THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — The Los Angeles Rams say the bills have come due for their years of high living, and general manager Les Snead has elected to pay them all instead of putting it off for another season.
To remain remotely competitive this fall, the Rams will rely heavily on an old friend they've taken a bit for granted: The draft.
After years of a bold, swashbuckling approach to building a championship team, Los Angeles made no dramatic personnel additions and lost numerous key veterans this spring — up to 17 starters and specialists as of the week before the draft, depending on the final results of free agency.
Finally low on draft capital and salary cap room after using it aggressively for the entirety of their return tenure in Los Angeles, the Rams are fully remodeling their roster around Aaron Donald, Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp.
With no room or inclination to sign any veteran free agents, the Rams apparently expect the majority of their personnel losses to be filled by acquisitions in the draft. To reset their payroll, the Rams say they need more players on rookie contracts, which means everybody chosen by Los Angeles with its 11 picks will have a strong opportunity to play early and often for coach Sean McVay.
"What the big picture is this year, different than probably the past five years for us, we definitely have to engineer a healthier cap situation," Snead said earlier in the offseason. "Our DNA is to attack. Hit the gas. We're going to hit the brakes a little bit. That does not change how we're going to approach the season, how we're going to approach the day to day, but it will definitely change how we approach constructing the roster."
The Rams still have to take it easy on Thursday of draft week, as usual for a team that hasn't made a first-round selection since grabbing Jared Goff in 2016. The Rams' first pick Friday is the 36th overall, which is the highest selection Los Angeles has made since Goff arrived.
And the Rams will be open to almost anything on draft day.
The top six players on last season's defense by snap count are gone, while the Rams added nothing except backup tight end Hunter Long to their offensive roster. The Rams also don't have a kicker, a punter, a long snapper or a kick returner.
The Rams traded their first-round pick to Detroit to get Stafford, but they kept their own second-round pick and third-round pick for a change this year, and they're getting a compensatory pick in the third for trading Jalen Ramsey. The rest of their picks are 167th overall and higher, which means they'll have to hit on some long shots.
Every level of the defense needs replenishment with the departures of Ramsey, both starting safeties, star linebacker Bobby Wagner, edge rusher Leonard Floyd and defensive line starters Greg Gaines and A'Shawn Robinson (a free agent). None of those departures has yet been addressed.
The Rams also have done nothing to improve an offensive line that allowed Stafford to be sacked 29 times in nine games before he was sidelined for the season with an apparent concussion and a bruised spinal cord. Third-round pick Logan Bruss will be ready to contribute after an injury kept him out for all of his rookie year, but the Rams need more linemen — and better linemen.
The Rams likely need another receiver to play alongside Kupp, Van Jefferson and Tutu Atwell after trading Allen Robinson to Pittsburgh and losing Brandon Powell to Minnesota.
It's probably time for Los Angeles to draft a backup quarterback after being forced to plug in waiver-wire acquisition Baker Mayfield last season after Stafford was injured.
Drafting a kicker in the late rounds seems to be a consideration as well after allowing Matt Gay to walk.
Stafford is set as their starting quarterback and Tyler Higbee is back at tight end, but the Rams could use depth at practically every position, not to mention starters on the defense.
The Rams' past few drafts are not encouraging for fans who hope Snead can find immediate impact players, particularly in the lower rounds. Backup cornerback Cobie Durant was the only one of last season's eight draft picks to make an impact in 2022, while linebacker Ernest Jones and seventh-round backup receiver Ben Skowronek are the biggest contributors from the 2021 class. The 2020 draft class included Cam Akers, Jefferson and once-and-future starting safety Jordan Fuller, but also had costly third-round misses Terrell Lewis and Terrell Burgess.
The Rams' second-round pick is high enough to get an immediate contributor. They are thought to be looking at the likes of Oklahoma offensive tackle Anton Harrison, South Carolina cornerback Cam Smith, Georgia cornerback Kelee Ringo and a slew of edge rushers including Kansas State's Felix Anudike-Uzomah.