Snead spoke to reporters Wednesday afternoon

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    Snead’s job is to keep Rams on the upswing[\b]

    Joe Curley

    The course has been corrected. Now it has to be maintained.

    In just one year, the Los Angeles Rams transformed from a boring four-win team to an exciting 11-win NFC West champion.

    It was the type of season that, as general manager Les Snead said Wednesday, can “make this a destination.”

    Snead spoke to reporters Wednesday afternoon at the Rams’ football headquarters at Cal Lutheran, four days after the team’s season ended with a 26-13 loss to Atlanta in the NFC wild-card round.

    “I don’t think you’ll ever get over it,” Snead said of the loss. “You just cope with it, and then use it as fuel.”

    Next up for the team? Continue the “upward trajectory” that head coach Sean McVay highlighted after Saturday’s loss.

    “Just because we did it last year, and on paper it looks like, ‘OK, we’re ready to ascend,’ that’s all on paper,” Snead said. “You’ve still got to do it again.”

    A lot of that work will be done during the offseason by Snead and his staff, who are charged with maintaining a roster that could lose big-play threat Sammy Watkins and much of the secondary in free agency.

    Starters Trumaine Johnson, Lamarcus Joyner and Nickell Robey-Coleman are free agents and, of course, star defensive tackle Aaron Donald is still in position to sign one of the richest contracts in the NFL.

    “How do we keep this team together as long as possible?” Snead said. “The team will be different next year. But the goal is always to keep those core pieces, those difference-makers around as long as possible.”

    Snead called Donald “an important domino,” but stopped short of saying whether his contract will be the first order of business of an important offseason.

    “The way we attack that list of names, can’t say that Aaron would be first,” Snead said. “We’ll have them all going on simultaneously and try to knock them out.”

    Fans had a clear, consistent message for the Rams during their annual Ramfest at Prado Park in Chino — sign star Aaron Donald to a contract extention. Joe Curley/The Star

    Johnson, who has played on the expensive franchise tag the past two seasons, has proclaimed publicly his preference to stay with the team, although he wondered during training camp if the feeling was mutual.

    Snead said Wednesday that he “definitely” saw a scenario in which Johnson was re-signed.

    “He fit in and played an important role,” said Snead.

    Watkins, who cost the Rams their 2018 second-round pick and cornerback E.J. Gaines to acquire during training camp, led the team with eight touchdown catches.

    But the 24-year-old talent’s production was inconsistent. He was only fourth on the team in both receptions (39) and targets (70).

    “Obviously, if you went back and looked at analytics of a Sean McVay offense, he was going to spread the ball around,” Snead said. “And we always felt like (Watkins) was a very important complementary piece.”

    The Rams enter the offseason with $50.5 million in cap space, according to, and could make more room if the team releases or renegotiates the contracts of veterans Robert Quinn, Mark Barron and Tavon Austin.

    Quinn and Barron, whose releases would open up a combined $18.4 million in cap savings, could have their contracts renegotiated.

    “The goal is not necessarily to save money,” said Snead, when asked about Quinn and Barron. “The goal is to make sure we can fit everybody into the budget.”

    Snead didn’t wait to be asked if Austin would be retained. He asked the question himself.

    “I know with Tavon you’re talking about ‘Can we keep carrying him and his contract?’ ” Snead said. “Well, I think that will be one that we talk about.”

    Austin caught just 13 passes in the second year of his four-year, $42 million contract, although he was the Rams’ second-leading rusher. He can be released for a $3 million savings this offseason, per

    Bob Buttitta and Joe Curley of the Star discuss the Rams’ 26-13 playoff loss to Atlanta on Facebook Live! following the game at the Coliseum. Joe Curley/The Star

    While so much of the work the team put into the 2017 season involved transitioning to new systems implemented by the new coaching staff, the Rams will now focus on refining in their second season under McVay.

    “We don’t have to implement an offense,” Snead said. “Now, let’s call it, we can evolve our offense and make it better, take what we didn’t do so well this year and improve it.”

    Reaching the playoffs for the first time in 13 years was one thing. The next step is to join the league’s elite.

    “We’re division champions and we don’t have to get to that level now,” Snead said. “Now it’s, instead of last year, coming in and implementing a new offense, converting our defense to (Wade Phillips’) 3-4, all of those things we don’t have to do. That’s been done.

    “Guess what? You’re trying to not just win the division but, OK, repeat and then maybe take the next step and let’s go for home-field advantage. Let’s take the first round out of it.”

    While they jettisoned Jeff Fisher and much of his coaching staff after their disappointing first year back in Los Angeles, the Rams retained Snead and much of the front office.

    Snead and his team repaid the confidence with the type of free agency and draft classes that helped fuel the team’s seven-win improvement.

    Without a first-round pick, Snead put together a draft class that included six players who started a combined 26 games as rookies.

    Receiver Cooper Kupp and safety John Johnson were among best rookies at their positions in the NFL, while tight end Gerald Everett, receiver Josh Reynolds and linebacker Samson Ebukam flashed upside that could eventually solidify into key roles.

    As McVay told Snead during the draft, as captured by Amazon’s “All or Nothing” reality show, the team certainly did hit on their free agents.

    Offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth, center John Sullivan and receiver Robert Woods became important pieces of the No. 1-scoring offense in the NFL.

    “I think you can do well in this job if you can always think, ‘Hey, it’s about the Rams,’ ” Snead said. “It’s about where you’re at in the standings. So … when you lose a game, or have a losing streak, guess what, that’s part of it. You deserve criticism. So that shouldn’t bother you.

