orleans and Buffalo — as LA’s new offensive line coach.
Whitworth and Sullivan, combined with holdovers Rodger Saffold, Jamon Brown, and Rob Havenstein, transformed the Rams’ front five. Los Angeles improved to third in adjusted line yards, ninth in adjusted sack rate, and 12th in pressure rate allowed. Goff absorbed only 28 sacks on the season. And Pro Football Focus, which had ranked the Rams’ line as just the 27th-best unit after 2016, assigned LA its sixth-highest offensive line grade after the 2017 campaign.
Things mostly stayed the same in 2018. The Rams arguably posted even better results along their offensive line, and the only major change came at right guard, where former waiver claim Austin Blythe took over for Brown. Brown, who was suspended for the first two games of the 20198 campaign and never regained his starting job, is now a member of the Giants.
But entering the 2019 season, real concerns have emerged on LA’s front five. Saffold is gone, having signed a four-year, $44MM pact with the Titans. The Rams should pick up a compensatory fourth-round pick in 2020 as a result of Saffold’s departure, but that won’t offset his loss during the upcoming year. At center, Sullivan saw his option declined, and he’s yet to latch on with another team.
Rams 2018 third-round pick Joseph Noteboom — who is expected to eventually take over for Whitworth at left tackle — is currently penciled in as the club’s starting left guard. While he’s a relative unknown, there are reasons to be excited about the TCU product. Noteboom posted elite measurables during the pre-draft process, and shined during the 2018 preseason, allowing zero pressures on 71 pass-blocking snaps. He played in relief of Whitworth during the Rams’ 2018 regular season finale, and didn’t give up any pressures on 47 total snaps.
Brian Allen, selected one round after Noteboom in the Rams’ 2018 draft, will take over for Sullivan at center. Allen has even less experience than Noteboom, as the former played only 36 offensive snaps during his rookie year. Pro Football Focus graded Allen relatively well (in an admittedly small sample size) when he filled in for Sullivan in Week 17, and Brandon Thorn of The Athletic — one of the best offensive line analysts in the media — called Allen an “undersized technically sound guy in the mold of Blythe.”
Noteboom and Allen have played fewer than 150 combined NFL snaps, but they aren’t the only potential problems along LA’s line. Blythe was an excellent find on the waiver wire, but his play fell off during the second half of last season, raising concerns that he may have been exposed. And while Whitworth’s play hasn’t yet begun to slip, he’ll be 38 years old by the end of the 2019 campaign, so there seemingly has to be some sort of decline approaching.
If last season was any indication, Goff needs elite offensive line play to stay effective. Per Evan Silva of Establish the Run, Goff ranked fourth in the NFL in passer rating when kept clean in the pocket in 2018, but fell to 28th in passer rating when under pressure. The Rams also ran the ball at the ninth-highest clip in the league last year, so Todd Gurley, Darrell Henderson, & Co. need LA’s front five to consistently open holes in McVay’s outside zone scheme.
What will the Rams do if their line begins to falter in 2019? They may attempt to insert rookies Bobby Evans or David Edwards into the lineup, but that’d mean adding even more inexperience up front. Los Angeles could try to swing a trade for someone like Lane Taylor (Packers) or Stefen Wisniewski (Eagles), but the importance of offensive line continuity makes an in-season addition difficult. What about a reunion with Sullivan, especially if Allen struggles at center? It’s probably telling that Sullivan remains on the open market four-plus months after being cut.
None of those options are overly appealing or all that feasible, so the Rams need to hope for the best with the current projected starters. We haven’t seen a McVay/Rams offensive with a poor offensive line, and LA is certainly hoping we don’t see one next season.
Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- Rams strength and conditioning coach Ted Rath was found not guilty on three misdemeanor counts of sexual battery, a Ventura, Calif., jury ruled Friday, Lindsey Thiry of ESPN.com tweets. This alleged incident occurred in 2018. Rath, 35, is in his second season as a Rams assistant; he was placed on leave earlier this year.