Rams Facing O-Line Overhaul

Los Angeles Rams OT Andrew Whitworth
Los Angeles Rams OT Andrew Whitworth
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Offseason - In these editions of Four Downs, we'll review the biggest hole on each team in the division and then give a short look at each team's major free agents for 2022.

Arizona Cardinals

Biggest Need: Weapons

Arizona made the playoffs last season for the first time in six years, but it's hard to build on that success when you're going through significant roster churn. Based on 2021 playing time, the Cardinals are at risk of losing their top two running backs, their top two wide receivers, and their top four tight ends, all of whom are about to enter free agency at the same time. Between those eight players, that's nearly 70% of Arizona's yards from scrimmage last year poised to walk out the door.

Of those eight, it's most imperative that the Cardinals hang on to Christian Kirk, who has quietly been their leading receiver in the Kyler Murray era. With Kirk and DeAndre Hopkins (who might have returned from his torn MCL to play in the Super Bowl Arizona had gotten that far) out wide and second-year player Rondale Moore as the designated YAC guy in the slot, the Cardinals would still have a fine trio of starters at receiver. At running back, James Conner scored 18 touchdowns and made the Pro Bowl, but he has little to offer beyond goal-line punch—he averaged only 3.7 yards per carry and finished barely above average in rushing DVOA. Chase Edmonds, one of the NFL's top receiving backs, would actually be a bigger loss, having finished in the top five in receiving DYAR and DVOA in each of the last two seasons. A.J. Green and Zach Ertz were quality players in Arizona, but both are in their early 30s and are lower on the priority list.

Major Free Agents: RB James Conner, RB Chase Edmonds, TE Zach Ertz, WR A.J. Green, ER Chandler Jones, WR Christian Kirk, QB Colt McCoy, DT Corey Peters

For all that talent the Cardinals might lose on offense, their biggest free agent is actually on defense. Chandler Jones enjoyed quite a bounceback season, going from one sack in five games in 2020 to 10.5 in 15 games in 2021. He also led the team with 36 total pressures and a dozen tackles for loss, per Pro Football Reference. According to Josh Weinfuss of ESPN, Jones is likely to be playing for a new team this fall. Corey Peters turns 34 in June, but he remains an integral part of the Arizona front; he has started at least nine games for the Cardinals in each of the past six years, including 11 last season. And Arizona might not have been a playoff team at all last year were it not for Colt McCoy, who played well in a pair of wins over San Francisco and Seattle (combined statline: 81.4% completion rate, 8.2 yards per throw, three touchdowns, no interceptions).

Los Angeles Rams

Biggest Need: Offensive Line

Though no official announcement has been made, all indications say that left tackle Andrew Whitworth is going to retire. On top of that, the Rams could also lose starters at center (Brian Allen) and right guard (Austin Corbett) in free agency. The loss of three starting linemen in one offseason would be a heavy load for any team to bear, but for the Rams it could be catastrophic. Sean McVay's scheme is built around offensive line continuity, keeping the same starters on the field week-in and week-out. The Rams were first or tied for first in offensive line continuity in 2017, 2018, and 2020, and while we haven't calculated every team's numbers for 2021 yet, we can tell you that L.A.'s top five linemen in 2022 missed only five starts between them in a 17-game season. Corbett in particular has been a rock, playing every single offensive snap in 45 of L.A.'s last 46 games. Allen has not been quite as reliable—he missed half of 2019 with an MCL injury and spent all of 2020 on the bench behind Austin Blythe—but the Rams are going to have a difficult time replacing any starting players this offseason. They are right up against the salary cap, and their only pick in the first four rounds of the draft will be a compensatory selection at the end of Round 3.

Major Free Agents: C Brian Allen, WR Odell Beckham Jr., RG Austin Corbett, DT Sebastian Joseph-Day, RB Sony Michel, ER Von Miller, CB Darious Williams

In less than half a season with the Rams, Miller finished second on the team (behind Aaron Donald, of course) with a dozen tackles for loss. Then he led the Rams with a half-dozen more TFL in the playoffs. He turns 33 this month and probably won't get a long-term offer, but he would immediately be the best player on the defensive front for several teams in the league, and the Rams probably won't have room for him in their budget. Darious Williams has emerged in the past two years as a quality starter opposite Jalen Ramsey. He started 17 games including the playoffs, missing exactly two defensive snaps in L.A.'s last 12 games. Sebastian Joseph-Day, best known as The Rams' Other Defensive Tackle, started 31 games in 2019 and 2020 and the first seven of 2021 before tearing his pec; he was active for the Super Bowl, but did not play. Sony Michel, acquired via trade last August, led the Rams with 845 rushing yards in the regular season and added a career-high 21 catches despite splitting time with Darrell Henderson. The torn ACL Odell Beckham suffered in the Super Bowl puts him in an odd spot. He likely won't be ready to play when the season begins, so any team that signs him (and the Rams have made it clear they are interested) would likely offer a one-year deal, knowing he won't even play all of that one year but would be around for the playoffs.

