Season summary: The Rams’ first season back in L.A. began with promise, with three consecutive close wins following a season-opening blowout loss to the 49ers. But the offense was dreadful from start to finish, which put too much pressure on a talented defense that lacked depth. The Rams lost several close games around the midway point of the season. Toward the end, with their schedule getting tough, everything unraveled, which led to the firing of head coach Jeff Fisher. The Rams enter the offseason in search of a new direction and face serious questions about their four most recent top draft picks. Tavon Austin, taken eighth overall in 2013, has not produced to the level expected. Greg Robinson, the No. 2 overall pick in 2014, was benched as the left tackle late in the year. Todd Gurley, drafted 10th overall in 2015, failed to reach 1,000 rushing yards one season after he was named Offensive Rookie of the Year. Jared Goff, the 2016 No. 1 overall pick, struggled mightily while under center for the last seven games. For the past four years under Fisher, the Rams hovered just below the .500 mark, seemingly on the verge of evolving into a consistent playoff team. They thought this season, their first on the West Coast in 21 years, might be the one when they finally turned the corner. Instead, they took a step back.
Biggest draft need: Not much has changed here. The Rams need impact talent at receiver and along their offensive line. They are also lacking depth at linebacker and in the secondary. One problem: They’ll enter the 2017 draft without a first-round pick, which went to the Tennessee Titans in the deal that allowed them to move up and draft Goff.
Key offseason questions
Who will be the next head coach? The Rams have been linked to several high-profile names, including Jon Gruden, Jim Harbaugh, Pete Carroll, Sean Payton and Ron Rivera (the latter two would require trades). They remain open-minded in their search, and the more likely outcome is that another team’s offensive coordinator gets the job. Kyle Shanahan of the Falcons, Josh McDaniels of the Patriots, Jim Bob Cooter of the Lions and Todd Haley of the Steelers are among those worth considering. The Rams require an overhaul of their offensive staff. Hiring a defensive-minded coach who would bring his own offensive coordinator is also a consideration.
Will they spend on offensive pieces? The Rams tried to build through the draft and didn’t do much of anything in free agency under Fisher. But they enter this offseason with roughly $40 million in cap space and badly need to surround Goff with talent at receiver and on the offensive line. The market for receivers is highlighted by Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson and, seemingly, Kenny Britt, who just gave the Rams their first 1,000-yard-receiving season since 2007. Guards Kevin Zeitler (Bengals), Ronald Leary (Cowboys) and T.J. Lang (Packers) appear to be the best offensive linemen available.
Can they hold on to Trumaine Johnson and T.J. McDonald? The Rams made a big mistake in letting cornerback Janoris Jenkins and safety Rodney McLeod go in free agency last offseason and cannot allow Johnson and McDonald to do the same. Johnson spent this season under the franchise tag, which paid him $13.952 million, and McDonald is at the end of his rookie contract. Johnson entered the season finale ranked 30th among 119 qualified cornerbacks this season by Pro Football Focus, and McDonald was 62nd among 92 safeties. The Rams don’t have the depth at cornerback or safety to sustain either loss.