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From Super Bowl to cellar? How the Rams fell apart

Jesse Reed
Jared Goff NFL Week 6
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Rams made it to the Super Bowl after the 2018 season. Now, they might be the worst team in the NFC West.

The skinny: Bad contracts and poor planning have brought this franchise to its knees during the 2020 NFL offseason. Now, barring a significant bounce-back season from Jared Goff, the Rams could be really bad this coming season.

Bad contracts bite the Rams: General manager Les Snead pushed all his chips into the middle with some monster contracts for players he believed were going to propel the Rams over the top. Instead, the high-priced free agents have disappointed outside of superstar Aaron Donald.

There just isn’t much wiggle room for the Rams to make any impact signings in free agency. According to OverTheCap.com, even after releasing Gurley and Clay Matthews, the Rams have just $13.6 million in cap space.

Draft won’t save the Rams: As it’s been written about countless times, the Rams mortgaged their future by making aggressive, win-now trades. Only, they didn’t “win now” and appear to be headed toward a rebuilding phase unless Goff can suddenly become a top-five quarterback in the NFL.

Here’s what the Rams have to work with heading into the 2020 NFL Draft:

  • Round 2 (52 overall)
  • Round 3 (84 overall)
  • Round 3 (104 overall — compensatory selection)
  • Round 4 (126 overall)
  • Round 6 (200 overall)
  • Round 7 (235 overall)

That’s just two top-100 picks. While it’s always possible to find talent after Day 1, not having a first-round pick in this year’s draft — absolutely loaded with blue-chip talent — is going to hurt the Rams.

Departures will sting big time: The Rams enter the 2020 season without a ton of top talent — both from a coaching and personnel standpoint.

First, let’s look at the coaches who are no longer with the Rams:

  • Legendary defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will not be returning. He’s been replaced by 37-year-old Brandon Staley, who has never been a defensive coordinator in the NFL before. This isn’t to say it’s going to be a failed hire, but the gap in experience is vast.
  • Special teams coach John Fassel opted to sign with the Dallas Cowboys this offseason. He was replaced by former Detroit Lions coach, John Bonamego.
  • Running back coach Skip Peete, a 20-year veteran, was also let go by the Rams this offseason. He’s been replaced by rookie NFL coach Thomas Brown, who last coached at South Carolina in 2019.

It would be foolish to assume that these new coaches won’t find success with the Rams. But it would be just as foolish to assume there won’t be some serious bumps in the road.

Now, here’s a look at the key players who are not returning:

  • Todd Gurley was released, as we already noted. Though he had a rough 2019 campaign, he’s still one of the NFL’s best threats to find the end zone at any moment.
  • Defensive tackle Michael Brockers signed a three-year deal with the Baltimore Ravens. He’s been a key defender for the Rams since being selected No. 14 overall in 2012.
  • Outside linebacker Clay Matthews had a nice bounce-back year for the Rams in 2019, tallying eight sacks as a situational pass rusher. He was released this week.
  • Inside linebacker Cory Littleton just signed with the Las Vegas Raiders. One of the best cover linebackers in the game, his departure will sting big time for the Rams in 2020.
  • The Rams declined the team option for cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman, who is an exceptional slot cover man.
  • Six-time Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle retired this offseason. He’s been one of the best in the NFL for well over a decade.

Folks, that’s a stunning amount of talent that will not be a part of the Rams’ plans in 2020.

NFC West may be the best division in football: As the Rams fall apart at the seams, the rest of the NFC West is surging ahead.

  • One of the most exciting teams in the NFL, the Arizona Cardinals still have a lot of work to do, especially when it comes to protecting last year’s top pick, Kyler Murray. But the trade for DeAndre Hopkins makes Kliff Kingsbury’s offense a veritable rocketship, and the arrow is clearly pointing up for this franchise.
  • The San Francisco 49ers traded away All-Pro DeForest Buckner, but they also landed the No. 13 overall pick in the upcoming draft — a move that should supercharge their offense. Furthermore, they brought back most of their key free agents and are arguable the best team in the NFC heading into 2020.
  • With Russell Wilson at the helm, Seattle is a perennial playoff contender. The Seahawks have made some very savvy moves in free agency. Among them, they brought back defensive tackle Jarran Reed, reunited with pass rusher Bruce Irvin, and signed offensive tackle Brandon Shell.

The bottom line: It’s not inconceivable that the Rams will be the worst team in the NFC West this coming season. There is no guarantee that Goff will suddenly see the light and become a superstar, especially given the way the roster has been gutted this offseason.

A team that went all-in just a couple of seasons ago is suddenly in a tailspin. Barring some miraculous developments, the Rams may end up unintentionally tanking in 2020.