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Turf Show Times - All Posts #7and9bullshit...has ended!
The combine is a lieby 3k on February 27, 2020 at 3:00 pm
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports And it’s the NFL’s favorite kind - a successful one. An NFL general manager stands in his suite at Lucas Oil Stadium watching the combine workouts. I’m not using his name; even though he’s merely admitting what everyone privately acknowledges, he worries about saying it aloud because the combine is such a growth industry for the NFL. After years of coming to Indianapolis, he now understands that his presence here — everyone’s presence — is simply to play a small part in a televised show, even if real futures are at stake. The players are running on the field down below, and they are running on the screens playing all around him, broadcast by the NFL Network. From his suite, this GM can barely read the names and numbers on their jerseys, so he watches on TV. Like most guys, he has an iPad where the stats and scores and results automatically update in his draft software. Except the results are always posted faster on the live television broadcast than in his own system. That’s what cues his sense of dull dread: If I can just watch this on television, and if I don’t even really care about the results anyway, then why exactly am I here? That was ESPN’s Wright Thompson a year ago introducing his fantastic piece that laid bare the strange dichotomy on display in Indianapolis every year — a fantastic, choreographed charade that has become so popular that the performance draws enough attention to fuel what is essentially a week-long conference for the NFL. The performance itself is largely purposeless. The highlight is a 40-yard dash that resembles nothing of what any of these prospects will ever perform ever again. The bulk are drills in a controlled environment that at best flatten the playing field for everyone from the strongest prospect to the weakest and at worst force prospects into environments that do nothing to manifest the kind of cooperation that the sport of football actually requires. Instead of having offensive lines work as a unit, sure, have an offensive lineman out in the middle of the field by himself. Have a quarterback throwing to a receiver for the first time without any existing chemistry or established timing with no defensive backs. There is the aspect of failure, though. There is value in having a marker on the calendar for the prospects to know that they will need to be prepared to perform here. And so for the first time being released from the yoke of oversight they’ve operated under in college, they’re expected to be in top shape and prepared to practice and be instructed and be, perhaps at times, uncomfortable. There’s at least the value not so much in seeing who can withstand that pressure (because nearly all of them can) but in seeing the rare prospect who wilts despite having known this was coming. Overall though, the public side of the combine is a circus that is built more to pump oxygen into the NFL media ecosystem than the NFL football ecosystem. And it’s doing a fantastic job. But the private side? The private side is unarguably more important, more determinative, more suited to contribute to the future of the teams, of the prospects and of the executives, front office members and coaches in tow. The private side includes medical checks, the most important factor of all. Medical checks can lay low to a prospect’s draft stock regardless of his tape. Colleges aren’t required to submit injury reports. Players constantly play through a wide array of issues that aren’t made public. But to go from college football to the professional level where teams will be committing millions of dollars to these prospects and, for the most coveted, expected to lift their teams almost singlehandedly toward greater success for years to come? Yeah, they’re going to want to know the truth about that knee, that shoulder, that ankle. The private side includes interviews, but even those are a bit blown out of proportion. NFL teams have hundreds of scouts in their employ. Throughout the year, those scouts are constantly working with college teams to expand their employers’ database of information on every single prospect so that by the time the combine rolls around, it’s more an exercise to affirm what they already know about a prospect and not to unearth anything new. I’d offer a full recommendation to