Rams Rumors

Poll: Who Will End Offseason As NFL’s Highest-Paid Defender?

The league’s seen a large number of standout players skip mandatory workouts this week, setting up an eventful stretch despite teams being on break between minicamps and training camps.

The star power from the 2014 draft is driving part of this spree of holdouts, and this summer figures to produce at least one mega-contract for a defender (and likely more). By the time this offseason concludes, the defensive contract landscape will look different. Who will be the league’s new standard-bearer here?

Von Miller‘s held that title for two years, since signing his six-year, $114.6MM extension at the 2016 franchise tag deadline. Multiple stars drafted in the 2014 first round are gunning for contracts that would surpass Miller’s.

Will it be Aaron Donald? Despite playing a position that has not been traditionally compensated as well as Miller’s, Ndamukong Suh‘s 2015 free agency windfall notwithstanding, Donald has been the league’s most dominant interior defender for a bit now. With quarterbacks’ release times steadily accelerating, defenders lined up closer to the ball have seen a change in compensation patterns. Defensive tackles like Fletcher Cox and Kawann Short are each paid more than $16MM annually, and Donald’s operated on a higher level than each during his four-year career.

Holding out for a second straight year, Donald is a key component to a Rams operation that’s taking a more aggressive approach to contention than it did last year. While no deal is imminent, talks will presumably heat up soon. Les Snead‘s already said a Donald resolution will need to involve an NFL-high defender contract, but will other defenders end up with a better deal?

Khalil Mack didn’t follow Donald’s lead and hold out last year, despite both being on the same timeline and the Raiders defensive end beating the Rams defensive tackle to the defensive player of the year throne. Now, Mack’s stayed away from the Raiders throughout the offseason. While the Raiders may be a tad behind the Rams on the preseason hype scale, Mack has been vital to their defense — a perennially shaky unit despite his dominance — and plays the game’s most valuable defensive role.

At 27, Mack is two years younger than Miller. And the cap is now $22MM higher than it was when the Broncos signed their edge-rushing phenom. It stands to reason Mack will sign a more lucrative deal. However, Derek Carr accepted less than market value at $25MM per year to help Oakland be in better position to keep its core together. With that contract on the books, and a situation the Rams do not have to navigate with Jared Goff just yet, will Mack end up just behind Donald in this pursuit? The Raiders also signed Carr in June of last year. Mack signing in June, to conclude a less contentious process than Donald’s, would open the door for Donald to come in and exceed whatever deal the Bay Area parties reach.

What about Jadeveon Clowney? Not as accomplished as the California-dwelling duo, the No. 1 pick in 2014 has become a star in his own right. And at 25, he’s two years younger than both. As injuries have sidetracked J.J. Watt‘s otherworldly career, Clowney’s become one of the league’s best players. The Texans have a history of authorizing this kind of contract — as they did with Watt’s six-year, $100MM pact in 2014 — and have a quarterback at least two years away from an extension.

While Watt’s maladies have clouded his future and made Clowney more indispensable in the process, might Houston be leery of paying league-record money to another injury-prone performer? Clowney is not holding out, but he did not participate in minicamp while recovering from another surgery.

So, which defender will assume Miller’s position? What will it take to finalize such a deal? Will this derby end with a $20MM- or $21MM-per-year contract? Is there a darkhorse player (perhaps the franchise-tagged Demarcus Lawrence?) that could swoop in here? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your view in the comments section!

Examining Key 2018 Holdouts

The 2014 first round produced some of the NFL’s best players, and they comprise part of an extensive group of that skipped minicamp and could well be training camp holdouts. But several other standout players didn’t show for their respective teams’ mandatory workouts either. Here’s a look on where things stand with this absent contingent.

Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams: The reigning defensive player of the year is holding out for a second straight summer. He skipped the Rams’ minicamp, as expected, and remains focused on a landscape-changing deal. Both Donald and Khalil Mack are in line to eclipse Von Miller‘s $19MM annual salary, but the California-based franchises may be hesitant to be the first to authorize a $20MM-per-year pact for a defender. However, Les Snead‘s already conceded the Rams will have to finalize a Donald deal that makes him the league’s highest-paid defender. But with the Broncos superstar having signed his extension in a $155MM cap year, it’s likely Donald’s camp — particularly on the heels of a season where the all-world interior defender won DPOY honors after his holdout induced a two-game absence — is targeting a figure well north of Miller’s, with the cap now at $177.2MM.

