The Los Angeles Rams have been among the less active clubs in free agency due to a lack of salary cap space. That's even after moving standout CB Jalen Ramsey to the Miami Dolphins. The team even modified offensive lineman Joe Noteboom's deal on Tuesday to free about $9 million in salary space. Rams fans hope it would pave the way for more key signings. Here we'll look at the absolute sneakiest signing of the Rams during the first wave of 2023 NFL free agency.
Keep in mind that the Rams were heavily invested in pursuing a Super Bowl win, which they did achieve in 2021. However, after their Super Bowl LVI win, a disappointing 5-12 season followed in 2022. It was the worst post-Super-Bowl performance of any Super-Bowl-winning team ever. By then, the GM Les Snead and head coach Sean McVay realized the need to rebuild the roster. Remember also that key players such as quarterback Matthew Stafford, wide receiver Cooper Kupp, and defensive tackle Aaron Donald were all sidelined with injuries for multiple games. Those also contributed to the team's poor performance.
To jumpstart their rebuilding phase, the Rams have allowed several talented players to leave this offseason. These included linebacker Bobby Wagner, cornerback Jalen Ramsey, and kicker Matt Gay. The decision to rely on high-priced veterans over drafting new talent has proven costly. This was proven by the underwhelming return received for the trade of Ramsey to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for a third-round pick and tight end Hunter Long.
Despite their efforts to rebuild, the Rams' moves so far have been met with criticism. With the departure of key defensive players such as Ramsey, Wagner, and Leonard Floyd, the team's prospects for the upcoming season are uncertain. The return from the Ramsey trade has been particularly disappointing. Again, this highlighted the risks of relying too heavily on high-priced veterans.
Now let's look at one guy who might just be a sneaky signing that could really turn out to be a massive positive for the squad this coming season.
The Rams extended the contract of OL Coleman Shelton for another two years. Shelton is a 6'4, 299-pound center with exceptional athleticism. He has a playing style similar to former Colts center Jeff Saturday, Eagles center Jason Kelce, as well as Rams' new offensive line coach Ryan Wendell. The role of an offensive line positional coach is to guide players to perform in the correct way. We have no doubt Wendell would be able to do that really well with Shelton.
Shelton's impressive performance in 2022 led him to decline the final year of his previous two-year deal. As such, the Rams subsequently offered him a new contract. Recall that the Rams had several injuries in their offensive line last season. Still, Shelton started 13 games and only missed four due to a high ankle sprain. The Rams felt pleased to have the versatile Shelton back. Recall that he started games at three different positions (right guard, center, and left guard) last season due to injuries in the group.
Looking ahead, don't forget the importance of coordination, communication, and technique in an offensive line unit. This has been highlighted in the Rams' experience. Take note as well that the success of NFL offensive linemen is believed by some of the best OL coaches to be determined by their technique rather than their talent. This explains how even Day 3 draft picks can excel. Given Shelton's stock, he should fit the mold of someone who has great technique at the offensive line.
Mark Sanchez on Rams OL Coleman Shelton: "Shelton is clearing out defenders faster than a teenager clears his search history."pic.twitter.com/o7ltG3jEjv
— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) September 18, 2022
The Rams' decision to re-sign dependable lineman Coleman Shelton was wise due to the team's injuries last season. Again, this exposed the lack of depth in the offensive line. In fact, according to Football Outsiders, the Rams had 71.0 adjusted games lost on the offensive line. That was the highest in the league. McVay acknowledges that the team needed to make moves on the offensive line. They started by bringing back Shelton, who definitely strengthens the unit.
They can continue doing so via the draft. Despite a slow start in free agency, the Rams may bounce back to contention for a playoff spot. They can do this by using their 11 draft picks to retool the roster.
Aside from that, they can keep on exploring free agency for any bargain bin players who can make a potential impact. It's important to note that the Rams' salary cap situation is not the main obstacle preventing Les Snead from signing outside free agents. It's actually the front office's decision-making that is causing this. If they want to, they have the ability to sign almost any available player by structuring their contracts with a low cap hit in 2023 and a higher one in 2024 when the team has more cap space. The Rams should have $55.5 million in cap room next year. This strategy is not new to Snead and the front office, as they've previously used it when signing Joe Noteboom and Brian Allen to contracts with lower cap hits in the first year.