A breakdown of the Los Angeles Rams' 2018 free-agent signings:
Ndamukong Suh, DT
The Rams made another major splash on Monday in an offseason filled with them, signing star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to a one-year contract that, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, is worth $14 million. Here’s a closer look at the signing:
Grade: A. Is it a perfect fit? No. Was it a lot of money? Yes. Are there risks? No doubt. So what. By adding Suh to the same defensive line as Aaron Donald, the Rams now have what might be the greatest pairing of defensive tackles throughout NFL history. They have had glaring holes at linebacker, but the free-agent market was never good at that position. So they pivoted, adding another elite pass rusher who has also proven to be adept at stopping the run. With Suh, the Rams have the makings of a special, thrilling defense. They can sort out the details later.
What it means: We’ll start with one thing it doesn’t mean, which is that the Rams now don’t have enough money to give Donald an extension. The Suh signing doesn’t affect what the Rams can offer Donald, though whether they actually agree to a deal remains to be seen. The only thing that really matters is how it affects them on the field this coming season. Suh will probably play nose tackle in 3-4 base sets, which allows Donald to remain the 3-technique and Michael Brockers to return to his role as the 5-technique. But Wade Phillips, one of the game’s best defensive coordinators, can move them around. He now has a dominant defensive front to go along with a ball-hawking secondary, which includes Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters and Lamarcus Joyner. In short: It means the Rams are going for it all this season.
What’s the risk: The Rams’ three big offseason additions -- Talib, Peters and Suh -- are all elite players, but they also have combative, oftentimes enigmatic personalities. The Rams are taking some risks with their locker room culture with the belief that head coach Sean McVay, only 32, can hold it all together. There’s also the question of how Phillips can make it work with three defensive tackles, at least one of which will consistently be playing out of position. And then there’s Suh himself. No defensive lineman has played more snaps than Suh over the last eight years. He has proven to be incredibly durable, but how long will that continue? Also, the Rams have basically disregarded the linebacker position this offseason, trading away Robert Quinn and Alec Ogletree without really replacing them. Will they regret it?
Ramik Wilson, ILB
While awaiting a decision from Ndamukong Suh, the Los Angeles Rams addressed some much-needed depth at inside linebacker, signing Ramik Wilson to a one-year contract. Here’s a closer look at the signing:
Grade: C. Wilson played at Georgia alongside Todd Gurley, just like Alec Ogletree, the man he is replacing. The Kansas City Chiefs selected Wilson in the fourth round in 2015, but didn’t tender him a contract as a restricted free agent this offseason, allowing him to sign with any team. Terms of Wilson’s new deal have not been disclosed, but it’s safe to say the Rams won’t be paying him much.
What it means: Wilson will seemingly compete with the incumbent Cory Littleton for a starting spot alongside Mark Barron at inside linebacker. The Rams’ hope is that Wilson reverts to his 2016 form, when Pro Football Focus graded him 18th among 82 linebackers while playing a career-high 503 snaps. Wilson was ranked 12th in coverage that season but 32nd against the run -- the area where the Rams need the most help.
What’s the risk: Wilson wasn’t deemed good enough to carve out a sustained role on last year’s Chiefs. The 6-foot-2, 237-pound linebacker started 11 games in 2016, then the first three games of 2017. But he was phased out, falling behind Reggie Ragland and Kevin Pierre-Louis on the depth chart. Wilson played just 123 snaps, ranked 22nd on the Chiefs’ defense. The Rams could do better here, but there aren’t many other options.
Dominique Easley, DE
The Rams' theme of re-signing their own players continued Monday morning, when they brought back defensive end Dominique Easley with a one-year contract. Here’s a closer look at the signing:
Grade: C-plus. Easley is expected to only cost $850,000 toward the salary cap. His contract includes a $705,000 base salary, plus an additional $145,000 in earnings if he is on the roster by Aug. 1, according to a source. There’s another $2 million in incentives ($1 million in per-game roster bonuses and another $1 million based on performance). Easley entered last season as the starting defensive end on a line that also includes Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers. But then he tore his ACL early in training camp. Now he’s added depth, which the Rams could use.
What it means: If Easley gets back to being who he was in 2016, when the Rams signed him shortly after his release from the New England Patriots, then it’s a major bargain. When healthy and right, Easley, a 2014 first-round pick, is a gifted pass-rusher capable of absorbing a majority of the snaps. He fits perfectly as the 5-technique, which allows Brockers to return to his natural spot as a nose tackle.