The Rams see this process unfolding in a less contentious fashion this year, but a Donald deal — one that’s putting other priorities on hold — isn’t imminent.

David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals: Unlike Le’Veon Bell and the Steelers, this process features no immediate deadline. But Johnson’s contract expires after this season, with no fifth-year option available to the franchise. Johnson and the Cards are engaging in extension discussions, and Steve Keim said this week — as his All-Pro back skipped minicamp — the team looks forward to signing Johnson long-term.

This has not proven to be an acrimonious situation, but Johnson is on a slightly different timetable than Bell. Despite being a fourth-year player compared to Pittsburgh’s All-Pro entering his sixth season, Johnson is a few months older than Bell and will turn 27 in December. However, it may be in his best interests to wait and see what happens with Bell by the July 16 franchise tag extension deadline.

Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons: The NFL’s seen its wide receiver salary landscape shift since Jones signed his extension in August 2015. That contract made Jones the NFL’s highest-paid wideout, but seven receivers have since surpassed him. This includes Sammy Watkins and slot target Jarvis Landry, who respectively signed 2018 deals for $16MM and $15.1MM annually. Atlanta’s top weapon wants a revised contract and skipped OTAs and minicamp, and the Falcons are discussing such an amendment.

Jones has three seasons and minimal guarantees remaining on his deal, which averages $14.25MM per year. The team’s response a Jones camp proposal did not meet with the group’s approval, but the sides continue to negotiate. The 29-year-old pass-catcher said recently he has no intentions of forcing his way out of Atlanta.

Taylor Lewan, Tennessee Titans: The left tackle is part of the 2014 first-round contingent entering fifth-year option seasons, and he joined some of the group’s higher-profile players in skipping mandatory June workouts. Jon Robinson said upon being informed of Lewan’s impending minicamp absence that the parties are participating in ongoing re-up dialogue, but as recently as late May, no reports indicated this was the case.

A two-time Pro Bowler, Lewan is entering his age-27 season and is now shooting for Nate Solder‘s $15.5MM-AAV standard. That’s $2MM-plus more than any other left tackle makes, and the Giants authorized that contract amid free agency circumstances. This will complicate matters for Lewan and other extension-seeking tackles. Lewan’s option season is set to be worth $9.341MM.

Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders: After not joining Donald in a 2017 holdout, despite being in essentially the same situation, Mack is doing so this year. He has not reported to the Raiders this offseason. The 2016 defensive player of the year saw 2014 draftee teammates Derek Carr and Gabe Jackson sign lucrative extensions, only to see the Raiders put his on hold — mirroring other teams’ processes with ’14 first-rounders — because of the franchise-friendly fifth-year option. Reggie McKenzie‘s maintained the franchise intends to extend Mack in 2018 and said other players’ situations aren’t factoring into these discussions. Though, it’d be hard to believe Donald’s process isn’t impacting Mack’s at all.

The Raiders and Mack weren’t close on terms in April, but both Carr and Jackson signed their extensions in June of last year, perhaps pointing to a near-future resolution. Unlike the Rams, however, the Raiders have a top-tier quarterback salary on their books. That could cause issues elsewhere on the roster. Although, the cap’s perpetual rise negates some of those potential problems.

Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks: Perhaps the most interesting of these situations, the Seahawks have dangled Thomas in trades but expect him to report for training camp. Like Jones, Thomas saw several at his position usurp him in the salary hierarchy since signing an extension. Thomas signed a $10MM-AAV contract to make him the highest-paid safety in 2014. Again in a contract year, he’s threatened a holdout for months and is following through. The Cowboys and Seahawks discussed a draft-weekend deal for the three-time All-Pro. While Dallas balked about sending a second-round pick for the 29-year-old defender, the teams may well revisit these talks.

Either way, Thomas is going to want Eric Berry money ($13MM AAV) on his third contract. With Richard Sherman in San Francisco and Kam Chancellor‘s career in doubt, Thomas is the last remaining member of the Legion of Boom. It’s just uncertain if he’ll finish out his second contract in Seattle or be shipped elsewhere and end that dominant era.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Rams Hoping For Defensive Chemistry

The Rams hope the chemistry of their new-look defensive will be explosive in the right way, Lindsay H. Jones of USA Today writes. There’s definitely big potential in L.A., but some outsiders aren’t convinced that new additions like cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh will gel with the team.