this piece from the Athletic’s Bo Wulf that details a day in the life of Philadelphia Eagles Assistant Director of College Scouting Alan Wolking. It’s a fascinating piece that probes just how much of a scout’s life goes far, far beyond just “watching tape.” So when everyone gets to Indy, teams already know what they know about the prospects. The interviews can’t do a ton to get more outside of the small school guys who flew beneath the radar. But the prospects from the big schools of the FBS? NFL teams have known those guys for years in and out. The private side absolutely includes what happens after the lights go out at Lucas Oil Stadium. Back in 2018, Dom Consentino detailed this aspect over at Deadspin (RIP...sigh) had a fantastic read on just how central this part of the combine is: The combine is always in Indianapolis, which means the many bars, restaurants, and hotel lobbies within walking distance of the stadium and the convention center are always the places to glad-hand in a relentless hunt for information—or to just hang out and booze. And nighttime, from the evening into the wee small hours, is when a lot of this rapport-building and genuine merriment goes down. The combine is basically one giant party. It’s not always the most hospitable place for women working in the industry. And it’s not all that rowdy. It’s just where everything happens. It’s just where everything happens. It’s just where everything happens. Everything. Which means the rest of it is...well, nothing. Or something close to it. It’s not surprising then that Rams Head Coach Sean McVay, who has shown a pretty strong willingness to buck tradition and forge a new way forward for the next generation of NFL head coaches, has opted not to stay for the on-field proceedings. It is, though, a bit of a shock to the system that he and much of his staff won’t be there after hours. Amid the hubbub of NFL Happy Hour where much of the bullshit subsides and so much of the NFL world actually talks shop. Remember that it was at the Combine that Rams General Manager Les Snead began the talks with Tennessee Titans GM Jon Robinson that would lead to the trade that sent the Rams the #1 overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft to use on QB Jared Goff. Of course, those talks came about not long after Snead took the podium during his media availability to proclaim that re-signing the members of the Rams’ secondary was Priority A...which amounted to exactly 0 extensions. But that might be the perfect example of the difference between the public and the private combine. The camouflage and the crucible. The crucible might matter more for the actual ongoings beyond the curtain, but the camouflage? It’s the lie the NFL is selling this week that has become to powerful to stop. Or to ignore. Thompson: Just before my plane boarded, someone sent me a tweet by an NFL reporter. In it, he wrote that next year the combine might be spread out over two weeks and the drills shown on primetime television. It doesn’t matter that most football decision makers say they don’t really get anything useful from those drills. As long as the combine exists, no matter what coaches and scouts say in private, the combine will matter. The results from Indianapolis create a narrative that can change someone’s life. The next day at home, I looked up Hunter Renfrow’s 40 time. The lasers clocked him at under 4.6, and some hand times had him at 4.53 and 4.54, just a fraction slower than the most recent Super Bowl MVP and in that strange limbo where nobody is sure how to tell if he should coach football in his hometown or play on Sunday for a decade to come. The combine is a lie. But sometimes I like being lied to. P.S. The former TST team got a lil something cookin in the lab. Stay tuned...
After 1.5 seasons of thriving together, Cory Littleton and Dante Fowler seem destined to separateby Kenneth Arthur on February 25, 2020 at 6:27 pm
Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images In one of his last moves as the head coach of the Rams, Jeff Fisher signed inside linebacker Cory Littleton as an undrafted free agent out of Washington. To this day, Littleton’s entire Wikipedia page entry on his college career is this: “Littleton attended the University of Washington.” He slipped through all 253 selections made in 2016 and was signed by the new team in Los Angeles and the Cory Littleton hype train had no idea it even existed. Like Snowpiercer, it went round and round and nobody knew when it would crash into a mountain of Pro Bowls. (Spoiler alerts for Snowpiercer and Littleton’s career.) Here at Turf Show Times, the 2016 UDFA list gave only quick mention of Littleton because UDFAs rarely deserve more. The reality is that many UDFAs pan out but it’s rarely the “hyped” ones and it’s often ones that you glance over. Which is sort of a microcosm of prospect evaluation itself as first Littleton was ignored in the draft and then Littleton was ignored in the undraft. ILB Cory Littleton arrived at the LA Rams via UDFA, and quietly developed into one of the best coverage LBs in the NFL. Caveat emptor on his run defense, though.— Ramblin' Fan (@RamblinFan) February 25, 2020 But Fisher got at least one thing right before he was fired mid-2016, which is that he kept Littleton on as a backup outside linebacker and even that came as a surprise, as he wasn’t in some final 53-man projections. He made it and he stayed on the whole season as a reserve, making one start, but that didn’t stop him from winning the team’s rookie of the year award. Reminder: The LA Rams drafted Jared Goff in 2016. The Rams had the number one pick in the draft and their rookie of the year was a blase undrafted free agent linebacker who was buried on the depth chart. That’s how much of an impact Littleton had on this roster and this team as a rookie. Obviously Goff had a really bad rookie campaign and the Rams didn’t have any other picks between 1 and 110 that season but any time a UDFA leaves that kind of impression on a team, it means that he’s likely someone you enjoy fighting next to and not against. Playing on a 2017 Wade Phillips defense that also included Mark Barron, Alec Ogletree, Connor Barwin, and Robert Quinn, not to mention Samson Ebukam and Matt Longacre, Littleton fought his way to four starts and totaled 36 tackles, one sack, and one interception. Perhaps the deepest linebacking unit in the league that year, Littleton eventually emerged as the most important to McVay’s Rams. With space cleared out by trading Ogletree and Quinn and parting with Barwin, Littleton became a full time starter at linebacker in 2018. He recorded 125 tackles, four sacks, three interceptions, nine tackles for a loss, and made the Pro Bowl. Clearly Fisher had reeled in a prize winner and McVay/Phillips had turned him into Best in Show. (Mixed animal metaphors or the Island of Dr Moreau?) The number of players who had 120+ tackles, 4+ sacks, 3+ interceptions in 2018: One. Darius Leonard was the only player to do that in 2019. Only three players have done that since 2014: Littleton, Leonard, and Landon Collins. We saw basically more of the same from Littleton in 2019 and now he’s set to be a free agent, having turned himself from not good enough to be in the top-253 of the draft in 2016 (and realistically maybe not even in the top-400 overall) to being the top inside linebacker on the market, if not one of the top three or four in the league overall. Bobby Wagner makes the most per year at inside linebacker at $18 million per season on a contract extension he signed last year. That topped the $17 million AAV by CJ Mosley signed in free agency. Third place is Myles Jack and Deion Jones at $14.25 million. Where Littleton lands is only a guess at this point but if the Jets were willing to go $17 on Mosley, who is to say that another team with more cap space than what they can spend isn’t going to go $17.5 or more on Littleton? In tackling efficiency (below), 49ers rookie Dre Greenlaw is already in elite company (PFF missed tackles):1. Cory Littleton, Rams (1)2. Dre Greenlaw, 49ers (4)3. Luke Kuechly, Panthers (6)4. Demario Davis, Saints (6)5. Bobby Wagner, Seahawks (8)https://t.co/TdJMU2ZdpR— David Lombardi (@LombardiHimself) February 20, 2020 —— Dante Fowler was on the completely opposite end of the draft spectrum as Littleton and it came one year earlier. Coming out of Florida in 2015, Fowler was described as a pass rusher who had only just begun to come into his own and that he could “dominate” a game if he wanted to. His NFL.com pro comparison was Khalil Mack. SOURCES TELL US “He’s had to play at different weights and different spots on the field, and I think he’s finally understanding how to use his athleticism to dominate a game. He will be way better in the pros than what he is now.” — AFC East college director of scouting NFL COMPARISON Khalil Mack BOTTOM LINE Strong-side 3-4 outside linebacker with the physical traits and above-average potential to