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Why Rams invested heavily at guard position in free agency, and what's next as the 2024 NFL Draft approaches

ORLANDO, Fla. – Externally, there may have been some ideas of the Rams' biggest roster needs – namely on defense – and those positions subsequently being addressed as the new league year began.

But as free agency unfolded, the signings leaned toward the offense with the return of Kevin Dotson and the signings of Jonah Jackson, Colby Parkinson and Jimmy Garoppolo. 

Of course, defense was addressed with the signings of defensive backs Kamren Curl and Darious Williams. Overall, though, each move was part of a strategic pivot and investment to best position the Rams in 2024. 

"I think to (head coach) Sean (McVay) and (general manager) Les (Snead)'s credit, (as well as Vice President, Football & Business Administration) Tony (Pastoors) and the scouting staff, when you enter free agency with a lot of money for the first time, a lot of salary cap space, I think they looked at it as, 'how do we build the best team?'" Rams President Kevin Demoff told at the NFL Annual Meeting earlier this week. "Maybe not what the holes at the time were, (but) it's always a long offseason. Last year proved you can fill holes all the way up through the season. I mean, I even think Carson Wentz right at the end. And the really good teams go out to the best players and (are) not just filling holes that stage. So I think, Sean, Les, the offensive staff, Tony, Matt Shearin, John McKay, Matt Waugh, had a vision that the best value in this year's free agency is going to be at the guards, it's where they thought the best player value alignment (was)." 

Asked about their evaluation of the guard market, Pastoors said the entire offensive line as a market "has grown by leaps and bounds." He pointed to what tackles on both sides are getting paid now, and how they've been fortunate with former left tackle Andrew Whitworth being on a team-friendly deal, as well as current starting right tackle Rob Havenstein and his agent Joe Panos always being great to work with. 

"So we kind of had been fortunate to stay out of that, to some extent, out of the new heights of those markets," Pastoors said. "From an interior, we've been kind of the same. We knew that growth was coming. We try to keep a pulse of what's going on across the league, and you hear from other agents and what they thought it could be. And so when we were able to get the Kevin deal done prior to the start of free agency, I think that was really helpful because (it's), 'okay, we're settled now.'" 

According to Snead, Jackson got on their radar when he successfully made the jump from Rutgers to Ohio State as a grad transfer. They continued to follow his career after he got drafted by the Lions, and were monitoring him as a potential replacement for Dotson if they were unable to re-sign Dotson. 

Pastoors said they were surprised that Jackson got to the negotiating period prior to the official start of free agency. They thought the Lions would try to bring Jackson back and do what the Rams had done with Dotson. 

"When they didn't, I think Sean and Les and the staff felt there was an opportunity to get bigger and stronger," Pastoors said, adding that having two young, premier guards on deals that made sense was something they weren't necessarily expecting, "but certainly excited to have." 

With Parkinson, it reminded Demoff of when the team signed Robert Woods as a free agent. Demoff emphasized he wasn't saying Parkinson is going to be Woods, just that Parkinson is another really young player who they liked coming out of college and maybe didn't have the role at his previous team where you see it a little bit differently for him. 

"The size and fit for a Sean offense are really strong," Demoff said. "And obviously Tyler (Higbee) has been such a workhorse for us, we've known we've needed to change that anyways, but where can you find a complement to a Davis Allen? And obviously coming off an injury, too." 

Demoff also said the Rams had been tracking Williams as a player who might potentially get cut. Meanwhile, Curl "was a player we really liked in the process," but they thought he would be signed by another team right away. So when that didn't materialize, they pivoted and worked to get him signed. 

Curl's situation is a little bit similar to Jackson's, according to Demoff, in that you're evaluating the entire market because you might lose a player – referring to Jordan Fuller's market – but at the same time finding "a really valuable piece you might like." 

As for Garoppolo, Snead said they felt like his familiarity with their offensive system and playing style made him a better fit for the backup quarterback role, as much as they were "fans of" Carson Wentz. 

So, what's next? 

Demoff points to last offseason serving as a lesson that some of the Rams' best signings in free agency have come later in free agency, or after the draft, bringing up names like John Sullivan, Nickell Robey-Coleman, and more recently, Demarcus Robinson, Ahkello Witherspoon and Dotson. 

"That's where John McKay, Matt Waugh, our personnel department do some of their best work," Demoff said. "I think you'll see, we should never shut down that process." 

Along those lines, Demoff said you have to keep your finger on the pulse of the league. He recalled when the Rams were at the NFL Annual Meeting back in 2018 when Ndamukong Suh "kind of popped up out of nowhere, (and) we got the deal done." They also left that year's meeting with the chance that they might be able to trade for Brandin Cooks, and did so one week later. 

"I think this is when you start to see some of the guys who may not get deals, or teams think they might better the price range, this is, as you get in and around the draft, when you can make those trades," Demoff said. "Hey, a guy's not there on draft day that you expected, there's a vet you like, I think this is when we do our best work as a franchise. I'm excited to see what we do between now and that first Sunday in September, but then even from there until really through the trade deadline and the rest of the year. What you're trying to do now is to set yourself up for success the rest of the time, and hopefully we will do that."

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