San Francisco 49ers

Biggest Need: Defensive Backs

San Francisco's pass coverage stats are ugly enough on their surface. They were fifth in adjusted sack rate but only 16th in pass defense DVOA, which means they had plenty of sacks but got burned when opposing quarterbacks had time to throw the ball. They were next to last in DVOA on throws to No. 1 receivers, and 20th on throws to both No. 2 receivers and "other" wideouts. They were also next to last in DVOA on deep passes to receivers 16 yards or more downfield. Worst of all was their inability to keep their hands off receivers—including the playoffs, they were flagged for defensive pass interference 21 times (with three more declined!) for 376 yards. They led the league by miles in both categories; Tampa Bay, the next defense in that department, trailed the 49ers by a half-dozen flags and over 100 yards. San Francisco's top two corners, Josh Norman and K'Waun Williams, are both headed for free agency, though if they leave it could be a case of addition by subtraction. Not so for Jaquiski Tartt—the strong safety, who turned 30 last month, started a career-high 14 games in the last season of his contract. He would leave a much larger hole for San Francisco to replace.

Major Free Agents: LG Laken Tomlinson, DT D.J. Jones, CB Josh Norman, SS Jaquiski Tartt, CB K'Waun Williams

The good news for San Francisco is that aside from the aforementioned players in the secondary, they have very few starters hitting free agency. Laken Tomlinson missed just one start in his five seasons in San Francisco, but if he leaves, the 49ers have 2021 second-rounder Aaron Banks ready to step into his spot. Defensive tackle D.J. Jones started all 17 games last year, the first time in his career he hasn't missed a start, but he still played barely half of San Francisco's defensive snaps; he's a one-dimensional run-stuffer. Really, it's hard to find anyone else of note who might leave. Tom Compton started the last 10 games of the season at right tackle in place of Mike McGlinchey, but McGlinchey is expected to return to the lineup after tearing his quad last November. And a trio of rotational defenders (edge rushers Arden Key and Kentavius Street, plus linebacker Marcell Harris) are also hitting free agency, and it's never good to lose that kind of depth. But those are fine details; Tartt's potential departure is the only one that would change the big picture of this 49ers team.

Seattle Seahawks

Biggest Need: Cornerbacks

There is little in our statistics to indicate this would be a weakness, but this is a case where our numbers can be deceiving. The Seahawks ranked lower in adjusted sack rate (29th) than in pass defense DVOA (26th), suggesting that pass rush was a bigger problem than pass coverage. And in coverage, they fared better against wide receivers (12th or better against No. 1s, No. 2s, and "other" wideouts) than against tight ends (26th) or running backs (dead last). What those numbers don't tell you is that Seattle protected their cornerbacks by playing a lot of zone coverage (40.4% of the time, per Sports Info Solutions) and rarely blitzing (22.4% of the time, per Pro Football Reference). The Raiders, who had the NFL's highest zone rate but lowest blitz rate, were the only defense that used more zones and fewer blitzes than the Seahawks. Anyway, this is all largely moot now because Seattle's top two corners, D.J. Reed and Sidney Jones, are both entering free agency. Ugo Amadi, a safety/slot corner hybrid who started seven games last season, is the only corner under contract who played more than 300 defensive snaps in 2021.

Major Free Agents: LT Duane Brown, S Quandre Diggs, TE Gerald Everett, C Kyle Fuller, DE/DT Rasheem Green, CB Sidney Jones, RB Rashaad Penny, C Ethan Pocic, CB D.J. Reed, DT Al Woods

Quandre Diggs is listed here as a formality. Yes, his contract is expiring, but there is very little chance he won't return, even after breaking his leg and dislocating his ankle in Week 18 against Arizona last year. He was likely Seattle's best defender last season, perhaps their best player on either side of the ball, and he's a reasonable candidate for the franchise tag. Other high-priority free agents include Duane Brown (who started every game for the second straight year and made the Pro Bowl, though he turns 37 in August), Rashaad Penny (who led the NFL by averaging 6.3 yards per carry), and Rasheem Green (an edge rusher who often moved inside in Seattle's five-man fronts and led Seahawks linemen in snaps played). Gerald Everett would also be a significant loss, especially considering top backup Will Dissly is also a free agent. On the other hand, neither Kyle Fuller nor Ethan Pocic, both of whom started at center last year, would be missed much. Al Woods started 16 games, just the second time in his 11 NFL seasons he has hit double-digits, but he turns 35 in a few weeks, which will hurt his market.

Comments

5 comments, Last at 08 Mar 2022, 3:46pm

1 Chandler Jones

Jones' season long stats look good, but how much of them are due to dominating the Titans in week one? What would he be worth of the rest of his season was the true level of play? 

2 AZ weapons:

w/the news that Isabella is allowed to seek a trade (GB throw a day 3 pick cough cough) the next best option seems like a swap (with a 7th) for NKeal who was already asking for a trade. Both 2019 early round WRs get to go back to their college states for a change of scenery. 

Also, is CB a weapon? Because it's Byron Murphy (who had a rough year himself) and...

Connor did only have 3.7 ypc but combine that w/his TDs and 0(!) fumbles lost and he had 5.2 ANY/RA which is above league average. He's no Damien Harris but hard to fault him pounding in 9 TDs from the 2 or less. He's literally doing his job but it caps his yardage. 

Seahawks also need OL. They got no C (and no significant depth). /Stone Forsythe, Damien Lewis, ????, Gabe Jackson, Jake Curhan/ sounds barely passable. 

Rams are actually pretty solid at the moment imo. Looks like they have some solid contingency plans if they shuffle things around a bit. 

3 The entire argument that…

In reply to by ImNewAroundThe…

The entire argument that Connor is simultaneously a scrub and an above-average starter is a weird argument.