set the edge or spill runs wide to an early demise. Fowler is a competitive pass rusher getting by on athleticism and inside moves right now, but has a Pro Bowl ceiling with double-digit sack potential if he takes coaching and addresses his rush technique. SBNation’s Stephen White described him as “boom or bust” and it was clear from almost the very onset of his professional career that he was ... bust. After the Bucs selected Jameis Winston and the Titans picked Marcus Mariota, the Jaguars had their pick of any player in the draft and that likely meant that the pressure was on to come away with the best player in the draft since Winston and Mariota were probably not it. They were just good QB prospects in most eyes. There was Fowler. Amari Cooper. Brandon Scherff. Leonard Williams. Todd Gurley. Rams are 'absolutely interested' in re-signing Dante Fowler Jr. https://t.co/OTTTzlvZ2W— Rams Wire (@TheRamsWire) February 25, 2020 Though he had plenty of doubters, most understood why Jacksonville chose Fowler and he could immediately replace a 34-year-old Chris Clemons. Except that on his first day of minicamp, Fowler tore his ACL. The rookie season would have to wait a year. Switching defensive coordinators from Bob Babich to Todd Wash in 2016, Fowler wasn’t coming into the best situation. The team also drafted Yannick Ngakoue that year and started Tyson Alualu, putting Fowler in a developmental backup role where he got into 53% of the snaps. Fowler finished the season with four sacks, 11 QB hits, and six tackles for a loss with five batted passes which ... isn’t that bad for a 22-year-old, all things considered. Among those things to consider was that Gus Bradley was fired with a 2-12 record in his pocket and replaced by interim Doug Marrone. Marrone retained the job and kept Wash on as defensive coordinator, but the team also made the best signing of 2017 by bringing in defensive end Calais Campbell from Arizona. The Jaguars went 10-6 with a top-ranked defense that included Campbell and Ngakoue as Pro Bowl defensive ends with 26.5 combined sacks, again leaving Fowler in a backup role. In that role, Fowler put up eight sacks, 10 QB hits, and seven tackles for a loss despite the fact that his playing time decreased from 53% to 45% and from 570 snaps to 464 snaps. He also had two sacks, three QB hits, and five TFL in the playoffs. In 106 fewer snaps, Fowler doubled his sack total and maintained his totals for QB hits and TFLs. He was 23 years old which meant that even if he was a rookie, he wouldn’t stand out for his age, but this was year three for Fowler. 23-year-old rookies in 2017 included Mitch Trubisky, Evan Engram, Reuben Foster, and Ryan Ramczyk, while first rounder Garrett Bolles was 25. When he was 21, Fowler was the top non-QB in the draft. At 23, he had put up eight sacks in fewer than half of the defensive snaps. You’d think this is when his value was at its highest, but the team had already moved on to Campbell and Ngakoue and they declined Fowler’s fifth-year option. He was then suspended for Week 1 by the league for a 2017 arrest in which he punched a man and stepped on his glasses. Not that the suspension really mattered to Jacksonville as he was virtually excluded from Marrone and Wash’s plans. Fowler played in only 16% of the snaps in the first seven games and was traded to the LA Rams in exchange for their third round compensatory selection and a 2020 fifth rounder that of course has yet to be used. In eight games with the Rams, Fowler played in 412 snaps, essentially getting his first opportunity to be a full time player. Without a chance to get offseason reps in the defense, with these teammates, and only having just met these coaches, Fowler had two sacks, five QB hits and four TFL in that time. In three playoff starts, Fowler had eight tackles, 1.5 sacks, three QB hits, and four TFL. He was also contributing on special teams for the first time in his career, a trend that continued in 2019. McVay says they want Big Whit back, says he's still a very good player. Said Dante Fowler is very important, interested in bringing him back (obviously).