summing up the Rams 2017 season & looking ahead to 2018

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    5 ways the surprising LA Rams can improve in 2018



    Now, the narrative shifts. No longer are they the out-of-nowhere Rams. The 2018 season will begin with expectations, and merely maintaining this season’s level won’t take the Rams to the Super Bowl.

    Coach Sean McVay pressed the accelerator in 2017, when he helped lift a stagnant franchise to an 11-5 record, an NFC West title and the Rams’ first playoff appearance in 2003. Now, given the landscape, there’s no reason the Rams can’t have similar success next season, but it will take some work.

    “Do I think there’s a lot brewing here, and a young football team that’s going to be really good? I do,” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “I think this team can be really special.”

    The young core of the Rams’ roster should remain intact in 2018, but the schedule is tougher and opponents will have a full season of Rams game film to study this summer.

    The Rams will convene again as a team in mid-April, when their offseason program begins. Here’s a checklist of things the Rams can do to improve before the start of the 2018 season:


    In the Rams’ playoff loss, the Atlanta Falcons likely provided the template every opponent will use next season in an attempt to slow down running back Todd Gurley. The Falcons loaded up the line of scrimmage and also kept a close eye on Gurley coming out of the backfield on pass plays.

    Of course, not every team has the defensive speed and acumen of the Falcons, but McVay is going to have to tweak his plan and come up with a Gurley-centered attack that is less obvious.

    It was complicated between McVay and Gurley in 2017. In the rare instances when McVay came under criticism, it was because he didn’t give the ball to Gurley enough. Then, against the Falcons, it seemed like the Gurley plays were too predictable. So, that’s tough for McVay, the Rams’ play-caller, but it’s a balance he’s going to have to figure out in 2018.


    The Rams have an impressive list of young players under contract for 2018 (and beyond), so while that core is set, there also is a large number of pending free agents, particularly on defense.

    On March 15, when the free-agent signing period begins, the Rams could lose up to 14 players. The list of notable players includes receiver Sammy Watkins, cornerbacks Trumaine Johnson and Nickell Robey-Coleman, linebacker Connor Barwin, safety Lamarcus Joyner and center John Sullivan.

    That’s a significant part of their defense, but the Rams’ first decision must be about Watkins, who didn’t make a big impact after being acquired in an August trade. Watkins has No. 1-receiver potential and the Rams could choose to apply a “tag” to him and keep him under contract for one more year. Then, the Rams have to decide whether they want to retain their secondary or rebuild it.


    This will be a much calmer offseason for Rams quarterback Jared Goff, who won’t have to listen to “Is he a bust?” bloviating from media pundits. Goff had a fine season, as he passed for 3,804 yards and 28 touchdowns and threw only seven interceptions. It was an impressive step forward.

    There’s still room for growth. Analytics websites showed Goff, more than other quarterbacks, was less effective when blitzed. When given time in the pocket, Goff excelled, but under pressure, he didn’t have quite the same amount of savvy to make things happen.

    That shouldn’t cause panic. Goff is 23 and just completed his first full season as an NFL starter. His command of the field can improve, as can his connection with receivers. In particular, if Watkins returns in 2018, that relationship needs to get stronger.


    The Rams dealt, as well as possible, with the Aaron Donald-fueled distractions in 2017, when Donald sought a new contract and held out for all of training camp and missed the season opener.

    Donald, the Rams’ star defensive lineman and arguably the best defensive player in the NFL, still doesn’t have a new contract and is set to enter the final year of his current deal. The Rams, technically, could keep Donald under contract in 2019 and 2020 by applying the “franchise tag” to him.

    That’s probably not the smartest road to go down, though. Donald was a ridiculous bargain this season, at $3.2 million, and still would be a huge bargain in 2018 at $6.9 million. But it’s time to get this deal done. Donald won’t hold out in 2018, or at least not for long, because he would jeopardize a year of free agency, but the Rams should want to avoid further distractions and get something done with their best player.


    The playoff loss showed the potential of the Rams in Los Angeles. Approximately 70,000 people came to the Coliseum and provided an electric home-field atmosphere that hadn’t seen provided all season.

    The Rams went 3-5 at the Coliseum this season and are 4-11 at home since the relocation from St. Louis. There are other factors, but clearly the Rams would feel more comfortable with a large, supportive crowd, rather than a group of 55,000 that is 25-percent filled (if not more) with fans of the visiting team.

    There’s no perfect answer for this one. The Rams’ improvement in 2017 should motivate on-the-fence fans to buy tickets next season, but some people (understandably) just won’t spent big money to spend an afternoon at the century-old stadium.

    The Rams need to figure out a way to make the Coliseum more hospitable. Raising the sound system to ear-splitting levels and parading celebrities on the video board isn’t the answer.


