Every ambitious newcomer to Hollywood is signing on for something like the same struggle: scrape by as a waiter, live with tons of roommates, wait for your big break, do whatever it takes. It's a cliché, and has been for decades, but it's not totally false for the people still stepping off buses in Los Angeles. It just isn't true where the Rams are concerned.
For the Rams, heading to Los Angeles was something like the opposite experience. Instead of having to claw tooth-and-nail to make it in Los Angeles, they were gifted a gigantic stadium by Inglewood. Armed with an ambitious and extremely expensive vision of the future, and the means to finance it, the Rams beat out the Raiders and Chargers for favored market status.
On the field, the Rams seem determined to play a style of football that can't consistently win. Of course, that doesn't actually matter as long as they're making money, right? This looks awfully cynical on the page, but it's hard to watch the Rams with anything but the most jaundiced of perspective. A team loses the benefit of the doubt when it builds the best running attack in the NFL and then lets it be run by someone who has no business being a starting quarterback, all under the seemingly permanent command of Jeff Fisher. Now, let's get the Rams ready for their close-up.
Coach and Quarterback Confidence Rating: 3/10
The Rams have the saddest quarterback situation in the league. Nick Foles played like he did in Philadelphia in 2014, only without an offense that could generate numbers in spite of him. That led to the Rams benching him for Case Keenum. Yes, a team was so desperate for good quarterback play in 2015 that they resorted to Houston Texans cast-offs.
Keenum is apparently going to enter training camp as a starter. In the sense that he can throw a few routes and not embarrass himself with a lead, he's an ideal Jeff Fisher quarterback. Foles is probably still the better quarterback, but neither of them is particularly appealing.
Jeff Fisher is a head coach set to do three things: run the ball, go .500, and chew bubble gum. To see Fisher be as consistently mediocre as he has been in the job, without receiving any hint of dissatisfaction in return—well, except for every opposing team claiming his defense is dirty—has been something to behold. There are worse coaches than Fisher, and there will always be, but the spell he has cast to keep this illusion going is one of the weirdest things in today's NFL. Someone should write a movie about it. Maybe when he finally moves into first place on the all-time loss list. If the Rams lose 10 games next year, and if Fisher sticks around for all of them, he'll have the record to himself. It's easier to imagine than it should be.
Key Offseason Decision: How can they fill long-standing roster holes?
The Rams have been able to use the riches of the Robert Griffin III trade to move around the draft and take the best player available. They spent their first-round pick on star back Todd Gurley in 2015, and drafted an entire offensive line behind him.
Nevertheless, the Rams have come up short on evaluations in three areas: quarterback, receiver, and offensive line. While I don't believe they were mistaken in letting Sam Bradford go, their succession plan was the NFL equivalent of ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. They've got a third-round quarterback in Sean Mannion who, even in this situation, isn't getting a sniff of love from the coaching staff.
Tavon Austin finally somewhat justified his high draft slot last year, but a cadre of other young receivers has produced little of value for the Rams. They've all been beaten out by retread Kenny Britt for a starting role. That's not even a metaphor.
The offensive line has been a disaster for years, no matter how many draft picks and free-agent signings the team has thrown at it. What is it going to take to change the calculus at these positions? The Rams will never be real contenders until they figure that out.
Major Free Agents: DL Nick Fairley, DL William Hayes, CB Janoris Jenkins, CB Trumaine Johnson, LB Mark Barron
The Rams have some choices to make on the defensive line. Hayes has steadily improved as a backup and erstwhile starter over the past few seasons. Fairley was good after coming over as a bargain free agent from Detroit. They already have Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers, and Robert Quinn. How much can they invest in the position before it's wasteful?
Both of their starting corners are also available in free agency. Johnson had the better season, but also has less of a track record and none of the pedigree. Jenkins would've been a first-round pick if not for some marijuana issues, and he generates big plays every time he's targeted. Of course, roughly half of those are big plays for the offense, but still!
Barron made a successful shift from safety to linebacker, though he's still only about average in coverage. He's still young enough to be a solution, or seem like one, for some team at that position.
Cap Situation: $36,722,297—10th in the NFL
The Rams cut loose three of their most recognizable players at the end of last week, dropping tight end Jared Cook, linebacker James Laurinaitis, and most notably by lopping $11.7 million off the payroll by cutting end Chris Long. All are, unsurprisingly, business decisions: Long is coming off his worst season, and there are plenty of defensive linemen on this roster worth playing over him. Guard Rodger Saffold, once a prize in free agency, is also a potential cap cut per ESPN's Nick Wagoner, though one that would only save about $2.6 million.
The Rams won't have problems generating cap space. Finding sure-fire upgrades at positions of need in free agency? That's a different story. They might be one of the few teams that could actually afford to pay the franchise tag ransom for Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery. I'd also expect them to be in the market for Ravens OL Kelechi Osemele based on his talent and their rebuild .
Unfortunately for the Rams, a lot of this free-agent class sets up to upgrade positions they're already covered at. I expect they'll spend more to keep players than to bring in new ones. The Rams may not be good, but damned if they aren't stable.