With a pass rush built around now three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, the Rams seemed to have a clear strategy over the last two years when it came to the edge position: Bring in a complementary but experienced pass rusher on a short-term deal, allow that pass rusher to flourish, then move on. Rinse, repeat.
In 2019, it was Dante Fowler Jr., re-signed to a one-year deal after being acquired in a trade the previous season. Fowler produced 11.5 sacks, then signed a lucrative contract with the Falcons during the 2020 offseason. The Rams also brought in veteran Clay Matthews to start opposite Fowler, and Matthews produced 8.5 sacks – his most in a season since 2014 – in his lone year in the horns.
In 2020, it was Leonard Floyd, a former top-10 draft pick who was a cap casualty of his former team, the Chicago Bears. Floyd produced a career-high 10.5 sacks, but there was no moving on this time.
Instead, the Rams broke the cycle by re-signing Floyd to a four-year deal.
According to Rams general manager Les Snead, this departure from their previous approach was based primarily on Floyd's versatility.
"I think one of the big reasons Leonard was valuable to us is probably in how you asked the question, 'edge rusher'," Snead said during a March 19 video conference. "We felt like in that position, it evolved there last year, it's more than just an edge rusher."
Perhaps no 2020 game illustrates that better than Rams vs. Seahawks in Week 10.
In a performance that earned him his first defensive player of the week honor of his career, Floyd registered three sacks, a team-leading five QB hits, two tackles for loss and one fumble recovery to help Los Angeles to a 23-16 home win over Seattle. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson finished 22 of 37 for 248 yards with a pair of interceptions.
That kind of impact from a 6-foot-5, 240-pound defender is valuable, especially in a division in which the Rams face quarterback skillsets like Wilson's and the Cardinals' Kyler Murray's four times a year.
"Leonard's a special athlete with instincts to play the run game, set edges, the AA (athletic ability) to run games along that front seven," Snead said. "You have to be athletic. You have to be able to have the instincts to run those games and run those plays and have that AA to close and finish those games and be more than just a disruptor. And then there's the element of him being able to be tough in coverage and someone that quarterbacks have to shoot over, because he is tall and long when he does drop back. Sometimes the guys in our division we're chasing down, that unique trait, that AA to redirect when all of the sudden the play becomes unscheduled and then have the speed after he does redirect to go chase them down."
In a video documenting him officially signing his new four-year contract, Floyd said he just wanted to come in and be himself while also fitting in with the defense. Whatever he put on tape last year certainly allowed him to accomplish both, and then some – including proving he can do more than just take down opposing quarterbacks.
"Very versatile player for us, and more than just an edge rusher, even though everyone, all coaches, are going to want players to help rush in and affect the passer," Snead said. "But I think with him, it definitely should be said that he is a versatile player and more than just an edge rusher in our minds."