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NFC West Rivals Review: Rams built to contend for years to come

Seattle Seahawks v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

The Super Bowl, and the formal end to the 2021 NFL season, is rapidly approaching, and for the third time in the past four years the Seattle Seahawks will be at home watching a division rival play - and hopefully lose - for the championship. In contrast, after winning consecutive NFC Championships and hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl XLVIII, the Hawks have yet to advance past the divisional round of the playoffs since the 2014 season.

So, with the full offseason still left to review the needs of the Seahawks heading into the 2022 season, between now and the Super Bowl seems like a good time to review what things look like for the division rivals. The best place to start is with the easiest of the three division rivals to review, because while fans and observers want to bury the Los Angeles Rams as having maxed out the credit card going all in for 2022, that’s not quite the case. There is no doubt that Los Angeles has certainly traded away significant assets in order to be in position to play for a world title, but even with the large number of headline grabbing trades the Rams have made recently, they have a ton of homegrown talent.

In fact, for the 2021 season the Rams had the most players drafted in house of any team in the league.

Specifically, of the 22 offensive and defensive starters who were on the field for the Rams against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game, 15 are under contract for 2022, with a 16th who is a restricted free agent and thus under team control. The six starters from Sunday who are not under contract or subject to team control are:

  • WR Odell Beckham Jr.
  • C Brian Allen
  • RG Austin Corbett
  • OLB Von Miller
  • CB Darious Williams
  • S Eric Weddle

Of those, Weddle was a late season injury replacement, as Los Angeles lost both of its young safeties in Taylor Rapp (concussion) and Jordan Fuller (ankle) to injury during the year. Rapp may return to play in the Super Bowl if he is able to clear protocols, which would leave the team looking at potentially losing just four starters from a Super Bowl caliber roster. In addition, while OBJ has certainly come on strong in recent weeks, with 19 receptions for 236 yards and a touchdown in the postseason, he’s only starting because regular starter Robert Woods tore his ACL. Putting it all together, the Rams could be looking at losing just three starters to free agency from a potentially Super Bowl winning team.

That, of course, ignores the fact that left tackle Andrew Whitworth could retire, which would leave the Rams needing a new starting left tackle. To put into perspective how crazy it is that Whitworth is still able to play at a high level at his age, in 2018 Los Angeles drafted Joseph Noteboom to be the apparent left tackle of the future. However, Noteboom hasn’t been able to unseat either Whitworth or right tackle Rob Havenstein in the starting lineup. That said, he has filled a role similar to what Jamarco Jones has filled for Seattle in recent seasons, playing snaps at left tackle (780 snaps), left guard (494 snaps), right guard (10 snaps) and right tackle (58 snaps), as well as 29 snaps as a tight end in jumbo packages that featured six offensive linemen.

Whitworth retiring and Noteboom hitting free agency at the same time as both the starting center, Allen, and right guard, Corbett, hit free agency could potentially give the Los Angeles front office reason to worry in the offseason. They have young players on the roster they have drafted and brought in as undrafted free agents, but it’s no secret what happens when a team rolls with multiple first year starters on the offensive line.

So, that would appear to make the biggest immediate offseason need for the Rams up front on the offensive side of the ball. It would not be a surprise to see them retain one of Noteboom, Allen and Corbett, while letting the younger guys duke it out for the right to start at the other two spots.

That all comes together to mean the roster is likely to be competitive going forward, assuming they’re able to address their offensive line, so attention then turns to the salary cap and the draft capital the team holds.

Per OverTheCap.com, the Los Angeles is currently looking at being $13.7M over the cap for 2022. However, as noted, a Whitworth retirement frees up $15.5M and an extension for Matthew Stafford ($23M cap number for 2022 currently) likely combine to free up over $20M and give the Rams enough space to operate as they see fit during the offseason. In addition, should their front office wish to create additional space, they have plenty of flexibility to do so through converting base salary to signing bonus as needed. Yes, they’re looking at being tight against the cap, but they’re not a team that is afraid to manage the salary cap aggressively. That means wasting any time stating the roster will fall apart due to a cap situation when they are currently looking at having everyone under contract except Matthew Stafford and more than $65M in cap space for 2023 is a complete waste of time.

Turning to the draft, they are projected by comp pick guru Nick Korte of OverTheCap.com to have eight selections in the 2022 draft in Las Vegas, including:

  • 3.103
  • 4.141
  • 5.174
  • 6.209
  • 6.210
  • 6.212
  • 7.235
  • 7.250

That gives them enough ammunition to fill in the depth of the roster, depth which they have shown a remarkable ability to develop into contributing players in recent seasons. Whether they can continue with that remarkable development is likely a bigger key to their future success than any cap concerns. Of course, what is not a question is whether they’ll be willing to trade away future draft capital in order to fill in holes in the roster at the trade deadline next November 1.

Next up will be the Arizona Cardinals.