April 18, 2024

The Rams got a jump on the start of free agency. Now, are they ready to jump in?

By re-signing offensive lineman Kevin Dotson to a multiyear deal and receiver Demarcus Robinson to a one-year contract, Rams general manager Les Snead took care of two pressing needs as the Rams prepare for a season with heightened expectations.

The NFL’s negotiating period for unrestricted free agents begins Monday, and teams can sign players when the new league year begins Wednesday.

The Rams have about $29 million in salary-cap space, according to Overthecap.com. That ranks 17th among NFL teams.

Snead and coach Sean McVay “like to attack” and be aggressive, Snead said, but the Rams will not spend all of their capital at “Christmas” when free agency begins.

“Let’s maybe save some for a birthday down the road, an anniversary down the road, a Mother’s Day down the road,” Snead said, pointing to the 2021 season when the Rams added edge rusher Von Miller and receiver Odell Beckham Jr. late in what turned out to be a Super Bowl title run.

The Rams could use an edge rusher, cornerbacks, a receiver, tight end and a kicker, among other positions. But if Snead has not made a characteristic blockbuster move before Wednesday, the Rams might wait for the second and third waves of free agency before they make deals.

Here is a look at the Rams roster as they enter free agency:

Quarterbacks

After the Rams won Super Bowl LVI, Matthew Stafford received an extension that gives him a $49.5-million cap number in 2024. What seemed gigantic three years ago is now mid-market for an elite starter — even one 36 years old.

The Rams’ Stetson Bennett experiment appeared to end before it began — McVay and team executives have been noncommittal about Bennett’s return from the nonfootball injury/illness list — so the search for backup and possible successor continues as Dave Ragone begins his first season as quarterbacks coach.

Carson Wentz, who finished the 2023 season with the Rams, is a free agent seeking a starting opportunity. Other available free-agent quarterbacks include Gardner Minshew, Jacoby Brissett and Jameis Winston.

Running backs

Kyren Williams’ emergence as a 1,000-yard rusher in 2023 — and his bargain $985,000 salary in 2024 and $1.1-million salary in 2025 — means the Rams won’t be in the market for Saquon Barkley, Derrick Henry or any other big-name running back. But as they did last season with Royce Freeman the Rams could explore bringing in an affordable veteran to back up Williams and augment a rushing corps that includes Ronnie Rivers.

Rams receiver Demarcus Robinson celebrates his touchdown catch during a game against the Saints last season.

Rams receiver Demarcus Robinson, celebrating a touchdown catch during a game against the Saints last season, has been re-signed to a one-year contract.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Receivers/tight ends

Record-setting receiver Puka Nacua is a bargain. The former fifth-round pick will play his second NFL season with a cap number of only $976,000. Veteran Cooper Kupp, plagued by injuries throughout last season, will turn 31 in June and is due to carry a cap number of $29.8 million. The Rams filled a need by re-signing Robinson, who has been to the playoffs every season of his eight-year career and will earn $4 million this season, according to Overthecap.com.

Tutu Atwell, a former second-round pick, enters the final year of his contract and is not regarded as a candidate to be re-signed. So the Rams could look to bolster the position group in the draft or pursue a player in a free-agent class that includes Beckham and Gabriel Davis among others. Veteran tight end Tyler Higbee is recovering from major knee surgery. Second-year pro Davis Allen and Hunter Long are other tight ends on the roster.

Offensive linemen

Re-signing Dotson before he hit the market was a major move by Snead. With second-year pro Steve Avila having started every game at left guard as a rookie, the Rams will be set in the interior line if as anticipated they re-sign center Coleman Shelton. The Rams still are searching for a long-term answer at left tackle.

Alaric Jackson is a restricted free agent, so the Rams are likely to retain a former undrafted free agent who started 15 games last season. Joe Noteboom will almost certainly have to agree to a contract restructure — he will carry a cap number of $20 million — to remain with the Rams. Former USC and Dallas Cowboys star Tyron Smith is among the free-agent tackles, but probably too pricey for the Rams.

Rams offensive tackle Joe Noteboom, left, celebrates a touchdown with receiver Cooper Kupp during a game against the Falcons.

Rams offensive tackle Joe Noteboom, left, celebrates a touchdown with receiver Cooper Kupp during a game against the Falcons.

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Defensive linemen

Aaron Donald, a future Hall of Famer, is entering the final guaranteed year of a contract that includes two void years. He is due to carry a $34.2-million cap number. Nose tackle Kobie Turner, a third-round draft pick last season, was a finalist for NFL defensive rookie of the year. Bobby Brown III is entering the final year of his rookie contract. Until Donald retires, the Rams are apt to try to build this position group through the draft. Giff Smith is the new defensive line coach.

Outside linebackers

Byron Young, like Walker a third-round pick, emerged as a force with eight sacks. But edge rusher still ranks as perhaps the Rams’ top need. After a seemingly successful move from defensive line to outside linebacker late in the 2022 season, Michael Hoecht did not duplicate the performance as a formidable pass-rushing threat. Hoecht is a restricted free agent. With Brian Burns and Josh Allen getting franchise-tagged, Danielle Hunter is the top available edge rusher.

Inside linebackers

Ernest Jones IV is entering the final year of his contract — and he is trending toward being the exception to the Rams’ practice of not extending or spending much on inside linebackers. McVay and Snead both indicated they would work to keep Jones beyond 2024, though the Rams traditionally wait until the eve of the season to announce extensions. Christian Rozeboom and Troy Reeder are free agents. Jake Hummel is on the roster.

Rams linebacker Ernest Jones IV (53) celebrates a sack with teammates Michael Hecht, left, and Kobe Turner.

Rams linebacker Ernest Jones IV (53), celebrating a sack with teammates Michael Hecht, left, and Kobe Turner, enters the final year of his contract but is likely to receive a contract extension.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Defensive backs

The market is suddenly full of high-profile cornerbacks and safeties, including Xavien Howard, Tre’Davious White, Darious Williams, Justin Simmons, Xavier McKinney, Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs to name a few. Williams played well for the Rams before signing a big contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but he turns 31 on March 15 so the Rams might be wary.

Regardless, they need help because cornerbacks Derion Kendrick and Cobie Durant have not proven to be consistently effective and Ahkello Witherspoon is an unrestricted free agent. Safeties Jordan Fuller, a team captain, and John Johnson III also are free agents. Russ Yeast and Quentin Lake are returning safeties.

Specialists

After suffering through last season’s kicking travails with Brett Maher, Lucas Havrisik and Maher again, the Rams are eager to avoid a repeat, though they don’t spend lavishly on kickers. Nick Folk, former Ram Greg Zuerlein and Chase McLaughlin are available. And despite the Rams giving up two punt returns for touchdowns — one that gave the Baltimore Ravens a victory — McVay retained special teams coordinator Chase Blackburn. Punter Ethan Evans and long-snapper Alex Ward return.

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