    Rams’ Sean McVay sees ‘a good foundation we can build on’

    Alden Gonzalez

    THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Sean McVay was “still in the process of processing” the abrupt end to the Los Angeles Rams’ season when he met with the media at noon on Sunday. McVay engrossed himself in film shortly after the 26-13 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Saturday night, as he is prone to do. But his foremost takeaway was the same one he had in the immediate aftermath — the Rams started with back-to-back three-and-outs, then muffed a punt, fumbled a kickoff and fell behind significantly with the time of possession, never able to attain much balance or rhythm offensively.

    Said McVay: “The turnovers really ended up being the difference in the game.”

    McVay will address his players collectively one final time on Monday, then send them into their offseason. The Rams’ coaches and executives will then get to work on figuring out the 2018 roster, a conversation McVay began with general manager Les Snead on Sunday morning.

    The Rams have a lot of important players that could become free agents, including wide receiver Sammy Watkins, cornerback Trumaine Johnson, safety Lamarcus Joyner, center John Sullivan and outside linebacker Connor Barwin. Interesting contract decisions loom, seemingly with outside linebacker Robert Quinn, inside linebacker Mark Barron and wide receiver Tavon Austin. And then, of course, there’s Aaron Donald, who’s heading into the final year of his rookie contract and has proven worthy of becoming the game’s highest-paid defensive player.

    McVay’s initial, forward-thinking thoughts centered on the importance of building depth, because the Rams can’t count on another season of optimal health. He also noted that his offense was almost exclusively in “11” personnel down the stretch, highlighting the importance of developing his young tight ends.

    Still, McVay said, “I think that this organization is going in the right direction. I think we’ve got a good foundation we can build on.”

    That sentiment dominated the locker room from players who came through after their end-of-season physicals.

    “McVay changed the culture around here,” wide receiver Robert Woods said. “Players bought in and believe, and it’s just the start of something great.”

    “We’ve got a solid foundation built right now,” inside linebacker Alec Ogletree added, “and we’ve just got to continue to build on it and learn from what we did good this year, and also bad.”

    The Rams went from 4-12 in 2016 to 11-5 in 2017, from last in the NFL in scoring to first. They were coming off 10 consecutive losing seasons, then claimed their first division title since 2003. Under McVay, the youngest head coach in modern NFL history, Jared Goff emerged as a franchise quarterback and Todd Gurley vaulted himself among the game’s best running backs.

    “We put pieces together,” Gurley said when asked if he believes the Rams have built a foundation for long-term success. “I wouldn’t say actually built, but we’re starting to.”

    “I think it’s just the beginning,” Goff said. “We’ve got such a good, young group here and so many guys.”

    The Rams began the 2017 season as the NFL’s second-youngest team. Goff and Gurley are only 23, and none of the receivers or tight ends who are expected back are older than 25. But the defense — playoff ready under Snead and former head coach Jeff Fisher long before the offensive finally got it together — is getting older and pricier, underscoring the importance of drafting and developing on that side.

    Barwin believes the Rams had “the strongest foundation of any of the teams I’ve gone to the playoffs with,” which only augmented the sting of a first-round exit.

    “It’s definitely something we can build off, and definitely things that we could learn from,” Rams right guard Jamon Brown said. “Moving forward, you feel good about that, because we’ve set a foundation like this. And now we just build from here.”

    Not much was expected of the Rams heading into 2017. The Seahawks were supposed to dominate the division, and the Rams were thought to be at least one year away from contention. But that was only on the outside. Inside, players quickly realized that McVay and new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips would put them in schemes that could bring out the best in them.

    The talent showed itself through organized team activities and during training camp, then players slowly, steadily convinced themselves that they could compete with anyone in their conference.

    McVay first noticed his team’s resolve after a Week 2 loss to the Redskins, when they quickly put it behind them, got ready for a Thursday night game on the road and won a back-and-forth contest against the 49ers. Woods realized this team was legit when it won on the road against the Jaguars in Week 6, then traveled to London and blew out the Cardinals in Week 7.

    The Rams faced a daunting schedule over the final seven weeks, but they edged the Saints, handed the Seahawks their worst home loss in 20 years and won on the road against a desperate Titans team to claim the NFC West. The Rams went 8-1 away from Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, but only 3-4 at their own stadium, their last loss — in front of an electrifying, season-best crowd of 74,300 — ending their season.

    McVay, the runaway favorite for Coach of the Year, called them “a special group of men that we got to work with this year.”

    “It’s not something you expected, that the season’s over now,” he said. “I kind of don’t know what to do with myself.”


    As reality set in for Rams on Sunday, so too did the bright future ahead



    Slowly, awkwardly and reluctantly the Rams reported to their Thousand Oaks practice facility early Sunday morning. The abruptness and finality of their season coming to a screeching halt the night before was apparent immediately after their frustrating wild-card round loss to the Atlanta Falcons. But now, as they gathered together in Thousand Oaks, reality was setting in.