— Sosa K (@QBsMVP) February 25, 2020 Now 25, the same age as a rookie Bolles, Fowler became a full-time NFL starter. He played in all 16 games and was in on 80% of the defensive snaps, plus 11% of the snaps on special teams. Fowler had 11.5 sacks, 16 QB hits, six batted passes, and 16 TFL. The Rams may have gone from the Super Bowl to out of the playoffs, but the defense went from 18th in DVOA and 27th against the run to ninth in DVOA and eighth against the run. Aaron Donald finished second in total pressures, as he is wont to do, but Fowler was tied for 14th in pressures and was seventh in QB hurries. He became a vital part of Phillips’ front seven and their blitz packages. All six players ahead of him in QB hurries — Donald, Mack, Cam Jordan, Joey Bosa, Nick Bosa, T.J. Watt — went to the Pro Bowl. He had as many sacks as Joey Bosa, and more sacks than Nick Bosa and Mack. It’s rare to see a player who had as much draft hype as Fowler fall this far under the radar but he’s the same age as T.J. Watt and only one year older than Joey Bosa. How big is the difference really between Fowler and Danielle Hunter, who is also 25? In 2018, Hunter signed a five-year, $72 million contract extension and some even criticized him for accepting less than what he would have gotten if he had just waited. At 26 last year, Frank Clark signed a five year, $104 million contract with the Chiefs. Demarcus Lawrence signed for just one million more than that. Trey Flowers got $90 million. The advantages that those edge players had going into their free agency was consistency but there was little consistent about Fowler’s path to 25: He tore his ACL as a rookie, when he returned the defensive coordinator was different and Jacksonville stumbled into an explosive third rounder at the same position in Ngakoue, coaches changed again, then signed a premium free agent in Campbell, then was traded to a whole new set of coaches and teammates, and eventually settled into being the guy. And honestly throughout most of that turmoil, Fowler remained productive. I have little doubt that a Fowler is a more productive pass rusher than a Flowers. If an agent can’t turn that into a five-year deal over $100 million, I would wonder if Fowler made a mistake in hiring his agent. You could argue that he’s more of a Za’Darius Smith than he is a Demarcus Lawrence (Smith signed for $16.5 million AAV) but I could see the bidding push over $20 million AAV. For comparison, following edge-rushers fit into same range as Vernon in pass-rush productivity: Khalil Mack: 13.2%Dante Fowler: 13.2%Brandon Graham: 13.1%Arik Armstead: 12.5%Chandler Jones: 12.2%Everson Griffen: 12.1%Top FAs Ngakoue & Clowney fell below those numbers.— Brent Sobleski (@brentsobleski) February 25, 2020 —— Overall, the decision between Littleton and Fowler is not an easy one and given the Rams current cap constraints, there’s going to be the possibility that the defense loses both. At $18.5 million in current space, Los Angeles has maneuvering to do before they could consider a franchise tag that allocates at least $16 million to the player they are tagging. These are two players who have seen most of their career-thriving come as teammates who were rarely too far from one another. It seems almost certain that they’ll be separated within the next month and perhaps only one can stay with the Rams. Which player should that be, if either?
What Rams do in NFL.com 3-round mock draftby Kenneth Arthur on February 24, 2020 at 7:00 pm
Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images It’s well-trod territory at this point that the Los Angeles Rams don’t have a first round pick again, but perhaps not as trodden that they still have their picks in rounds two and three, plus two picks in round four thanks to the compensatory selection coming because of Rodger Saffold’s departure. This trodenness means that the Rams are never mentioned in 2020 first round mocks but so long as they expand to rounds two and three — where accuracy is now not even a consideration — LA warrants plenty of mention. That was the case in Chad Reuter’s three-round mock for NFL.com last week, which had the Rams making picks for their offensive and defensive lines. In round two, Reuter has LA selecting Auburn defensive tackle Marlon Davidson. Playing alongside Derrick Brown, the consensus number one DT in the draft and for some, the best overall player in the 2020 class, Davidson matched Brown in tackles for a loss (11.5) and bested him in sacks (6.5) last season. This is a pretty classic case of two or three defensive line teammates gaining attention likely because of an elite prospect by their side. The example I usually think of is Julius Peppers and Ryan Sims for North Carolina in the early 2000s. Peppers was Peppers but Sims, the sixth overall pick in 2002, didn’t have the career that the Kansas City Chiefs