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Where Do the LA Rams Go From Here After Super Bowl LVI Win?

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystFebruary 14, 2022

Los Angeles Rams defensive end Aaron Donald (99) celebrates after the NFL Super Bowl 56 football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

The Los Angeles Rams made no secret of what their plans were in 2021. From the moment they traded two first-rounders, a third-rounder and quarterback Jared Goff for Matthew Stafford, they were all-in on making a Super Bowl run. That philosophy only continued when Los Angeles made in-season moves for wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and edge-rusher Von Miller.

The plan worked perfectly. After coming back to defeat the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20, the Rams are winners of Super Bowl LVI. But life comes at you fast in the league, and while there was no doubt plenty of partying Sunday evening, by Monday the Rams will already be looking forward to 2022 and defending their title.

Staying at the mountaintop can be even more difficult than reaching it, and general manager Les Snead could have quite a few holes to fill and not many resources with which to fill them.

Stafford will be back, but it's another story for the man who protected his blindside. Andrew Whitworth has had a phenomenal career that has included four Pro Bowl nods, two first-team All-Pro selections and the 2021 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. Five years after he retires, there will be plenty of pounding the table for Whitworth as a Hall of Famer. He played 926 snaps for the Rams this season, and while he allowed five sacks, he remained one of the better left tackles in the league.

But Whitworth is also the oldest active player, and the 40-year-old intimated to reporters last week that while he hadn't decided whether to retire, a Super Bowl win would likely lead him in that direction.

"What an unreal way to walk off," Whitworth said. "I don't think there's anything else I would have to do. I may have cried wolf so many times that nobody will believe me when I actually do retire, but it's gonna have to happen sometime."

Andrew Whitworth
Andrew WhitworthMark J. Terrill/Associated Press/Associated Press

Assuming that Whitworth does retire, he will leave a massive hole on the offensive line. And that's not the only potential issue on that side of the ball. Beckham, who played a major role for the Rams after joining the team, is set to hit free agency. So is running back Sony Michel, who led L.A. with 845 rushing yards in the regular season. Pro Bowl kicker Matt Gay also has an expiring contract.

Now, Beckham has had nothing but good things to say about the Rams, and his teammates have lauded him as an exemplary teammate. But the potentially serious knee injury he suffered in the first half could cloud his availability for the start of next season and absolutely clouds contract negotiations.

Losing Beckham would be bad. Losing Whitworth would arguably be worse. But there could be a loss on defense that would be nothing short of catastrophic.

During NBC's pregame show, Rodney Harrison dropped a bombshell when he relayed that superstar defensive tackle Aaron Donald might call it a career if the Rams won.

Ari Meirov @MySportsUpdate

Rodney Harrison just said on NBC's pregame show that Aaron Donald told him there's a strong possibility he could retire if the #Rams win the Super Bowl. Video is below: https://t.co/tIhAzQCwWv

Donald is on the wrong side of 30, but his level of play remains in a league of its own. He tallied 12.5 sacks in the regular season, added two more against the Bengals and made the play that sealed the win by pressuring Joe Burrow into a fourth-down incompletion with 39 seconds to go. Donald has done everything a player can do short of becoming the first to win Defensive Player of the Year four times. If he were to walk away tomorrow, he would do so as arguably the best 3-technique tackle in NFL history.

While speaking to Michele Tafoya of NBC Sports after the game, a tearful Donald didn't deny the rumors.

"I'm in the moment right now. I'm just going to enjoy this right now with these guys," he said. "My kids are coming on the field—this was a promise I made to my daughter when she was five years old. I'm just going to live in the moment."

Donald's leaving would be a disaster for the defense, and he's not the only veteran who could be out the door. Miller, who tallied five sacks in eight regular-season games and added two more in the Super Bowl, will be 33 when the 2022 season begins and will reportedly explore his options in free agency, according to NFL Network's Mike Garafolo. Cornerback Darious Williams (who started 13 games) and linebacker Troy Reeder (who was third on the team with 91 tackles) are also set to hit the open market.

Von Miller
Von MillerLynne Sladky/Associated Press/Associated Press

Now, not all those players will leave, but it's also unlikely Snead will be able to keep the band together the way the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did this season. There are going to be holes.

Snead also doesn't have a lot of resources with which to address them.

Per Over the Cap, the Rams are in the fifth-worst position relative to the projected salary cap (about $13.6 million in the red). Teams have shown that the cap can be fungible. Deals can be restructured to create space, and Stafford, Donald, cornerback Jalen Ramsey and edge-rusher Leonard Floyd could be candidates for that. If Whitworth and Donald were to retire, that would also free up cash, though it'd be a rough way to do it.

But whether it's trying to find the money to re-up Beckham and Miller or pay for their potential replacements, the Rams aren't going to have a ton of cash to throw around.

Things aren't any better where the draft is concerned. L.A. hasn't made a first-round pick since selecting Goff No. 1 overall in 2016 and won't again until at least 2024. The team's second- and third-rounders belong to the Denver Broncos as part of the Miller deal. The awarding of compensatory picks could change that, but as of right now, the Rams have just three selections, and none before the fifth round.

The odds of finding a day one starter that late are not good.

The Rams have at least one thing going for them: As the reigning champions and a team in one of the nation's biggest markets, Los Angeles is an attractive free-agent destination. It's possible that a veteran tackle such as Eric Fisher of the Indianapolis Colts or a wide receiver such as the Chicago Bears' Allen Robinson II could take a little less scratch for the chance to chase a ring and live it up in SoCal. But it's equally likely (if not more so) that if outside help is brought in, it will have to be an aging vet such as Colts wideout T.Y. Hilton or a lower-cost option such as Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon.

Snead's all-out onslaught to make the Super Bowl worked, as the Rams are the second straight team to win football's biggest game in their own stadium and claimed the franchise's second title and first in Los Angeles. But that "live in the present, future be damned" philosophy has a price, and the bill is coming due—a bill that could be compounded by players who have climbed the mountaintop and are ready to ride into the sunset.

There's a lot of work to be done, and staying in the hunt for another Super Bowl may well prove to be more difficult.

A handy tip? Begging Donald to stay would be a good first step.

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