    There was no game to prepare for next week. No opponent to dive into or game plan to devise.

    Instead, they were undergoing season-ending physicals, turning in individual iPads and exchanging heartfelt goodbyes with Rams staffers

    But nothing confirmed the end of their remarkable season quite like the large plastic bags awaiting them on a table in the middle of the locker room.

    In which players were emptying the personal belongings of their lockers.

    “Man….” Rams guard Jamon Brown signed, trying to make sense of the pit at the bottom of his stomach.

    He really didn’t need to say anything else.

    The suddenness of a season ending far earlier than anyone anticipated lingered painfully Sunday. In the interim the Rams will try to manage the agony and disappointment. But soon enough it will be the fuel that motivates them to work a little harder this offseason and push through OTAs and the grind of training camp and the marathon of next season.

    As much as everyone wanted to dwell on the final chapter of their spectacular season – the wound of what happened the night before was still incredibly raw – there was also a bigger book from which to reflect.

    And the positive nature of it made it easy to peek forward to a future the Rams believe is exceedingly bright.

    They entered this season facing more questions than any team in the NFL.

    But they supplied decisive answers to every one of them

    Jared Goff established himself as a legitimate NFL quarterback.

    Todd Gurley re-emerged as an MVP candidate.

    Sean McVay is one of the bright young head coaches in the game after turning a morbid offense into a juggernaut and a longtime dismal team into NFC West champions.

    A young, talented group of wide receivers is as dynamic as any in the game.

    The offensive line went from one of the worst to one of the best.

    And Aaron Donald, Alec Ogletree and Michael Brockers are the nucleus of a playoff-worthy defense.

    So while Sunday represented a painful end to one leg of the Rams journey, you couldn’t help sense the beginning of one even more important.

    At long last the Rams have a foundation in place. It’s young. It’s dynamic. And it’s real.

    And if managed correctly, it has every chance to produce more division titles and deeper playoff runs.

    “We’ve got such a good, young group here and so many guys,” Goff said. “You see Todd, Aaron, Alec, I’m young, a lot of our O-line is young, Rob Woods, Sammy, Cooper’s young — a lot of good, young players all across the board. And it’s just the beginning for this group and having the coaches we have, and having everyone in the front office we expect it to only go up from here. And we’re excited about the future.”

    Goff didn’t say it hopefully or wistfully.

    He did so knowingly.

    It’s a confidence and self awareness the result of an 11-5 regular season in which the Rams averaged the most points in the NFL, fielded a sound, effective defense and week in and week out played the best special teams of anyone in pro football.

    “We were able to do a lot of good things in every facet of the game, every side of the ball — offense, defense, special teams,” he said. “And I thought we grew a lot, us being a young team and being as young as we are. But we are a mature team. So we were great a lot in a lot of different ways, and feel good. Obviously, not happy about yesterday. And really thought we had a chance to make a run and it ended prematurely yesterday. But we’re going to work hard this offseason. We’ve got a good core nucleus of guys, and a really driven group, and I don’t expect this to be the end for us by any means.”

    It was a sentiment that echoed throughout the Rams locker room. As sullen as it was given the events of the night before, it was just as optimistic for the future.

    “I think it’s a good start, a great start, but just keep building,” Robert Woods said. “ Went to the playoffs. Got knocked out first round but everybody has this feeling want to work and get better. And it’s just a start. McVay changed the culture around here, players bought in and believe and it’s just the start of something great.”

    The Rams made dramatic strides this year going from last place to first and ending a frustrating string of 14 straight non-winning seasons. It was a turnaround no one saw coming this time a year ago, but as the season progressed it was more and more obvious the Rams were a playoff team.

    Taking that next step to ensure a postseason berth becomes an extended stay rather than a brief appearance will be the offseason objective. The success of which will depend on current players getting better, weak links being strengthened and depth being developed.

    The Rams would like their tight ends to emerge as greater threats. They are likely to enhance their linebacker corps, specifically on the outside where a dynamic playmaker is needed in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense. And as the loss of Brockers Saturday night showed when the Falcons attacked the interior of the Rams defense, depth is certainly needed across the board.

    “I think one of the things that you do want to be mindful of is the fact that we were so fortunate with the injures this year,” McVay said. “So you look at it, all right let’s just anticipate and let’s just say you don’t have that work out in your favor – where are the areas that you want to continue to establish and build that depth, where are some of the positions”

    Unlike seasons past, though, improvement will require a streamlined process rather than a dramatic undertaking. For the most part, the core pieces are very much in place.

    Which made the hurt of Sunday just a little more bearable.

    The Rams season came to an end Saturday night.

    But their journey is really just beginning.


    Mixed emotions as Rams clean out their lockers in Thousand Oaks

    Joe Curley

    Connor Barwin has now been to the postseason four times with three difference teams.

