The Rams are flush with more than $40 million in salary-cap space. For the first time since 2016, they have a first-round draft pick.
It’s an advantageous position for a team coming off an unexpected 10-win season and a run to the playoffs.
It remains to be seen how general manager Les Snead and coach Sean McVay proceed as the Rams attempt to build on the 2023 season and prepare for a possible run to Super Bowl LIX in New Orleans.
“It gives you a healthy way to evolve as a team and continue to add pieces,” Snead told reporters this week when asked about the team’s cap space. “I don’t think we’re sitting here today going, ‘OK, let’s spend all $40 million within the first hour.’”
Last offseason, after a historically horrific Super Bowl hangover, the Rams pulled back financially. They did not aggressively attempt to re-sign a parade of starters and important contributors. Snead made no marquee trades. Their only free-agent signings were veteran-minimum deals.
But after a 3-6 start, the Rams put together a torrid second half to finish 10-7, their season ending with a 24-23 defeat by the Detroit Lions in a wild-card playoff game at frenzied Ford Field.
Flashback to 2018: After advancing to the playoffs in McVay’s first season, Snead made headline-grabbing trades and signed a big-name free agent. The Rams subsequently made a run to Super Bowl LIII.
They used a similar model after the 2020 season — and added star talent near the trade deadline — and won Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium.
But while the recently completed season is reason for optimism, there is no guarantee the Rams will take the next step.
”Easier said than done,” Snead said, adding, “The lesson would be not come in and think, ‘OK, this is what we do and we’re going to have 11 wins.’”
If the Rams are to make another Super Bowl run, they will probably need quarterback Matthew Stafford, defensive lineman Aaron Donald and receiver Cooper Kupp, the team’s highest-paid players, to remain pillars. All remain under contract.
Stafford and Donald said after the loss to the Lions that they would return. Kupp did not speak to reporters.
Snead said “at this point” he anticipated all would return next season.
“We would want every one of them back — let’s just be clear on that,” Snead said. “I haven’t sat down and chatted with any of those [players] but at this point in time, it doesn’t seem like they are wanting to move on.
“But time will tell on that.”
The Rams currently have six draft picks — including No. 19 overall — and they are anticipating they will be awarded four compensatory picks.
Will the Rams use their first-round pick for the first time since selecting quarterback Jared Goff No. 1 overall eight years ago? Or, will Snead, as history suggests, trade back to amass more picks?
“All those options are going to be on the table,” Snead said, adding that after the Super Bowl the Rams will begin, “really assessing the players who have, let’s call it, a legitimate chance of being in and around 19.
“And then there’s going to be some players that we’re also going to have to be disciplined to pass on, right? First-round talent but maybe not quite a scheme fit for whatever reason.”
Under McVay, the Rams might not have chosen a player in the first round, but their roster has included many first-round picks.
Snead traded for or signed as free agents quarterbacks Stafford, Baker Mayfield and Carson Wentz, receivers Sammy Watkins, Brandin Cooks and Odell Beckham Jr., cornerbacks Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters and Jalen Ramsey, defensive linemen Ndamukong Suh and Dante Fowler Jr., and outside linebackers Leonard Floyd and Von Miller.
In last year’s draft the Rams selected offensive lineman Steve Avila, edge rusher Byron Young, defensive lineman Kobie Turner and receiver Puka Nacua among others. Those four players became starters and key contributors. Nacua established NFL rookie records for catches and yards receiving.
The Rams also used a fourth-round pick to select quarterback Stetson Bennett, who has been on the reserve/non-football illness list for an undisclosed condition since the end of the preseason. McVay was noncommittal this week when asked about Bennett’s future.
“That’s a conversation for another time,” he said. “I think he’s doing better but I wouldn’t be in a position to answer that accurately right now.”
Snead echoed McVay.
“We look forward to revisiting with him and seeing where that goes,” Snead said.
Snead was asked if he considered drafting Bennett a mistake.
“I would say no, because it’s very early,” he said, noting that to determine if a draft pick was a mistake, “you probably have to get to the totality of the career, and so time will tell.”
The Rams reignited their rushing attack with second-year running back Kyren Williams and, perhaps more importantly, a largely injury-free offensive line.
Guard Kevin Dotson, acquired in a preseason trade, and center Coleman Shelton, are pending free agents.
Safety Jordan Fuller also will be a free agent, as will four players who were on veteran-minimum contracts — cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, safety John Johnson III, receiver Demarcus Robinson and linebacker Troy Reeder.
Linebacker Ernest Jones IV will be entering the final year of his contract. And while the Rams have traditionally refrained from extending inside linebackers, Jones could be an exception.
“He is someone who is a very important part of that defense for many reasons,” Snead said, adding, “He’s definitely someone we’ll discuss and someone definitely we’d like to have around.”