were hoping for following that selection. In 2016, Joey Bosa had 16 TFL and five sacks for Ohio State, while teammate Tyquan Lewis had 14 and eight. Bosa became Bosa but Lewis, a second round pick of the Indianapolis Colts in 2018, while Lewis has had a rough start to his career. This does not really say anything to Davidson’s potential or future, only that dynamic teammates in those positions will be taken into consideration. There are many examples of college defensive line teammates who both succeeded. Davidson is 6’3, 297 lbs and could be seen here as a replacement for free agent Michael Brockers. His summary at The Draft Network is as follows: Summary: Marlon Davidson is a scheme-specific Day 2 candidate for teams looking for a big SDE with an intriguing blend of skills. Davidson has great length throughout his frame but is not lacking for mass, which allows him to win the point of attack and squeeze boundary runs to the inside. Davidson presents a better outside pass-rush ability than you’d expect for a player of his weight: he throws his hands well to soften rush angles and has a wide base to rush with tilt and close on the quarterback. Davidson won’t be attractive for teams with wide ends who 1-gap exclusively, but should find a home in the Top-100 picks for a team that needs his skill set. In round three, Reuter matches the Rams up with a big guy on the other side of the ball, projecting Ohio State guard Jonah Jackson at pick 84. A quick summary from 247Sports: Listed as an offensive guard after measuring in at 6-foot-3 1/2 and 310 pounds, Jackson came to the Senior Bowl on the heels of his aforementioned 2019 season with Ohio State. Following four years at Rutgers, Jackson explored his options as a graduate transfer after he picked up an undergraduate degree in criminology and chose the Buckeyes over several other Power Five offers, including Oklahoma and Texas. He was open to any interior position after playing both with the Scarlet Knights, but Ohio State had been set on Josh Myers, who wound up starting and flourishing at center as a third-year sophomore in 2019. Jackson displayed his ability while starting all 14 games for Ohio State, which started undefeated and won its third straight Big Ten championship before it fell in the College Football Playoff semifinal. Coaches praised Jackson for intelligence and toughness, while PFF mentioned him as potentially the best guard in the draft. "Jonah Jackson firmly put himself into the conversation for PFF’s OG1"- @PFF_Mike pic.twitter.com/D6hYKGLEw1— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) January 24, 2020 Should Jackson have a good showing in draft season, certainly he will not be available at pick 84. The Rams have 2018 third round pick Joseph Noteboom, 2019 fifth round pick David Edwards, and Austin Corbett, a 2018 second round pick by the Cleveland Browns all in the competition should Austin Blythe leave in free agency as expected. None played in a way that would make you believe that both guard spots aren’t open for discussion come next season. Day 2 of the 2020 NFL Draft is Friday, April 24, beginning at 4 PM PT.
When the Rams have used the franchise tag in the pastby Kenneth Arthur on February 24, 2020 at 4:59 pm
Were they not in a salary cap situation that they need to clear up before making any other moves other than to get some contracts off the books for 2020, the Los Angeles Rams would have at least a couple of candidates for the franchise tag this year. The Rams have an estimated $14.7 million in cap space for next season per OvertheCap.com and a significant number of key players hitting free agency. Chief among them are inside linebacker Cory Littleton and edge rusher Dante Fowler Jr., plus Greg Zuerlein, Andrew Whitworth, and Michael Brockers among others. Were they to find the money — which reportedly is still enough to take Darius Slay under consideration — then perhaps Littleton or Fowler would be held onto with a tag. At least until a contract agreement could be reached. The tag for a linebacker is set to be $16.2 million and that applies to players whether they play on the inside or outside. Were Fowler to argue that he’s a defensive end, that price tag would be $19.3 million. Should LA find the cap space that allowed them to tag one of these players, it would only be the tenth time since its introduction in 1993 that the Rams used it. The prior instances: 1998: CB Ryan McNeil 2001: DE Kevin Carter 2003, 2004, 2005: OT Orlando Pace 2009: