It’s another NFL offseason and another year the Los Angeles Rams are cap-strapped. They are well over the projected salary cap for the new league year and will need to be ultra-creative as free agency approaches.
General manager Les Snead recently said Los Angeles can do the cap gymnastics to keep two top pending defensive free agents: safety John Johnson and linebacker Leonard Floyd, according to The Athletic. On offense, however, the Rams will need to consider adding cap-friendly players to support their new quarterback: Matthew Stafford; which still feels weird to say.
The team’s most pressing need is across the offensive line, which it can attack in the 2021 NFL Draft or free agency; or both if it can work around the projected $30-plus million dollars in dead money while meeting the COVID-19-stricken salary cap. The Rams are currently $33 million over the NFL’s projected salary cap, according to Over the Cap.
Los Angeles needs cheaper options; it simply doesn’t have money to spend. The Rams also have pressing needs on offense, which will be retooled to fit Stafford’s skill set. Here are three potential free agent targets that are team-friendly in more ways than just one.
Joe Looney, C, Dallas Cowboys
Austin Blythe will hit the market in a few weeks; and if Los Angeles doesn’t re-sign him, it’ll need to bring someone in to shore up the heart of its offensive line in an effort to protect Stafford. Head coach Sean McVay recently spoke highly of Blythe but didn’t offer much on his future; it leaves us to believe the Rams could be looking elsewhere.
If Blythe finds a new home, Los Angeles will have a tough task finding a new anchor. There’s a couple of standout veteran talents that would be cap-friendly—which is the overarching theme of any of the Rams’ free-agency moves. Joe Looney is coming off a one-year, $2.4 million deal with the Dallas Cowboys. Looney has been a leader in Dallas’ locker room and can bring that same veteran experience to Los Angeles. Looney was only recently named the Cowboys’ starting center and in a short time showed how impactful and versatile he can be up front.
John Ross, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
The Rams need a deep threat for Stafford, which is contrary to their previous passing attack with former quarterback Jared Goff. Last season, Stafford had the fifth-highest intended air yards per pass (8.7); Goff had the third-fewest (6.2). Los Angeles doesn’t currently have 1) a strong downfield passing attack or 2) a receiver to execute it. It’ll have to, again, get creative with the available receivers. The Rams can’t afford a tried-and-true option and will likely have to bet on unproven talent.
John Ross’ NFL career has been widely disappointing; this coming from someone who saw, first hand, what he was able to do in college. After being selected as the ninth overall pick out of the 2017 draft, Ross’ career has been plagued with injury and, well, injury. His lack of production largely comes from a lack of playing time. If Ross can return to full health and play a full season—he’s yet to play in all 16 games in his four-year career, maxing out at 13 in 2018—he can be the deep target Stafford looks to. Ross has the speed and the talent; he just needs to be put in a position to succeed while staying healthy.
John Miller, G, Carolina Panthers
If the Panthers don’t re-sign John Miller, he could be a welcomed addition to the Rams’ offensive line. Los Angeles needs to bolster its front five and at 6-foot-3 and 315 pounds, Miller can be a physical presence. He’s jumped around a bit, spending time in Buffalo and Cincinnati before penning a one-year, $4 million deal with the Panthers. The Rams could get Miller at a low cost and see him develop into a quality starter. Miller will have to play a little smarter; there were some lapses across his 14 games last season that resulted in six penalties and three allowed sacks.