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By: JB Scott
LA tried to “run it back” without one of their bona fide stars
Von Miller played an instrumental role in getting a competitive Los Angeles Rams team over the hump toward winning Super Bowl LVI.
Miller’s play on the field took LA’s pass rush to a fearsome level. If you paid too much attention to star Aaron Donald, Miller would wreck shop and vice versa. Leonard Floyd, Greg Gaines, and A’Shawn Robinson were also dangerous as complementary pieces.
The veteran also played a crucial role as a leader in the locker room, and he helped Donald take his career to new heights. When the team fell behind in the NFC championship game against their NFC West division rival San Francisco 49ers, Donald gave a fiery speech to the defense at a level we had not previously seen from him. Miller also understood the dedication and sacrifice it took to reach the highest peak in the National Football League, and he helped bring the rest of the team along with him.
It made total sense why the Rams wanted to keep the pass rush specialist around for longer than a half-season rental and a historic playoff stretch, but Miller’s play down the stretch piqued the interest of other contending teams looking to get over the hump.
While Los Angeles reportedly fought to keep Miller until he put pen to paper with the Buffalo Bills, they could not match the Bills’ contract of six years and $120M.
The Rams’ pursuit of Miller cost them more than just one of the better players on their roster. The legal tampering period of free agency began on March 14th and Miller didn’t sign until after the start of the official free agency period on March 16th.
By the time Miller agreed to terms with the Bills, his backup from LA, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, had already signed a deal with the Houston Texans. Also off the board at that point were Randy Gregory, Za’Darius Smith (who later reneged the Ravens and signed with the Vikings), Haason Reddick, and Chandler Jones.
Any more impactful free agent signing this year than Za’Darius Smith? I can’t think of any.
— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) December 24, 2019
The Rams were poised to run into the season with Terrell Lewis and Justin Hollins as the starting OLB opposite Floyd. Sean McVay and Les Snead both asserted throughout the offseason that if Lewis and Hollins struggled at the start of the season, LA would look to make a splash acquisition ahead of the NFL’s trade deadline.
But Lewis and Hollins failed to make much of a consistent impact during the first half of the season. As the trade deadline drew closer, the Rams made attempts at trading for Brian Burns and Bradley Chubb – ultimately the Panthers held onto Burns and the Broncos sent Chubb to the Dolphins in exchange for a first-round draft choice.
Snead’s own exploitation of the draft picks for proven player trade market ended up driving the price of an edge rusher past the point Los Angeles was willing and able to pay.
And while the pass rush failed to get home, the usually-reliable coverage on the backend also began to fall apart. Suddenly the Rams were getting picked apart by middling quarterbacks in games that were set to decide the fate of the team’s season – LA lost to the likes of Colt McCoy, Jimmy Garoppolo, Andy Dalton, and Cooper Rush when the stakes were at their highest.
It all amounts to what has become a lost season for a team that seemed ready to win right now. The most important question that remains is “where do the Rams go from here?”
LA has already started to answer that question by releasing Justin Hollins ahead of his scheduled free agency in 2023, leaving the Rams with Lewis and rookies Daniel Hardy and Keir Thomas opposite Floyd.
Probably the next step this offseason is to part ways with Floyd, whose pass rush production has not lived up to his hefty price tag.
That would leave the Rams with two holes at edge defender heading into free agency and the draft, which is troubling considering starting outside linebackers are some of the most costly players in all the NFL to acquire (outside of QB).
The skill and athleticism of today’s offensive tackles, especially coupled with the advanced ability of quarterbacks to evade pressure and break out of sacks, require elite athletes with well-developed technique at the edge of the defense. These players are some of the first to get signed to contracts at the onset of free agency, and they also get selected at the top of the draft order.
It’s very rare to find a low-cost pass rusher that outproduces their investment, and that could spell trouble for the Rams beyond 2022.
Los Angeles failed to defend its Super Bowl title this season, and the first sign of trouble was when Von Miller left for the Buffalo Bills. The Rams are still feeling the aftereffects of Miller’s departure, and filling the void still left after a year will be no easy task.