    The veteran linebacker felt this year’s trip with the Los Angeles Rams was perhaps his best chance yet to reach the Super Bowl.

    “I would say that’s why (Saturday) was so disappointing,” Barwin said. “This team has the strongest foundation of any of the teams that I’ve gone to the playoffs with.”

    The morning after the Rams’ season-ending, 26-13 wild-card loss to Atlanta, the team stewed in a mixture of frustration and optimism as it cleaned out its lockers at its football headquarters at Cal Lutheran University on Sunday.

    “When you have three phases of the game and they’re all pretty good, you feel good about going into the playoffs and sustaining and winning games,” Barwin said. “(Saturday) was frustrating, but at the same time, that’s why the future is so exciting.”

    Rams cornerback Troy Hill, who graduated from St. Bonaventure High, finished his season strong after taking over as the team’s starting cornerback in December. Video by Joe Curley Joe Curley/The Star

    Atlanta cashed in two turnovers by All-Pro returner Pharoh Cooper to build a 13-0 lead and protected the lead by keeping the Rams’ high-scoring offense off the field for more than 37 minutes.

    “We had a good thing going,” offensive guard Jamon Brown said. “For it to come to a halt and stop like it did is tough.”

    The disappointment was palpable. But it was also secondary to the belief that the 11-5 season, which featured the first NFC West championship since 2003 and the first postseason berth since 2004, is just the beginning.

    “From the success we experienced this season, we learned that we had the guys to do it,” Brown said. “It was a matter of having the right scheme, having the right coaches, having the right culture and I think we accomplished that as a team, setting the foundation moving forward of how we expect things to go.”

    A year ago, the Rams were without a head coach, having fired Jeff Fisher in the midst of a season-ending seven-game losing streak. It had finished 4-12 in its return season to Los Angeles, tanking a massive season-ticket base and flopping a series of reality shows.

    Featuring the worst offense in football, it was the least entertaining display in the showbiz capital of the world.

    But the hire of head coach Sean McVay, combined with strong draft and free agent classes, allowed the Rams to become just the second team in NFL history to go from worst to first in scoring.

    “Certainly, we’re not content with the way that this season ended, but it doesn’t take away the fact that … we feel like we’re building a foundation where that trajectory is pointing upward for the Rams,” McVay said after Saturday night’s loss. “It starts with a bunch of great people and that’s what we do have.

    “We’ll take some time off right now, but then we’ll come back motivated, ready to try to respond.”

    Second-year quarterback Jared Goff turned naysayers into believers with, statistically, one of the top seasons in franchise history. The No. 1 overall pick of the 2016 draft threw for 3,804 yards and 28 touchdowns, while the Rams threw the fewest interceptions (7) in the NFL.

    “It was a really fun year,” Goff said. “We were able to do a lot of good things in every facet of the game. And I thought we grew a lot … being as young as we are.

    “Obviously, not happy about (Saturday). And really thought we had a chance to make a run and it ended prematurely. … But we’re going to work hard this offseason. We’ve got a good core nucleus of guys, and a really driven group, and I don’t expect this to be the end for us by any means.”

    With the offseason approaching, the one-year turnaround in a major market has the potential to make the Rams a destination organization.

    Rams head coach Sean McVay discusses the Oakland Raiders rehiring his mentor, Jon Gruden, as head coach. Video by Joe Curley. Joe Curley/The Star

    Linebacker Cameron Lynch, who played with the Rams in St. Louis, was able to see how much the franchise had changed when he rejoined the team in December.

    “There’s a winning culture over here,” Lynch said. “It’s rocking. We’re going to get it rolling. When free agency comes up next year, hopefully I’ll get a chance to come back and be a part of this because this is great.

    “You never know what’s going to happen in the NFL, but I’m glad I got to finish off with this team.”

    General manager Les Snead has a lot of business to attend to this offseason, from potentially locking up star Aaron Donald long term to addressing the free agency of downfield threat Sammy Watkins and key components in the secondary, like Trumaine Johnson, Lamarcus Joyner and Nickell Robey-Coleman.

    But there’s no question McVay has made the Rams a much more attractive franchise for potential free-agent acquisitions.

    “I knew what I was getting into, as far as who was on the defense, the defensive coaches,” said Barwin, who played for defensive coordinator Wade Phillips in Houston. “But I had no idea how special it would be playing for Sean McVay and the rest of his staff.”


    Here are the biggest decisions the Rams face this offseason

    Gary Klein

    A young coach who led the Rams to the playoffs is in place. So is the franchise quarterback who made an exponential leap in his second season.

    With Sean McVay and Jared Goff as building blocks, and a solid defense and a trio of All-Pro special teams players, the Rams appear positioned to contend for the postseason, and possibly the Super Bowl, for years to come.

    But there are looming issues as the Rams enter the offseason. Some will be addressed quickly. Others could take months to resolve. Here are some of the biggest questions:

    When will defensive lineman Aaron Donald get a new contract?

