From the perspective of the Los Angeles Rams mythos, the Sean McVay era has paid off beautifully. He’s a 35-year-old NFL coach, offensive specialist, with a golden fleece on his shoulder.
There are presidents who don’t see half the success McVay has had the past four years, when he went 43-21 in the regular season and 3-3 in the playoffs – including a 13-10 loss in 2018 against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII.
But after a 10-6 finish in 2020 and the departure of former assistant Matt LaFleur and the Green Bay Packers in the NFC divisional round in ’21, there were a few changes – the biggest of which was a blockbuster in which current Rams quarterback Jared Goff started with Detroit Lions megastar Matthew Stafford.
The 9 percent cut to the NFL’s salary cap has also made it very difficult for the already struggling Rams, who are still $14 million above the $182.5 million cap recently estimated by NFL officials.
So where are we going with the Rams? Now, wait a minute.
1) Aries manoeuvre to midfield
The Rams’ needs took an interesting turn Tuesday afternoon when multiple reports reported that former starting center Austin Blythe is expected to sign a one-year contract with the Kansas City Chiefs, the number two seed in the NFL.
The Chiefs signed Austin Blythe to a one-year contract, according toTomPelissero.
Blythe: 70.3 PFF Class of 2020 (9th) pic.twitter.com/q5G4rCcRWB
– PFF (@PFF) March 30, 2021
It’s not an ideal scenario for the Rams, who will likely want to protect their biggest acquisition of the season, Stafford, while maintaining an offensive line that is consistently anchored by running backs like Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson.
According to Jourdan Rodrick of Athletic, Blythe would be the No. 1 option until the Chiefs took him away.
The best case scenario has always been to re-contract Blythe – or an experienced center at a reasonable price – and then go for another center/guard who develops into a long-term solution, Rodrique writes. They could contract another veteran this season – but then again, an unproven player in their system is hard to predict.
Do the Rams have time to waste on the inexperienced? Stafford is 33 years old and entering his 13th season. Year. Time: this is the most important thing. McVay can fall back on Brian Allen or Coleman Shelton as the closest options on the list. Or they could find a free agent and immediately bolster the line with more experienced veterans.
According to WalterFootball.com senior analyst Charlie Campbell, there are at least 12 high-end centers that could be available at various positions in the 2021 NFL Draft, and it’s almost imperative at this point for the Rams to take advantage.
2) Free conqueror
Who cares about the salary cap and luxury tax? Do NFL teams not have credit cards?
Among the 101 free agents on NFL.com’s list, there are still a few players who might be willing to sign a cheap one-year contract to play for a team in the playoffs. And there are a few more that should interest the Rams:
- THE Mitchell Schwartz (he’s not retiring, is he?).
- OT Eric Fisher (he’s injured, right?).
- LB K.J. Wright (still in the running; two sacks, 11.0 TFL in ’20).
- C Austin Reuters (The Chiefs just took over your center; why wouldn’t they?).
- By Alejandro Villanueva (there’s a thread here).
- RB James Conner (with Akers and Henderson? Yes, please).
3) DeSean Jackson scores on a punt return, kick return
The Los Angeles Rams got an unexpected boost in their return game last year when sophomore Nsimba Webster got the starting job and returned 25 punts for 185 yards, a score that ranked fifth in the NFL.
What better way for Webster to learn than from one of the most explosive distributors, newcomer DeSean Jackson?
The injury ended Jackson’s senior season and limited him to 14 catches for 236 yards and a score. But this result? An 81-yarder against the NFC East rival Dallas Cowboys. He returned just one punt last season (for two yards), but he returned at least one punt in 10 of his 13 campaigns, including a ridiculous 116 returns, 1,226 yards and four scores for the Philadelphia Eagles from 2008-2011.
If Jackson is as healthy as he says he is, McVay should at least watch him and Webster on the field a few times. Maybe he can get his former speed back. Maybe he can set up a hook and ladder with Webster.
4) Reward Whitworth, protect Stafford by establishing an agricultural aid.
It’s hard to imagine where McVay and the Rams would be without the long-term services of offensive left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who recently restructured his contract to save the Rams $3 million and secure what could be his final professional salary.
Finally, the 6-foot-3, 330-pounder is 39 years old and entering his 12th season, in which the four-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All-Pro made 220 starts and suffered his first serious injury (cruciate ligament) in Week 9 of last year before recovering and returning for the playoffs. In fact, Whitworth had started all but 13 possible regular season games in 11 seasons until last year. That’s cool.
The best thing the Rams front office can do to reward his service? Bring in replacement offensive linemen – if only to save him some commitment and give him a chance to mentor a younger Hogwash core. Elite linebacker J.J. Watt will face the Rams twice in defense of the Arizona Cardinals. The Seattle Seahawks just upgraded their defensive line, and the San Francisco 49ers have Dee Ford and Nick Bosa and also plan to bolster their top offense in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Los Angeles must defend itself, and quickly. Picks in the 57th, 88th, 103rd, 141st, 209th and 252nd will help, but the Rams need to be more decisive. CBS Sports selected Alabama’s Landon Dickerson at No. 57, but according to Pro Football Focus, he played just 59 times under Nick Saban at left tackle and mostly played center (1,215) and right guard (216).
His use as a center could make him a must-start at No. 57 if he’s still on the roster, but the Lions could instead use a pick to move up and get Jaylen Mayfield from Michigan, who played for Jim Harbaugh in Ann Arbor.