Last year, the Rams were roughly in the middle of the pack in terms of points and passing yards allowed per game while allowing the fifth-most rushing yards per contest. Talib believes that the Rams’ D will improve across the board – especially against the pass.

Rams Unsure If Aaron Donald Will Show To Minicamp

  • The Rams are uncertain whether or not Aaron Donald will show up for their mandatory minicamp, which starts tomorrow, according to Lindsey Thiry of ESPN. Donald is angling for a contract extension that will make him the league’s highest paid defensive player as he enters the last year of his rookie deal. Donald held out of all of training camp and ended up missing the first game of the season last year due to unhappiness with his contract, although he did show up to minicamp last year to avoid being fined.

Rams Lone Remaining Defendant In Reggie Bush Lawsuit

  • The Rams are the only remaining defendant in Reggie Bush‘s lawsuit after the city of St. Louis was dismissed from the case, according to Joel Currier of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Bush is claiming the Rams are responsible for slippery concrete that caused him to suffer a season-ending knee injury when he was with the 49ers.

Rams Sign Entire Draft Class

As they seemingly do every year, the Rams have officially signed all of their draft picks on one day. Kristen Lago of TheRams.com reports that the organization inked all 11 rookies to their contracts yesterday. The list of players includes:

The Rams didn’t have picks in the first two rounds due to trades for wideouts. They were without a first-rounder due to the Brandin Cooks trade with the Patriots, and their second-rounder was used in the Sammy Watkins deal.

The trio of rookie linemen (Noteboom, Allen, and Demby) could end up seeing some playing time should anything happen to the Rams’ starters. The three players are ultimately competing with Cornelius Lucas, Austin BlytheAaron Neary, and Jake Eldrenkamp for backup reps.

Okoronkwo could see some time at outside linebacker if projected starters Matt Longacre or Samson Ebukam need to be replaced. The Oklahoma product is competing with Ejuan Price and Trevon Young for playing time.

Rams HC Sean McVay Discusses Offseason, Cooks, Talib

The Rams are going to have plenty of pressure on them heading into next season. Following a 2017 campaign that saw them win 11 games and earn their first playoff appearance in more than a decade, the franchise loaded up this offseason.

While the team let go of players like Sammy Watkins, Trumaine JohnsonAlec Ogletree and Robert Quinn, they seemingly found upgrades in Brandin Cooks, Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters, and Ndamukong Suh . Clearly, there will be a lot of pressure on this talented squad, but it sounds like Sean McVay is ready for the challenge.

The Rams head coach recently sat down with Myles Simmons of TheRams.com to discuss his offseason additions and the team’s expectations in 2018. The whole interview is worth checking out, but we’ve compiled some of the notable soundbites below:

How OTAs have been going, especially when it comes to adding new players into the system:

“I think it’s been really good. There’s been a lot of good competition, guys getting familiar with our systems, continuing to learn each other — how to compete but be smart doing it. And I think we’re just starting to see guys just continue to make improvements one day at a time. Our coaches are doing a great job. So want to wrap up OTAs the right way next week.”

On the acquistion of wideout Brandin Cooks, and how his addition will help quarterback Jared Goff:

“Yeah, I think with Brandin, and then being able to play alongside such a great receiving corps that we have in place, he’s been a nice addition. Feel really good watching the way he’s been able to implement himself into our offense by the way he’s learned, how conscientious he is in meetings. And he’s a guy — if you just look at, really, his career — he is a really fast player, but he can do everything. He plays big for a smaller-stature guy. But he’s strong. He can win short, he can win intermediate, he can go down the field. So I think you’re really not limited in any way that you can utilize him. And there’s a reason why he’s had over 1,000 yards and [at least] seven touchdowns each of the last three years. And he’s a special player for sure.”

On the addition of cornerback Aqib Talib, and how his veteran presence will help the defense:

“Well I think like anybody else, he’s had a lot of success in this league. But I think he leads by being able to connect with the players, and then going out and doing things the right way with the way he practices, the way he is in meetings. I’ve been extremely impressed watching him from afar. I was with him in Tampa his rookie year, and now just getting a chance to reconnect with him — smart player, cerebral. Seen a lot of different things, understands concepts. And then he’s also got the athleticism to match up with it. And he’s very comfortable having played in this system with coach Phillips in Denver. So, it’s been a seamless transition for him so far. And we feel really good about having Aqib with us.”