    Donald earned his fourth Pro Bowl selection in four seasons while making a bargain-basement $1.8 million. He is due to earn about $6.9 million in 2018.

    Donald sat out offseason workouts and training camp because he wants a new deal. He did not play in the first game, was held out of the regular-season finale, and still finished with 11 sacks.

    With players such as star running back Todd Gurley now — and Goff eventually — coming into a similar situation, the Rams were not going to set a precedent and immediately reward Donald for missing camp. Linebacker Alec Ogletree showed up, and in October signed a four-year, $42-million extension.

    Rams receiver Robert Woods says team has solid foundation for future
    Donald is seeking a much larger deal, one that will make him the league’s highest-paid defensive player. Oakland Raiders end Khalil Mack, the fifth pick in the 2014 draft, is due to earn about $13.9 million in the fifth and final year of his rookie contract. So Donald, the 13th pick in 2014, and his representatives could wait to see what kind of extension Mack gets before agreeing to a deal with the Rams.

    Which other players are priorities?

    Safety Lamarcus Joyner is set to become a free agent after earning $1.1 million in the final year of his rookie contract. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips likes Joyner’s versatility so the Rams are working to keep him.

    Receiver Sammy Watkins also is a pending free agent. Watkins’ durability was a question mark when the Rams traded for him during training camp but he did not miss a game and led them in touchdown catches (eight). Watkins is a candidate for the transition or franchise tag, which would give the Rams another year to assess his value before deciding to offer him a long-term deal.

    Cornerback Trumaine Johnson just completed a second season with the franchise tag, earning about a combined $31 million in 2016 and 2017. He has said that he would like to return but knows it’s a business.

    Cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman, linebacker Connor Barwin and center John Sullivan are among other pending free agents.

    What about Tavon Austin?

    Rams already start looking toward next season
    Austin signed a four-year, $42-million extension before the 2016 season.

    But Pharoh Cooper supplanted Austin as the punt returner — and earned Pro Bowl and All-Pro recognition —while McVay utilized Austin mostly as a decoy receiver. Austin is scheduled to make $3 million next season but has a salary-cap hit of $8 million. So the Rams must decide if he is worth keeping.

    Linebacker Robert Quinn is due to earn about $10.3 million in 2018. After two injury-plagued seasons, there were questions about his durability. But Quinn started every game except the season finale and had 8½ sacks. He also had a sack in the playoff loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

    Linebacker Mark Barron is scheduled to make $7 million but has a cap hit of $10 million. Despite several injuries, Barron played well.

    What will the Rams look for in free agency and the draft?

    Other than starting quarterback and running back, no positions are necessarily off the table, though it will depend on what decisions the Rams make about some of the aforementioned players.

    The Rams could focus on cornerbacks, edge rushers, linebackers, centers and offensive tackles.

    Finding a tackle to learn at the elbow of veteran Andrew Whitworth is on the Rams’ wish list, along with finding a potential long-term replacement for Sullivan.

    Will the coaching staff remain intact?

    The Rams were a feel-good story this season; next year there’s no telling
    Quarterbacks coach Greg Olson is apparently leaving to become offensive coordinator on Jon Gruden’s Raiders staff. That means Goff could have his third quarterbacks coach in three seasons.

    McVay said offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, the Falcons’ quarterbacks coach in 2015 and 2016, would continue to work closely with quarterbacks. If McVay promotes from within, he could consider assistant wide receivers coach Zac Taylor, who was a quarterbacks coach for the Miami Dolphins and offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the University of Cincinnati.

    Barring assistants leaving for other opportunities, McVay said he did not plan to make staff changes.


    1. Los Angeles Rams

    The Rams simultaneously have the most question marks in terms of roster turnover into 2018 as well as the most reasons to be excited. Impact players like Trumaine Johnson, Sammy Watkins and Lamarcus Joyner are all set to hit free agency, but L.A. has room to resign them with the 11th-most cap space heading into 2018 (a projected $50 million). They also now have a franchise QB in Jared Groff, the likely offensive player of the year in Todd Gurley, and the league’s most impactful defensive player in Aaron Donald. That core is set up for long-term success, and they’re in a flexible enough cap situation to only add to it.


    Fond Farewell, Rams: How Los Angeles can fix its team this offseason

    Frank Schwab

    As teams get mathematically eliminated from the NFL playoffs, we’ll give you a jump on their offseason by examining what went right, what went wrong and what needs to change before next season.


    Had you told the Rams before the season that they’d win the NFC West, their new coach would look like a grand-slam hire and their quarterback would emerge as one of the best in the NFL, they’d have signed up instantly, even if they knew it would end in a wild-card playoff loss. The loss to the Falcons was surely disappointing, but let’s not lose sight of the big picture. This was a remarkable season for the Rams. The future is bright.