What’s the risk: That Easley might not be right. Last summer marked the third time in a seven-year span that Easley had torn his ACL. The Rams simply can’t count on Easley being there for them this year. But he is only 26, and he spent the entire 2017 season with the team, so they know his medicals. Like cornerback Sam Shields before him, this seems like another low-risk, potentially high-reward signing to address depth concerns.
The Rams no longer have to worry about center. They brought back veteran John Sullivan with a two-year contract that is worth up to $15 million. Here’s a closer look at the signing:
Grade: B. Sullivan made only $999,999 last year, so he earned a big raise. But not that big. Sullivan’s contract will basically only reach $15 million if he plays in every game and the Rams do well in the playoffs, according to a source. It’s more like a two-year, $10 million contract with incentives and some protection against injury.
What it means: It means the Rams’ highly successful offensive line returns intact, with Andrew Whitworth and Rob Havenstein serving as the tackles and Rodger Saffold and Jamon Brown returning as guards. Sullivan was graded 10th among 36 centers by Pro Football Focus last season because of his blocking. But he was also a major asset for young quarterback Jared Goff because of his familiarity with Sean McVay’s offense and his ability to identify coverages before the snap.
What’s the risk: Sullivan will be 33 on Aug. 8, and he missed the entire 2015 season because of back issues. Yes, there are risks involved with this. But the Rams prepared for it in the framework of this deal. The second year of Sullivan’s contract comes with a low guarantee, with most of the money coming in per-game roster bonuses. Sullivan didn’t miss any starts because of injury last season, but the Rams know they can’t necessarily count on that again. They hope Austin Blythe continues to develop into a solid backup.
The Rams checked an important, under-the-radar item off their to-do list when they brought back slot corner Nickell Robey-Coleman with a three-year contract on Tuesday. The deal is worth about $15.75 million with $8 million guaranteed, according to NFL.com. Here’s a closer look at the signing:
Grade: B-plus. Robey-Coleman, listed at 5-foot-8 and 178 pounds, is a little undersized for the outside. But he is very adept in the slot. And with Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters already on board, that’s probably where Robey-Coleman will play exclusively.
What it means: The Rams’ secondary has made a complete 180, from barren at the start of the offseason to quite possibly the NFL’s best before the start of the new league year. Their two starting corners, Peters and Talib, have combined for seven Pro Bowl appearances. Robey-Coleman was graded 19th among 121 corners by Pro Football Focus last season. Behind them are Kayvon Webster, Sam Shields, Troy Hill and Kevin Peterson, four solid depth pieces.
What’s the risk: The only real risk here is that it further cuts into the Rams’ cap room and keeps them from adding other players -- specifically, edge-rushers, run-stuffers, a center and, now that Sammy Watkins is gone, potentially a wide receiver. The Rams will be at roughly $30 million in cap space once they cut ties with wide receiver Tavon Austin. They can save an additional $3.5 million or so if they let go of Webster, who is recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon.
Sam Shields, CB
The Rams signed cornerback Sam Shields on Thursday. The former Green Bay Packer has been a Pro Bowler but spent most of the past two years away from the NFL because of concussions. Here's a closer look at the signing:
Grade: B. This is a prototypical low-risk, high-reward signing. The Rams are buying low on Shields. If he gives them anything close to what he gave the Packers earlier in his career, it's a steal.
What it means: The meaning of this signing changed completely in a matter of hours. Shortly after adding Shields, the Rams acquired All-Pro cornerback Aqib Talib from the Denver Broncos for a 2018 fifth-round pick. Talib joins another shutdown corner in Marcus Peters on the outside, which means that Shields -- along with Kayvon Webster, who is recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon -- will serve as depth. Shields can try to regain his form without the pressure of producing immediately.
What's the risk: The obvious risk is that concussions continue to keep Shields off the field. He hasn't played since suffering his latest concussion in the opener of the 2016 season, which was the fourth of his NFL career and his second in a span of nine months. The risks lie in Shields' long-term health, not necessarily the Rams' immediate plans. At his best, Shields was a speedy matchup corner who was able to compile 18 interceptions from 2010 to 2015. He can help make the Rams special at cornerback.