S O.J. Atogwe 2016, 2017: CB Trumaine Johnson 2018: S LaMarcus Joyner McNeil led the NFL with nine interceptions in 1997, his first season with the Rams. He was tagged and then had just one pick in 1998, leaving for the Cleveland Browns in 1999. Had McNeil signed the deal offered to him by St. Louis in ‘98 — four years, $13 million — he would have not only made $5.6 million that year (he made $3 million on the tag), he may well have been a part of the Super Bowl champs instead of the expansion Browns. (McNeil also turned down a four-year, $8 million contract with the Detroit Lions before signing his one-year, $1.25 million deal with the Rams in 1997. Ironically, McNeil founded the company Professional Business & Financial Network after his career and published OT Magazine, which specifically tailored itself to helping athletes manage their money. Or perhaps not ironically, since McNeil had mistakes to learn from.) Carter was a classic use of the tag, being a top pick in 1995 then leading the NFL in sacks as the team won the Super Bowl in 1999. He played one more season with the Rams and got the tag in February 2001 after a “disappointing” season with 10.5 sacks, with few expecting him to actually return to the team. On March 28, he was traded to the Tennessee Titans to be paired with Javon Kearse, and the Rams got the 29th overall pick in the draft. That pick turned into nose tackle Ryan Pickett. Pace was tagged for three consecutive years and he played in all 48 games of those seasons, making the Pro Bowl each time. Pace met with the Houston Texans in the 2005 offseason but eventually he signed a seven-year, $52.9 million deal to remain with the Rams. In 2006 he missed eight games and in 2007 he missed 15. He ended up playing for St. Louis for four of those seven seasons on the original deal but never again at the level he was at for 2005. Similar to McNeil, Atogwe had a season where he really blew up, intercepting eight passes in 2007 as the starting free safety. He came back with five more picks in 2008 but accolades like the Pro Bowl always alluded him. Not money though, as the team tagged him following his 13 picks from 2007-2008 and he eventually settled for $6.3 million to play the 2009 season. He was solid enough to sign a five-year, $32 million contract in 2010 but was released only one year later. Atogwe was out of the NFL by 2012. Then there’s Johnson, who is the third DB on this list to turn a high interception total into a franchise tag. Johnson intercepted seven passes in only 14 games in 2015 then was deemed the team’s franchise corner over teammate Janoris Jenkins, who left via free agency to sign with the New York Giants. Jenkins made the Pro Bowl in 2016 but Johnson played well enough to earn himself another tag in 2017. After another pretty decent season, the Rams could no longer afford to play tag with Johnson and he signed a five-year, $72.5 million deal with the New York Jets. Johnson has missed virtually half of the last two seasons and is a potential cap casualty candidate. Finally, Joyner became the sixth player and fourth DB to get tagged by the Rams when they designated him their franchise player in 2018. As a cornerback from 2014-2016, Joyner never quite lived up to the potential that Jeff Fisher saw in him when he was drafted in the second round. Taking over at free safety for Mo Alexander in 2017, Joyner found his place under new head coach Sean McVay and shined enough in 12 games to be tagged and receive $11 million in 2018. He played pretty well that season and the Rams made the Super Bowl, but they were okay with letting him leave this time as he signed a four-year, $42 million contract with the Raiders. After receiving good-to-excellent coverage grades in the two years prior, Joyner received one of PFF’s worst coverage grades in 2019. Always take grades with a huge grain of salt but Joyner didn’t seem to enjoy Jon Gruden’s defense as much as he had seemed to grow under Wade Phillips. So the Rams have used the tag nine times on six players over nearly 30 years. It helped them keep Pace for a couple of his prime years and landed them a first round pick which turned into a pretty good defensive tackle who played for the team for five seasons. Other than some fringe benefits, like some extra time with some good players, that’s about all the tag has brought them. They don’t seem to be in a position to use the tag on Fowler or Littleton right now, but that won’t necessarily lead to a worse outcome.