    What went right: Todd Gurley is a legitimate MVP candidate, Sean McVay will probably win coach of the year unanimously or close to it, Aaron Donald should win defensive player of the year, Jared Goff became one of the top young quarterbacks in football … that enough for you?

    What went wrong: Other than falling apart in the playoff loss to the Falcons, not much. This is a team that had a fantastic offense, a very good defense and the special teams were good too. They pulled off the rare feat of finishing in the top six in offense, defense and special teams in Football Outsiders’ DVOA per-play metric. The only real negative is the Rams didn’t win a playoff game, and nobody in the NFL is guaranteed to make it back to the playoffs the following season. But this is a true growth stock.

    Will the coach be back?: Unless Sean McVay is going to move on from the Rams after one season to perhaps solve world peace or cure cancer, yeah, he’s going to be back.

    Do they have a quarterback?: No quarterback did more to help himself this season than Jared Goff. Before this season, Goff looked like a bust. What’s funny is everyone knew that Jeff Fisher and his staff weren’t good, but many of us didn’t factor that enough into Goff’s rookie struggles. When the Rams upgraded from a terrible coach to one of the best, Goff took off. Go figure. He posted a 100.5 rating, played well all season and should continue to grow. That’s a relief, because for most of his rookie season Goff looked like a lemon. He’s anything but that.

    Quick free agent fix: The Rams have a tricky offseason coming up. They have a lot of key free agents. It needs to be said that they need to take care of Aaron Donald. Donald wants a new deal and has earned it. Yet, there are other issues too. There was a report from Alden Gonzalez of ESPN that receiver Sammy Watkins could get the franchise tag. They have big questions in the secondary, where cornerbacks Trumaine Johnson and Nickell Robey-Coleman and safety Lamarcus Joyner are set to be free agents. After the season the Rams just had, they need to focus on their own free agents and bring as much of this team back as possible.

    Quick draft fix: The Rams will be drafting 23rd in the first round, and the secondary should be the focus. Even if they’re able to bring back Johnson and Joyner, cornerback Kayvon Webster will be coming off an Achilles injury and it’s never a bad thing to have secondary depth. And if the Rams do lose Joyner, Johnson or both, then they need to stock up on defensive backs.

    Give it to me straight, can my team make the playoffs in 2018?: The only warning is that teams that have an enormous improvement one year usually take a step back. The 2017 Raiders are a good example. The Rams were clearly a bit ahead of schedule. All that said, it’s hard to come up with a realistic argument they won’t be back in the playoffs next season. This was a good, balanced team and they’ll be good again next season


    To start off here’s a list of all Rams FAs


    A Look at the Rams 2018 Free Agents

    Kristen Lago

    With the start of the offseason, head coach Sean McVay and the rest of his staff will be taking some well earned time off to cap an exciting year. But because it is the NFL, there really is no true offseason for the group.

    Soon, McVay and general manager Les Snead will begin evaluating how to improve and sustain the team’s recent success — beginning with taking a look at the players headed into free agency.

    The following list of 22 players will be up for free agency — both unrestricted and restricted — on March 14.

    Unrestricted free agents can negotiate exclusively with the Rams until the new league year begins, but if they remain unsigned by that point, they will be free to sign with any team they choose.

    Restricted free agents, on the other hand, may receive one of three tenders — first round, second round, or original round. Should those free agents reach an agreement with another club, the player’s new team would owe L.A. a draft pick as compensation. Los Angeles would also have the opportunity to match the offer sheet.

    Exclusive rights free agents are players whose contracts have expired but have only two or fewer seasons of accrued service time. Should L.A. extend the players a qualifying offer, they must sign it to play for the franchise or sit out the season.

    Additionally, the Rams have may use the exclusive franchise tag, non-exclusive franchise tag, or transition tag on one of their players. That decision will need to be made by March 6.


    — OLB Connor Barwin

    Barwin signed with the Rams last spring, reuniting with his former defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. He appeared in 14 games this season, recording 43 tackles, nine quarterback hits and 5.0 sacks. Barwin has said he would like to return to Los Angeles, believing he fits best in Phillips’ 3-4 defensive scheme.

    — WR Sammy Watkins

    Watkins has also expressed his desire to remain with the Rams next season. The Clemson product was acquired by the club from Buffalo in early August. Watkins recorded a team-leading eight receiving touchdowns and finished with 593 yards in 15 games.

    — CB Nickell Robey-Coleman

    Robey-Coleman signed a one-year deal last spring after spending the first four years of his career with the Bills. Robey-Coleman has provided a solid backup for the club’s starting outside corners and has been tremendous in the slot. In 15 games, the corner recorded 50 tackles — two for loss — nine passes defensed, one forced fumble, and one interception.

