They’ll be back.
That was the sentiment surrounding the Los Angeles Rams after a bittersweet Wild Card loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Saturday at the Coliseum, the franchise’s first in the building in nearly 40 years. It won’t be that long before their next home playoff game. It could happen before they depart for their new stadium in 2020.
“Certainly we’re not content with the way that this season ended,” coach Sean McVay said in the aftermath of a 26-13 defeat, “but it doesn’t take away the fact that our players and our group of coaches accomplished a lot of things where we feel like we’re building a foundation where that trajectory is pointing upward for the Rams.”
After an 11-win season, the NFC West champions have a lot to look forward to. They boast a young nucleus that saw several players put up career years. Running back Todd Gurley is an MVP candidate. Defensive end Aaron Donald is a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Wide receiver Robert Woods looked rejuvenated after four years of obscurity in Buffalo. Cornerback Trumaine Johnson is a Pro Bowl alternate for the first time. And quarterback Jared Goff quieted “bust” murmurs with a promising second season.
“We have a good, strong core and good people, good players and good coaches,” Goff said, after an uneven playoff debut.
Of course, he wasn’t alone in that regard. The Rams’ 31-year-old rookie coach headed a roster that featured only six players with postseason experience coming into Saturday. The butterflies were evident right out the gate. After leading the NFL in scoring in the regular season, the Rams collected just one first down over their first three possessions. Two other drives never commenced because of fumbled punt and kickoff returns. L.A. ultimately fell into a 13-0 hole that it mostly dug out of by halftime but ultimately succumbed to against last year’s Super Bowl runner-up.
Rams linebacker Mark Barron and cornerback Kayvon Webster both underwent shoulder surgery recently, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Friday, per sources.
Barron should be ready for camp, while Webster’s availability come summer will depend on how he recovers from the torn Achilles tendon that kept him out of L.A.’s final six games.
The decision to prioritize Joyner over Watkins makes the most football sense. Joyner is a key chess piece in Wade Phillips’ defense. The 27-year old moved to safety in 2017, thriving in that role. His ability to drop down and play slot corner, where he spent his first three seasons, makes the 5-foot-8 defender a commodity in today’s NFL.
With the Rams finalizing a trade agreement to acquire former All-Pro cornerback Marcus Peters from the Kansas City Chiefs, it appears Trumaine Johnson’s time in the Los Angeles secondary is over. Keeping Joyner in the secondary over the likes of a receiver who earned just 593 yards seems like a no-brainer from an on-field perspective.
We’ve seen many times in the past, however, that not all decisions are made in a football-related vacuum (even within the Rams own organization — see Tavon Austin’s contract). L.A. sunk a lot into acquiring Sammy Watkins, giving up a second-round pick and corner E.J. Gaines. Watkins finished the regular season as the Rams No. 4 receiving option and tallied just 39 receptions. However, the prevailing thought in keeping the wideout has been that after a year and a full offseason, Watkins and QB Jared Goff could find a better rapport moving forward.
Is Watkins worth a $16 million franchise tag to find out?
With Jarvis Landry getting the franchise tag from Miami, and the Jaguars possibly doing the same with Allen Robinson, Watkins could be the hottest wide receiver if he hits the free-agent market.
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport said Watkins would have a “legit market from teams who view him as a No. 1 receiver,” noting the San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears as possible destinations if Watkins makes it to free agency.
Oh, and the Rams still need to freaking pay Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald at some point.