Four questions to answer in the offseasonby Sosa Kremenjas on February 24, 2020 at 4:44 pm
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports The answers to these questions will determine the direction the Rams take in the offseason. The 2020 NFL Offseason is fully underway as we kickoff the beginning of the NFL Scouting Combine today. The Los Angeles Rams are one of many teams who have a litany of options heading into this offseason, ranging from the coaching staff changes, to roster management, and everything in between. Let’s get right into the questions that surround the Rams this offseason, and how the answers to those questions will affect their decision making moving forward. Is RB Todd Gurley the guy moving forward? Much has been made about the questions surrounding Gurley’s status moving forward, and though we don’t have any clarity on that situation yet, NFL Networks Ian Rapaport reported the Rams and Gurley would meet to discuss his future with the team, usage, and plan moving forward. Now, the report was quite vague and didn’t predict or suggest anything, so we’re still grasping at straws. Regardless, the Rams need to decide what the plan at running back is. Gurley had the second-worst season of his five-year career in 2019, totaling only 857 rushing yards for an average of 3.8 yards-per-carry and a total of 1,064 yards from scrimmage. Gurley’s usage was scaled back considerably, as he totaled 61 less touches (even with one more game played) this past season, likely due to the issues surrounding the health of his knee. Moving on from Gurley is a tough endeavor for the Rams to execute this offseason, because cutting him isn’t an option (-$2.9m saved) and trading him ($4.65m saved) wont be an easy task to pull off. If the Rams do decide they are ready to advance with third-round pick Darrell Henderson at RB, they may decide to “sweeten the pot” by attaching a potential asset to Gurley, in hopes of finding a trade partner. Either way, the Rams need to decide what the plan is here. The choices are to have Gurley return and build a timeshare between he and Henderson next season, or to find a way to move the expensive contract by shipping Gurley off elsewhere and proceeding with Henderson and Malcolm Brown in the backfield, while using the saved cap space to improve the team elswhere. Who is the choice at right tackle: Rob Havenstein or Bobby Evans? This question is arguably the most interesting in my opinion, simply due to the fact that there is validity and a realistic component to both sides of the question. A former second-round pick, Havenstein has developed into a very good right tackle throughout his five NFL seasons. Over those years, Havenstein registered 68 starts and 4,343 snaps total offensive snaps. 2019 did not go as planned for Big Hav, playing in only nine games, registering eight total penalties (up from three in 2018), and seeing his performance take a sharp decline. The situation isn’t all bad. Big Hav is still under contract for three more seasons, all of which come at a very fair price. Not only does he have financial security, but Havenstein is still only 27-years-old, has a bevy of good NFL tape, and has all the talent needed to succeed. With the 2019 offensive line struggling with injuries, the Rams didn’t have much of a choice other than to start rookie Bobby Evans at right tackle. Evans was a revelation, securing the starting RT spot even when Havenstein returned to health. Now, Evans did receive plenty of help by way of TE/RB chips, sliding protections, and overall gameplans, but his play was still impressive and was a factor in the turnaround in performance for the Rams’ offense. The Rams now need to decide which guy they want to move forward with to protect QB Jared Goff’s frontside. Havenstein is the superior player and talent, though the Rams may believe that the difference in money isn’t significant enough to continue to start Havenstein and leave Evans on the bench. If the Rams do elect to trade Big Hav, they’d save $5.4m in cap space, and would likely recoup a significant day two draft selection for a good player in an offensive line-starved league. How active do the Rams plan to be in the free agency market? The answer to this question will help craft the remainder of the offseason. If the Rams do anticipate on being active in free agency (whether that means re-signing their own guys or others), they’ll obviously need to open up cap space. Currently, the Rams have only $20m in cap space and a bevy of guys slated to reach free agency in a few weeks. The good news is the Rams have plenty of ways to open up a lot of cap space. At the top of the list is restructuring the contracts of either Goff or DT Aaron Donald. If that isn’t enough to help supplement the team, potential trades of TE Tyler Higbee, Havenstein, and/or Gurley could come into play. What are the schemes going to look like on all three phases of the game? Not only will the roster change significantly moving forward for the Rams, but the coaching staff also had some major shakeups. The Rams hired Offensive Coordinator Kevin O’Connell, Defensive Coordinator Brandon Staley, and Special Teams Coordinator John Bonamego. With so much movement on the coaching level, we really aren’t sure what to expect from the team moving forward as it pertains to schemes. What little we do know is that Head Coach Sean McVay will remain the offensive playcaller, though O’Connell will help design gameplans during the week. Staley is more of a darkhorse, though we do know he said he preferred the 3-4 defense and that would continue to be the base defense the Rams deploy, in addition to adding the same schematics as Denver Broncos Head Coach Vic Fangio. Next to nothing is known about Bonamego or what he plans with his special teams units, but the Rams have been notorious as “risk takers” and trick-play innovators on ST’s under former Special Teams Coordinator John Fassel. Will that continue? These are the four major questions surrounding the Rams as they look to maneuver their way throughout this offseason. Answering these questions will firmly mold the plan to attack the offseason. Now we wait for the first domino to fall.