The 2016 NFL Combine has come to a close, and free agency gets started next week. Since news is going to start picking up shortly, it is time to continue our annual review of the San Francisco 49ers upcoming opponents.
We will be providing three breakdowns. This first one will review the previous season for each team. It will also include a list of each team's free agents, and a look at some potential needs heading into free agency and the draft. The second one will come in April, providing a look at where teams are at following free agency, and what the draft means for each team. The third set will come in July, providing a recap of the offseason and a look ahead to training camp for each team.
Today, we move on to the NFC West, starting with the Los Angeles Rams. It was another inconsistent year, with a strong enough run late to somehow justify keeping Jeff Fisher. The Rams stunned Seattle in an overtime thriller at home to start the season. They followed that up with losses at Washington and vs. a Steelers team that lost Ben Roethlisberger in the third quarter. They won three of their next four, including a win at Arizona, and were 4-3 heading into November for the first time since 2006. However, they lost five straight to drop to 4-8. They won three straight, but then lost at San Francisco to close out the season at 7-9.
The biggest story on offense was the emergence of rookie running back Todd Gurley. He tore his ACL his final year of college, and his status for the 2015 season was up in the air. He made his debut in Week 3, and then put together a fantastic 4-game run starting in Week 4 in which he rushed for 566 yards and three touchdowns. He slowed a bit after that, but had a couple strong games to finish the season with 1,106 yards, averaging 4.8 yards per carry.
Of course, the passing game was a train wreck. Offseason acquisition Nick Foles got the bulk of the starting quarterback work, but Case Keenum got some opportunities as well. Neither did a whole lot of much for this offense, which Football Outsiders ranked No. 31 in passing.
The defense continued to improve, with Football Outsiders ranking them No. 7. Aaron Donald led the team with 11.0 sacks, which also tied for the lead among defensive tackles. His 69 tackles also led all interior defensive linemen. The Rams defense did not otherwise get a ton of heat in the pass rush, but they were very strong against the run in 2015.
Unrestricted free agents: DE Chris Long, TE Jared Cook, ILB James Laurinaitis, K Greg Zuerlein, DE William Hayes, DE Eugene Sims, DT Nick Fairley, CB Trumaine Johnson, CB Janoris Jenkins, S Mark Barron, S Rodney McLeod, WR Brian Quick, WR Wes Welker, TE Corey Harkey, C Tim Barnes
Restricted free agents: LB Daren Bates, S Cody Davis, QB Case Keenum, RB Benny Cunningham, RB Chase Reynolds
Exclusive rights free agents: OL Brian Folkerts, S Christian Bryant
The team used their franchise tag on cornerback Trumaine Johnson, which likely means Janoris Jenkins is leaving. Jenkins reportedly turned down a 5-year, $45 million offer and will be among the better options available in free agency. There are not a ton of great cornerbacks in this year's draft, so he could very well find a better pay-day.
Along with those two, the Rams secondary could lose safety Rodney McLeod, and Mark Barron. McLeod is apparently a guy that has grown on Rams fans, and could be brought back at a potentially reason price. Barron is an interesting free agent because of his versatility. He started the season playing safety, but moved to middle linebacker when Alec Ogletree got hurt. I can't imagine he will be a premium free agent this month, so we'll see what the Rams do to bring him back.
Greg Zuerlein is a notable free agent given his leg strength. That being said, he struggled in his contract year, converting 20 of 30 field goals. Pro Football Focus ranks him fourth among kickers behind Adam Vinatieri, Josh Brown, and Phil Dawson.
Cap space: $45,090,856
Draft picks: 1(15), 2(12), 2(14), 3(13), 4(12), 6(15) - no comp picks
Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback. Case Keenum and Nick Foles are not the answer for this team. The Rams are in a tough position at No. 15 if they like Carson Wentz or Jared Goff. They would likely need to move up, and they don't exactly have an overwhelming number of assets to make a move into the top six. They could invest in Robert Griffin III, or try and get Colin Kaepernick from the 49ers as well. And of course, if Peyton Manning gets released by the Broncos, he is an option. However they do it, the Rams need quarterback help desperately.
Whomever the Rams add at quarterback, they'll also need a pass catcher or two. Tavon Austin led the team with 52 receptions, and Kenny Britt led with 681 receiving yards. They need to add at least two receivers, with one preferably coming in the draft. They also will need some help at tight end now that Jared Cook has been released.
The Rams have some young talent in the secondary, but if McLeod and Jenkins both depart, the team will need to replenish that depth. That is less of a concern than quarterback and wide receiver, but still an area they will want to address.
They could use a new coaching staff as well, but somehow this is a thing:
Filed to ESPN: #Rams engaged in talks with coach Jeff Fisher and staff about contract extensions, per league sources. Nothing official yet.— Nick Wagoner (@nwagoner) March 1, 2016