The Los Angeles Rams have come a long way since Super Bowl LIII. But not necessarily in a good way. Under coach Sean McVay, they've quietly been one of the league's best in terms of regular-season success, going 32-16 since 2018. But since posting just three points against the Patriots on the big stage, the Rams have both missed the playoffs and failed to advance past the divisional round. Perhaps more importantly, they've watched as their biggest investment, former No. 1 pick Jared Goff, has eroded into a replacement-level quarterback, en route to an apparent need for "marriage counseling" with his coach.
The question now is: Where do the Rams go from here? How, exactly, do they fix things in 2021 in an effort to re-stake their claim as true contenders out of the NFC West?
Here are five proposals for the offseason:
1. Attempt to trade Jared Goff
The general consensus in and around the Rams isn't that Los Angeles would be crazy to do this; it's that the Rams can't do this because of Goff's contract. That should tell you just how far Goff has fallen since throwing 32 touchdowns and looking like a top-10 signal-caller during his club's Super Bowl run. But here's the reality: The Rams can part ways with Goff and his contract. They can't cut him, unless they want to lose $30.5 million in 2021. But they absolutely can call around to potential suitors and try to sell a trade.
A pre-June 1 trade of Goff this offseason would result in a $22M dead cap charge, but it'd also save the Rams a total of $12.4M in 2021, as well as an additional $67M from 2022-2024. The financial benefits of a trade are there. The trouble lies in finding another team to absorb the rest of his deal, but there are a handful of clubs who either have cap space to spare or a potentially glaring need at QB, or both. Think the Colts or Patriots or Washington. You don't think Indy would consider a 26-year-old former No. 1 pick, who happened to work with assistant Mike Groh in St. Louis? Or New England, which is all about salvaging big names?
From the Rams' perspective, Goff isn't a bad QB, but his highs don't necessarily offset his lows right now, at least for $33.5M per year. It'd be a tough pill to swallow, actually cutting ties with a guy who started a Super Bowl just three years ago, but since 2019, he's been a thoroughly average passer. There might never be another time to recoup assets for him. And if McVay wants to get back to the big game, he'll need to reinvest in the QB position anyway.
2. Bring in QB competition
This applies with or without Goff. If, somehow, some way, the Rams convince someone to trade for their former Pro Bowler, they'll obviously need to prioritize QB, likely with stopgaps and then a high pick in 2022. In the more likely scenario, where Goff returns, the Rams should still be all over this. Because McVay is justified in his hesitation to commit to Goff as his starter moving forward.
Los Angeles won't have a whole lot of money to play with, largely because of Goff's increasingly daunting mega-deal. But that shouldn't prevent them from exploring the market of mid- to lower-tier veterans like Cam Newton, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Kyle Allen. None of those options are elite (or sustainable over the long term), but it's hard to imagine that the Rams would've been much worse with, say, Cam or Fitzpatrick at the helm of their offense in 2020. In fact, their upside, coupled with L.A.'s weapons, would probably be enough to push Goff to the sidelines for weeks at a time, if not longer, in 2021.
3. Promote Aubrey Pleasant to defensive coordinator
The Rams' biggest loss of the offseason might come on the coaching staff, where first-time DC Brandon Staley has bid farewell for the Chargers' head coaching job. Staley was still fresh at his post, but players almost universally praised his 2020 performance as the successor to Wade Phillips. If McVay wants to rely on yet another stout defense in 2021 and beyond, he'll need to fill the DC vacancy smartly. And while there are some outside candidates who could make sense, Pleasant stands out as a potential internal promotion.
The Rams' cornerbacks coach since 2017, McVay's first year on the job, Pleasant has helped L.A. boast some of the game's top defensive backs in recent years, from Jalen Ramsey to Marcus Peters to Aqib Talib. Heralded as an elite mind by Staley and Ramsey among others, he'd make for a seamless in-house baton-passing at an integral spot in the Rams' staff.
4. Prioritize OTs and pass rushers in the draft
Andrew Whitworth may be coming back, but the Rams have no choice but to address the edge of their offensive line. Whether it's Goff or someone else under center, they need better long-term plans on the bookends. Otherwise, all of the team's other offensive weapons -- from Robert Woods to Cooper Kupp to Cam Akers -- will be wasted while the club spends a half-decade trying to unearth reliable starters at its most important O-line spots.
Defensively, we all know Aaron Donald is capable of wreaking havoc on his own, and Leonard Floyd had a surprisingly strong Rams debut in 2020. But L.A. needs more pressure off the edge. Ramsey helps anchor the back end of the "D," but in today's NFL, you need to be able to get after the QB. Securing more depth at pass rusher would go a long way in helping the new coordinator, too.
5. Restructure or trade costly veterans
The Rams' financial issues run deeper than QB. Finding a way to deal Goff would be a start in cutting down 2021 cap allotments, with the team already projected to be more than $21M over the limit. But there's also the issue of L.A. simply not having a ton of draft picks to replenish a roster that's probably hit its peak so long as Goff is the man running the show under center.
They can't really afford to give up on core veterans if they intend to stay in the NFC West hunt in 2021, but they also have little choice but to make some tough decisions on guys with bigger cap hits, whether it be Whitworth ($11.2M), Michael Brockers ($9.8M), or Tyler Higbee ($7.1M). If they can sell a replaceable starter for a premium or even mid-tier pick, they must consider it.