    — C John Sullivan

    The veteran center was acquired by the Rams this season in an effort to bulk up the offensive line. Throughout the entire season, Sullivan has been a huge help for quarterback Jared Goff in helping to diagnose defenses and interpret coverages. He has also played a critical role in the O-line room, providing leadership to many of the unit’s younger players.

    — CB Trumaine Johnson

    Johnson has played under the franchise tag for the past two seasons, but had arguably one of his best campaigns this year. He finished the season with 70 tackles, 14 pass breakups and two interceptions. He was also named a captain this year, pointing to his leadership presence on the defense.

    — S Lamarcus Joyner

    Joyner made the transition from cornerback to free safety this season and has since flourished at the position. Although he fought through a hamstring injury that kept him out of several games, the Florida State product still managed to record 60

    tackles, seven pass breakups, and a team leading three interceptions, with one returned for a touchdown.

    — TE Derek Carrier

    Carrier reunited with McVay when he was traded to the Rams from Washington in September. With Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett utilized more at the tight end position, Carrier played a larger role on special teams this year.

    — S Cody Davis

    Davis was placed on Injured Reserve in early November after suffering a quad injury in the Rams’ Week 6 victory over the Jaguars. Prior to suffering the injury, Davis had been an impressive rotational player in Phillips’ scheme — recording an interception, two pass breakups and 22 total tackles. And he added on three tackles and a pass breakups in his return to game action against the 49ers.

    — RB Lance Dunbar

    Dunbar opened the season on the clubs’ reserve/PUP list after aggravating his knee during the offseason. He was active for four games this season, finishing the year with 11 carries for 51 yards and one touchdown.

    — DT Dominique Easley

    Easley tore his ACL during training camp and spent the entire season on Injured Reserve, but was a key member of the club’s defensive front last year.

    — OT Cornelius Lucas

    The Rams signed Lucas after their Week 1 victory over the Colts to help bolster the club’s offensive line. He started only one game — Los Angeles Week 17 loss to the 49ers — in which McVay rested the majority of his starters.

    — LS Jake McQuaide

    McQuaide has been with the franchise since 2011 when he was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Ohio State. Since then, the long snapper has been an integral part of the Rams special teams unit, alongside punter Johnny Hekker and kicker Greg Zuerlein.

    — DT Tyrunn Walker

    Walker played an important role as a rotational player on the Rams’ defensive front in 2017 after joining the club after three years in New Orleans and two years in Detroit. He played in all 16 games this season, recording 25 tackles, 1.0 sacks, and one forced fumble.


    — OLB Matt Longacre

    Longacre ended the season on injured reserve after suffering a back injury late in the season. But he was very productive early on, finishing the year with 5.5 sacks — third most on the team. He also recorded 27 tackles and 12 quarterback hits.

    — OT Darrell Williams

    Williams came in for several members of the Rams offensive line this year, providing a solid rotational piece upfront. He played in all 16 games and started in the club’s season finale as the left tackle.

    — LB Cameron Lynch

    Lynch was signed to the active roster off of the practice squad in December and participated in three games this season, recording two tackles.


    — RB Malcolm Brown

    Brown solidified his role as the teams No. 2 running back this season, rushing for 246 yards and one touchdown.

    — CB Troy Hill

    Hill took on a larger role for the Rams down the stretch, filling in for the injured Kayvon Webster. He made the most of his few starts, recording 18 tackles and five pass breakups.

    — LB Garrett Sickels

    Sickels was a member of the Rams practice squad, but was activated to the active roster in Week 17.

    — K Sam Ficken

    Ficken was signed by the Rams after a season-ending injury to Greg Zuerlein. Although he struggled in his first contest against the Titans, the Penn State product finished the year off on the right foot — nailing 4/5 point after attempts and 2/3 field goals.

    — OLB Carlos Thompson

    Thompson was promoted from the practice squad in December, recording three tackles through three games played.

    — FB Zach Laskey

    The Georgia Tech product was waived by the Rams during the preseason and did not appear in any regular season games.


    This season was so much beyond what I expected. I thought 6 to 8 wins, 6 more points per game, but then every move they made worked out. 😉



    Five Takeaways: 2017 L.A. Rams Season

    Myles Simmons

    The Rams underwent a major transformation in 2017, winning the NFC West with an 11-5 record in the club’s first year under head coach Sean McVay.

    While Los Angeles’ playoff run ended earlier than the team expected, as McVay said last week, “you also don’t want it to take away from a lot of the great things that our players and that our coaches were able to achieve.”

    With that in mind, here are five takeaways from the Rams’ season.

    1) From worst to first

    The Rams’ offense went from paltry to prolific with a historic turnaround under the direction of McVay and his staff. Los Angeles became only the second team in NFL history to go from last to first in scoring from year to year, joining the 1965 49ers.