On how much Talib’s relationship with defensive coordinator Wade Phillips influenced the acquisition:

“Oh, it’s huge. I think that’s one of the things you feel so good about, is that a lot of the players that we’ve acquired from outside the organization have been people that have worked with some members of our coaching staff. And Wade in particular with the knowledge and experience that he has, he’s got a great feel for personnel around this league. And having worked with some great players, you hear guys want to come play for him because of the way he works with those guys, the way he puts them in position to have success. And Aqib is very similar. And, like I said, extremely pleased that we got him and it’s a real credit to Les and his staff for getting that trade done.”

On first-year quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor:

“Yeah I think when you look at Zac, great college quarterback, had some success playing professionally, Big 12 Player of the Year. He’s got a great even-keel demeanor and disposition. He’s been a coordinator, when he called plays for the Dolphins. He was at the University of Cincinnati. But I think he’s just got such a great perspective and a really good way about relating to the players, communicating in a clear, open, and honest fashion. And that demeanor, that disposition — especially dealing with the quarterback position — I think is perfect. Extremely detail-oriented. Been really pleased with what he’s done. And he’s another guy, having had him in place, getting to work with our receivers last year, and now watching the way he’s interacting with Jared, with Sean, and with Brandon — it’s been a really seamless transition. And he’s done a really good job so far.”

On avoiding a “boom-or-bust” mentality:

“I think the NFL is so competitive — don’t really look at it like that. Look at it as, we feel confident with the players that we have, with our coaches. And we’re focused on getting better every single day. And I think in the short amount of time that I’ve been fortunate to work in this league, you realize how competitive all 32 teams are — the other 31 teams other than us. And [they’ve got] great coaches, great players. And you can’t afford to kind of get complacent. You’ve got to always focus on getting better one day at a time, establishing a standard of performance and how our process guides our everyday approach — and that’s the one day at a time. And you can’t really get caught up in things that we can’t control. We kind of just want to be just want to be where our feet our planted, and that’s being present in the day and controlling what we can control.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

This Date In Transactions History: Issac Bruce

On this date in 2010, the 49ers traded Issac Bruce to the Rams. However, this wasn’t a typical trade. The deal was facilitated in order to allow Bruce, then 37, to retire with his original franchise. 

Bruce started his career with the Rams in 1994, the team’s final season in Los Angeles. The second-round pick played sparingly as a rookie, but he broke out as an NFL sophomore in St. Louis with 119 catches, 1,781 yards, and 13 touchdowns, all of which went down as his career bests. In his 14 illustrious years with the Rams, Bruce amassed four Pro Bowl trips and eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving in eight different seasons.

Sixteen years was enough for me,” Bruce said at his farewell press conference. “I think a lot was done. But that second training camp practice (in two-a-days) may have played a part in it. I was ready to move on and do something else other than playing football.”

After so many productive seasons in the NFL, Bruce had little left to prove. Bruce was the leading wide receiver in the Rams’ “Greatest Show On Turf” Super Bowl-winning season and left the team as its all-time receiving leader with 14,109 yards. His second act with the Niners was not quite as flashy with 835 yards in his first SF season and 264 yards in his 2009 finale.

The two years I was away, I kept tabs on this organization,” Bruce said. “I played against this organization, I played against its players. The funny thing is I found myself encouraging them when things didn’t look bright for them. I looked down and saw myself in a different colored uniform. It was honestly just to me personally — it just wasn’t right.

So, with the trade, Bruce returned back to the Rams and became the last member of the Rams’ first Los Angeles run to hang ’em up. Later, his No. 80 jersey was retired by the team.

Bruce was denied entry into the Pro Football Hall of Fame for the second time in 2018, but he remains a likely candidate for induction down the road.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Latest On Aaron Donald

  • While Aaron Donald has certainly made a case to earn a hefty extension, the Rams have the option of exerting leverage over the All-World defensive tackle, per Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News. While Donald likely wants to allow Raiders edge rusher Khalil Mack to reset the market for defensive players, Mack — thanks to his higher draft slot — will earn nearly double Donald’s salary in 2018. Donald, of course, has made a strong argument for his next contract by playing as the league’s best defender for some time. The 2017 Defensive Player of the Year, Donald has earned Pro Bowl nods in each of his four pro campaigns, and was named a first-team All-Pro from 2015-17. Donald predictably skipped Los Angeles’ organized team activities, but the Rams are reportedly “optimistic” they’ll get a new deal in place before the regular season kicks off.