    “I think what it should do is fuel you to try to maybe be on the other side of the critique.”

    Snead’s performance this offseason, an important factor in the Rams’ continuing their ascent, will certainly be watched intently by Rams fans.


    Rams now on the rise, GM Les Snead has some fine-tuning (and contracts) to do

    Gary Klein

    The memory of losing an NFL playoff game was so fresh, Rams general manager Les Snead hardly could bring himself to watch the College Football Playoff championship game this week.

    But when Snead finally tuned in, he heard Alabama coach Nick Saban invoke his “Don’t waste the feeling,” slogan that drove the Crimson Tide to another title a year after they suffered a last-second loss in the championship game.

    “I think that’s kind of what, where we’re at right now,” Snead told reporters Wednesday as he evaluated the Rams’ turnaround season and looked forward to 2018. “Don’t waste that feeling. Let’s move to the next step.”

    Under first-year coach Sean McVay, the Rams went from one of the NFL’s worst teams to one of the best, winning the NFC West and advancing to the playoffs for the first time since the 2004 season.

    Now, with a team that includes ascending quarterback Jared Goff, star running back Todd Gurley and a solid defense and special teams, expectations are higher.

    “You’re trying to not just win the division but, OK, repeat and then maybe take the next step and let’s go for home-field advantage,” Snead said, adding, “Just because we did it last year. … you’ve still got to do it again.”

    Snead will be busy this offseason, especially with contract situations involving star defensive lineman Aaron Donald, cornerback Trumaine Johnson, receiver Sammy Watkins, receiver Tavon Austin and safety Lamarcus Joyner, among others.

    Snead said he and the coaching staff would take a few weeks to get away from the emotion of the season and then regroup after the Super Bowl so they can be “rational and smart” in their thinking.

    “We’ll solve a lot of the riddles that week,” he said.

    The NFL salary cap for 2018 reportedly will range from $174 million to $178 million. The Rams have $50.4 million in cap space, according to

    The biggest looming question for the Rams — as it was throughout the season — is whether they can reach a new deal with Donald, a Pro Bowl performer in each of his four pro seasons.

    Donald is due to earn about $6.9 million next season in the fifth-year of his rookie contract. He sat out all of training camp because of the contract dispute but probably could not afford to do that again because, under the collective bargaining agreement, he would lose service time toward gaining eventual free agency if he does not report by a certain date.

    The Rams and Donald’s representatives worked to reach a deal on a “daily, weekly basis” before and during part of the season before mutually agreeing to wait until its conclusion, Snead said. He gave no timeline for when he expected a new deal to be done.

    “It is a major priority,” he said, “as it always will be until we get it done.”

    But Donald’s situation will not preclude the Rams from working through other contract issues.

    “He’s an important domino,” Snead said of Donald. “If we’re doing cards, he’s one of the cards where if you’re a poker player you want to play last.

    “But the way we attack that list of names, can’t say that Aaron would be first. We’ll have them all going on simultaneously and try to knock them out. We’ve got a little bit of a general plan as it is now. We’ll come back and fine-tune it.”

    Snead said he “definitely” could foresee a scenario in which Johnson, a pending free agent, returns after playing for nearly $17 million on the franchise tag.

    “Obviously, he fit in, played an important role,” Snead said. “But I do think we want to sit down with everyone and go, ‘OK, are the guys we have ideal?’ Especially when it gets to guys that are obviously going to demand — command based on their ability and their performance — top dollar.”

    Austin’s situation is intriguing because he carries an $8-million salary-cap hit in 2018 after a season in which he lost his job as punt returner and was utilized mainly as a decoy on offense.

    Snead, like McVay, praised Austin for a team-first attitude despite his dwindling role.

    “He was able to do some things and assist others,” Snead said, “but we definitely got to talk about Tavon.”

    Linebacker Robert Quinn and linebacker Mark Barron are other veterans with contracts that could make them vulnerable. Quinn carries a cap hit of $12.4 million, Barron $10 million, according to

    But when asked about them, Snead said, “The goal is not necessarily to save money. The goal is to make sure we can fit everybody into the budget.”

    Gurley, in the running for the league’s most valuable player award, is another piece of the puzzle as he enters his fourth season.

    “He’s another domino that’s important,” Snead said, adding, “There’s going to be the list of names, ‘OK, they’re coming up soon.’ How do we keep this team together as long as possible? … The goal is always to keep those core pieces, those difference-makers around as long as possible.”

    Snead’s focus last offseason was finding pieces to improve an offense. The moves — signing receiver Robert Woods, tackle Andrew Whitworth, center John Sullivan and trading for receiver Sammy Watkins — paid off.

    With defensive coordinator Wade Phillips now having implemented his 3-4 scheme, the Rams are expected to focus on strengthening that unit.

    “We get that thing to dominant,” Snead said, “it would be kind of fun.”

    After last season and the firing of coach Jeff Fisher, Snead was considered to be on something of a hot seat as he entered his sixth year in the job.

    Now, after the Rams’ surprising turnaround, he and McVay are regarded as a solid combination.

    “From a foundational standpoint, being on the same page with Les and his staff and our coaching staff I think has been instrumental in being able to have things go well,” McVay said the week before the playoff game, “and then the players have gotten it done.”

    Snead echoed those comments.

    “We shared core values in how the Rams should look, be built, how the culture should be,” he said.

    Asked if he felt personal vindication after the Rams’ successful season, Snead demurred.

    “I always try to go, ‘It’s not about me or Les Snead,’ ” he said. “I think you can do well in this job if you can always think, ‘Hey, it’s about the Rams. It’s about where you’re at in the standings.’ ”

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