NFL training camp gets going in three weeks, and that means the NFL regular season is only two months away. I imagine most of us will be focusing on our San Francisco 49ers during training camp, but it will help to know a little bit about the rest of the league. SB Nation’s 32 NFL sites are putting together basic rundowns of what their team has been up to this offseason.
Each explainer includes free agent additions and departures, trades, draft picks expected to contribute as rookies, biggest offseason addition, biggest storyline, underrated storyline, and notable injuries. The idea is to give you a quick but thorough background on each team. We’ll use these to look at 49ers opponents, but if we have time, I want to try and use all 32 to give us a nice look around the league.
The 49ers have struggled mightily the past two seasons, but they have managed three straight wins over the Rams. In fact, of their previous 20 games, the 49ers are 3-0 against the Rams and 0-17 against everybody else. It’s kind of amazingly ridiculous.
Sean McVay has taken over as Rams head coach, but the real question is what he’ll be able to do with quarterback Jared Goff. LA traded into the top spot to select Goff. It was a fairly miserable rookie season for Goff and the Rams. Can the Cal product turn things around? A blown top pick isn’t quite the financial problem it used to be, but blowing the No. 1 overall pick isn’t helping matters.
How will the 49ers two games with the Rams go?
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Notable free agent additions: LT Andrew Whitworth, WR Robert Woods, CB Kayvon Webster, OLB Connor Barwin, RB Lance Dunbar, C John Sullivan, CB Nickell Robey-Coleman
Notable free agent departures: TE Lance Kendricks, DE Eugene Sims, C Tim Barnes, RB Benny Cunningham, QB Case Keenum
2017 NFL Draft: Second-round pick (#37) & fifth-round pick (#149) to Buffalo Bills for second-round pick (#44) & third-round pick (#91). Fourth-round pick (#112) to Chicago Bears for fourth-round pick (#117) & sixth-round pick (#197). Fourth-round pick (#141) & sixth-round pick (#197) to New York Jets for fourth-round pick (#125).
Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies: TE Gerald Everett, WR Cooper Kupp
The Los Angeles Rams were without a first-round pick as a result of the 2016 trade with the Tennessee Titans in which the Rams moved up to No. 1 overall in the 2016 NFL Draft to take QB Jared Goff. So without an obvious headliner, the Rams’ draft class is populated with potential quality starters and role players. Everett, the Rams’ first pick of the draft, should couple with second-year TE Tyler Higbee to allow tight end-schooled Head Coach Sean McVay to run some two-TE sets with more aggression and sincerity than in previous years. And Kupp was a statistical powerhouse at Eastern Washington with nearly 6,500 career receiving yards and 73 receiving touchdowns. In a remade Rams WR corps that could boast six potential members either in their first or second season as a Ram. That kind of open-ended depth chart could allow Kupp to slide toward the top.
Biggest offseason addition: Whitworth
The Rams’ offense under former Head Coach Jeff Fisher was always a poor unit, but 2016 was historically bad. A large part of the reason why was the offensive line. Fisher, and General Manager Les Snead, avoided using much draft capital on the offensive line for two years. In Year 3, they used the #2 overall pick to take Greg Robinson; a year later, the Rams went all in on drafting new offensive linemen (the exact strategy they needed to avoid) taking five in the 2015 NFL Draft and even using a 2016 NFL Draft fifth-round pick in the 2015 NFL Supplemental Draft to take OT Isaiah Battle who played exactly 0 snaps in the last two seasons and is now a Kansas City Chief. Suffice to say, the process has been flawed.
To begin undoing it, the Rams sought out Whitworth in free agency. Asking a 35-year old to protect your 22-year old franchise QB is generally a less than sound idea, but the Rams put themselves in this position. Desperate times call for desperate measures. The hope is that Whitworth can continue to play at the level he has for the last five years (in which he’s been to the Pro Bowl three times as one of the NFL’s best offensive tackles) for a season or two to both allow the Rams’ new coaching staff led by Head Coach Sean McVay to turn Goff into an acceptable product at the sports’ most important position and (b) allow the Rams time to find a version of Whitworth who is about 15 years younger in the next draft or two.
Biggest storyline heading into training camp: The new offense under new Head Coach Sean McVay.
The Rams’ offense in 2016 was the worst in the NFL by a wide, wide margin. The other 31 teams in the NFL all gained more than 4,900 total yards. The Rams barely cleared 4,200. They started the season with Case Keenum. Through nine starts, he was one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL. Over his seven starts thereafter, Jared Goff was worse. Much worse.
Despite the lack of a first-round pick, Rams fans are expecting McVay to find improvement (and for many fans, overwhelming improvement) out of the offensive side of the ball. While there has been significant roster turnover, much of the attention in camp will be paid to the holdovers from the Fisher era. They’re already enjoying less job security under a head coach who wasn’t around when they were drafted and will have much less allegiance to their playing time should poor play continue.
So, much attention will be paid to many of the 2016 offensive players like Goff, RB Todd Gurley, WR Tavon Austin and the offensive linemen still in the mix (Greg Robinson would have made this group, but he’s now a Detroit Lion). Should they falter, the calls for replacements will be frequent and loud. That could well begin in camp.
Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp: #FightForLA. A year ago, more than 10,000 people showed up to Day 1 of training camp, the first since relocating back to Los Angeles from St. Louis. A year later following a poor 4-12 showing and now with the Chargers in town, how much pull will the Rams have in LA? The first evidence we have of the novelty wearing off was the call for an increased pool of individual game tickets thanks to a drop-off of season ticket holders from last year rumored to be of “significant” size. Should training camp host a smaller contingent of fans, it would only accelerate concerns of a diminished fan base, concerns brought on in greater measure when the Rams decided “Well, actually” they don’t want to fill their home stadium in 2017. So with a joint practice with the Chargers scheduled for August 5 three weeks before they face each other in their third preseason game, the hashtag for the rivalry the NFL is trying to manufacture is going to get even more popular.
Notable injuries heading into training camp: WR Tavon Austin. Austin underwent wrist surgery in early May, and was unable to participate in the offseason program. Perhaps no wideout is under more pressure than Austin, so suffice to say his absence hasn’t helped. A consistent underperformer, Austin received a wildly unearned contract extension a year ago that has him set to be the third-highest paid wide receiver in the NFL in 2017 a year after posting a 106 target-58 reception-509 yard line. Should Austin continue to underwhelm, McVay could easily move on personnel-wise with seven first- or second-year Rams as well as contract-wise.