THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Rams entered the first full day of the new league year with upwards of $20 million in salary-cap space, but they navigated a complex path to get there.
It began by signing a couple of free agents, veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth and former USC receiver Robert Woods, both of whom received $15 million guaranteed. And it ended with them parting ways with four key veteran players, trading defensive end William Hayes to the Dolphins and releasing three others -- tight end Lance Kendricks, center Tim Barnes and defensive lineman Eugene Sims, who was let go after a failed physical.
After accounting for upcoming draft picks, the Rams have up to $15 million to spend on outside free agents, and they need to address their depth at several areas -- receiver, tight end, defensive line, linebacker and the secondary.
Most glaringly, though, they need a center.
The Rams have only one potential replacement for Barnes in-house with former seventh-round pick Demetrius Rhaney, who has barely played during the last three years. The best free agent available is Nick Mangold, who is coming off a serious foot injury. And the Rams have other needs in the draft, most notably defensive back, with strong safety T.J. McDonald not expected to return.
"That's something that we're evaluating right now," Rams coach Sean McVay said about finding a starting center. "There are some guys on the roster that you feel can kind of play inside and play at that center position.”
McVay added that the Rams will look to "cross-train" some of their guards at center, a list that will probably include Jamon Brown and Cody Wichmann. With Whitworth now protecting the blindside of franchise quarterback Jared Goff, Greg Robinson, the former No. 2 overall pick, is expected to move to the right side, either to tackle or guard, a decision that partly rests on the improvement of young right tackle Rob Havenstein.
The Rams spoke to Robinson on Thursday about the transition and McVay said he's "up for the challenge," though it will be a difficult one.
"You have to have a starting point," McVay said, "and the starting point is we're going to give Greg a chance to play at that right tackle spot and see where we go from there."
The Rams introduced Whitworth and Woods at the team facility Friday afternoon, unveiling two players who represented the team's two greatest needs. Woods essentially replaces Kenny Britt, who left for the Browns. But the Rams still have needs at receiver and tight end. Outside of Woods and Tavon Austin, the Rams have unproven players at both positions, most notably Pharoh Cooper and Tyler Higbee, two fourth-round picks who were hardly targeted as rookies.
The Rams could also use some size.
None of the receivers expected to get snaps are taller than 6-foot-1.
"We're looking for good football players," McVay said. "Those guys come in all shapes and sizes."
The Rams have franchised cornerback Trumaine Johnson for a second straight year, a move that will pay him close to $17 million. But they're open to trade offers, which could give them more flexibility to address the eroding depth in their secondary. They also need at least one other outside linebacker, now that the Rams are transitioning from a 4-3 to a 3-4 under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. And they're in sudden need of defensive-line help.
Veteran defensive end Robert Quinn is converting to an outside linebacker -- though McVay said he will continue to rush the quarterback, with a role similar to that of the Broncos' DeMarcus Ware -- so Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers are the only starting defensive linemen returning, with very little depth behind them. The Rams put an original-round tender on Dominique Easley and the right of first refusal on Ethan Westbrooks, two restricted free agents. But Westbrooks is coming off an arrest on suspicion of domestic violence, which McVay said the Rams are "continuing to gather information" on.
Regardless of how it plays out, the Rams' roster will look very different next year, as was to be expected.
Britt, Hayes, Kendricks, Barnes and Sims are gone. McDonald is expected to join them, as is third-down running back Benny Cunningham, former No. 33 overall pick Brian Quick and ex-starting quarterback Case Keenum. Johnson could eventually find himself elsewhere, too.
Jeff Fisher's men are leaving quickly.
"I don’t think it had anything to do with that," McVay said. "I think it was just, when we looked at overall, what we’re trying to do offensively and defensively, we just felt like those were the decisions that were best for our organization. I know there’s a lot of respect in this building, and me personally, for coach Fisher and what he’s accomplished and what he did here, it certainly isn’t anything like that."