The Rams rebounded from a dreadful season, mixed experienced veterans with developing young players and made an unexpected run to the playoffs under coach Sean McVay.
That was the story of 2017, McVay’s first season as coach of the Rams, and it created the foundation for a 2018 season that ended with a run to Super Bowl LIII.
This season, the Rams emerged from their historically bad Super Bowl LVI hangover and made an unexpected run to the postseason.
“It’s a good parallel,” McVay said Wednesday during a video conference with reporters, adding, “It does feel like this was kind of a new start to the journey that we’re on.”
Much happened between the 2017 and 2018 seasons, including high-profile trades, free agent signings and the selection of contributors in the draft.
The Rams are positioned to make similar moves as they prepare for next season and a possible run to Super Bowl LIX in New Orleans.
The Rams currently have about $42 million in salary-cap space, according to overthecap.com,
They have six draft picks — including No. 19 in the first round — and they are anticipating compensatory picks for the losses of Baker Mayfield, Matt Gay, Nick Scott and Allen Robinson. The Rams could amass more picks if general manager Les Snead stays true to his recent history and trades back.
“We’ve got a lot of continuity coming back,” McVay said, “and we’ll have a lot of resources relative to draft capital and even just some flexibility to be able to add some players or re-sign some that wasn’t afforded to us last year.”
At the moment, it appears the Rams will have quarterback Matthew Stafford and lineman Aaron Donald back for the 2024 season.
Stafford, who turns 36 on Feb, 7, carries a salary-cap number of $49.5 million, according to overthecap.com. After the Rams’ NFC wild-card loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday, Stafford said he would be back next season.
Asked Wednesday if the Rams were committed to Stafford, McVay did not hesitate.
“One hundred percent. Absolutely. Unequivocally yes,” he said. “Oh man, that would be a good way to get me really riled up. No, we’re ready to go. He’s ready to go and couldn’t be more committed to having him lead us.”
Donald, a three-time NFL defensive player of the year, will be 33 next season, and he carries a cap number of $34 million. He said after the loss to Detroit that he would return.
But Monday, defensive line coach Eric Henderson left to become USC’s co-defensive coordinator. Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris is interviewing with several teams that are searching for a new head coach.
Asked about Donald on Monday, McVay indicated he had not spoken to the three-time NFL defensive player of the year about whether that would influence his plans for next season.
“Those conversations occur at the appropriate time,” McVay said. “There’s so much emotion that takes place right after a game and after a season. … You give guys the chance to really just digest the season, coaches and players alike, and then we’ll address all those things at the right time.”
Right tackle Rob Havenstein, who carries a cap number of $14.7 million, will be preparing for his 10th season with the Rams. Havenstein said the team also has a “young core” of mentally tough players who could help the Rams take the next step.
If those players, “take this last year’s experience and just roll it on in the next year, I think why not?” Havenstein said. “But we’ll come to that year a little bit down the road.”
Veteran tight end Tyler Higbee will be coming off major knee surgery going into next season. McVay said Higbee will undergo surgery after suffering torn anterior and medial collateral ligaments against the Lions. Higbee is a candidate to begin training camp on the physically-unable-to-perform list, McVay said.
Running back Kyren Williams suffered a broken bone in his hand against the Lions and had surgery Tuesday, McVay said.
As the Rams look ahead to free agency and the draft, they could again be in the market for a backup quarterback who eventually could replace Stafford.
Carson Wentz, who played in two games for the Rams this season and started their regular-season finale, is a free agent and is expected to seek an opportunity to start with another team.
Stetson Bennett, a fourth-round draft pick in 2023, has been on the reserve/non-football illness list for an undisclosed issue since the end of the preseason.
McVay was asked if he expected Bennett to be with the Rams in 2024.
“You know, I don’t know that,” he said. “I think that’s a conversation for another time. I think he’s doing better but I wouldn’t be in a position to answer that accurately right now.
“That’s probably a long ways away for me, being able to answer that.”