    L.A. scored 478 points in 2017, more than doubling its output from 2016. At 29.9 points per game, the Rams scored 1.3 than the Patriots and Eagles, who tied for No. 2 at 28.6. Los Angeles finished No. 3 with 44.3 percent of its possessions ending in points, and No. 3 at scoring 2.26 points per drive.

    What’s more, the Rams’ point output was the fourth most in franchise history, behind only the teams from the “Greatest Show on Turf” era from 1999-2001. The 2001 Rams scored 503 points, the 1999 team scored 526, and the 2000 club scored 540.

    Given the scoring prowess, it’s no surprise Los Angeles finished within the top 10 in nearly all major offensive categories. The club ranked No. 10 in total yards, No. 10 in passing yards, and No. 8 in rushing yards.

    Not bad for a team with a first-year head coach.

    2) Starting fast on defense

    The Rams’ defense may have finished the year No. 19 in yards allowed and No. 12 in points allowed, but the unit proved to excel at recording takeaways — particularly early in games.

    Los Angeles ended eight of its opponents’ opening drives with a takeaway in 2017. It started with the first game of the season, when cornerback Trumaine Johnson intercepted Colts quarterback Scott Tolzien’s first pass of the season and returned it 39 yards for a touchdown.

    The full list of the Rams’ opening-possession takeaways:

    Week 1 vs Colts: Johnson 39-yard pick six
    Week 3 at 49ers: CB Nickell Robey-Coleman interception
    Week 9 at Giants: DT Aaron Donald sack/fumble, OLB Connor Barwin recovery
    Week 10 vs. Texans: Donald sack/fumble, OLB Matt Longacre recovery
    Week 13 at Cardinals: S Lamarcus Joyner interception
    Week 14 vs. Eagles: CB Kayvon Webster interception
    Week 15 at Seahawks: Joyner forced fumble, LB Alec Ogletree recovery
    Week 16 at Titans: LB Cory Littleton interception

    In all, the team finished No. 5 with 28 takeaways and No. 2 with 126 points off takeaways.

    3) Special teams excels, too

    The Rams had three specialists not only named to the Pro Bowl. but also named as AP All-Pros.

    Despite playing only 14 games due to a back injury suffered last in the season, kicker Greg Zuerlein led the league with 158 points. Punter Johnny Hekker and the coverage unit finished No. 2 with a 44.3-yard net average per punt. And wide receiver Pharoh Cooper set the stage with a 27.4-yard kick return average, plus a 12.5-yard punt return average.

    Cooper and the return team had a significant effect on the Rams’ starting field position. The club led the league with an average drive start at their own 33.0-yard line. That’s one reason why even though the Rams were No. 1 in scoring, the club finished No. 10 in total yards.

    Zuerlein, Hekker, and the coverage teams were elite in that regard as well, as Los Angeles’ opponents started their drives on average at their own 27.5. That ranked No. 9 in the league in 2017.

    4) Awards season

    Pro Bowlers and AP All-Pros have already been announced, and the PFWA awards are on the way this week. But the Rams also have some contenders for awards announced during the NFL Honors ceremony on Feb. 3 in Minnesota.

    Running back Todd Gurley is a MVP candidate after leading the league with 2,093 yards from scrimmage, 19 total touchdowns, and 13 rushing touchdowns. Plus, Gurley finished No. 2 with 1,305 yards rushing. And he did it all in just 15 games, as McVay chose to rest the Georgia product in Week 17.

    With 11.0 sacks, five forced fumbles, 15 tackles for loss, and 27 quarterback hits, Donald has vaunted himself into the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year. According to Pro Football Focus, Donald also led the league with 91 quarterback pressures. The fourth-year pro played only 14 regular-season games in 2017.

    And McVay is a clear candidate for Coach of the Year, after leading the Rams to all of the aforementioned accomplishments in this post. At just 31 years old, McVay became the youngest head coach to lead a team to the playoffs in NFL history with Los Angeles’ NFC West title in 2017 — the franchise’s first division championship since 2003.

    5) Now, what’s next?

    Aside from the Pro Bowl and NFL Honors, the Rams’ work of improving the roster over the course of the offseason has already begun. Los Angeles selected six players who attended the Senior Bowl last year in the 2017 NFL Draft, and that event will run the week of Jan. 22.

    But the Rams also have a number of upcoming high-profile free agents, including cornerback Trumaine Johnson, safety Lamarcus Joyner, wide receiver Sammy Watkins, and outside linebacker Connor Barwin.

    General manager Les Snead said last week that the Rams’ staff would likely take a couple weeks before coming back after the Super Bowl to really dig in and examine how all the players may or may not fit for the future.

    “That’s the biggest piece of the puzzle is all right how do we stay in this window where we expect to compete for a division, expect to win the division,” Snead said. “And we do have a young team so it is sustainable, but it’s solving that riddle. And I think it’s best for us to sit down, take a little bit of an emotional break and come back and try to be rational and smart in our thinking.”

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