INDIANAPOLIS –A pair of important deadlines loom for the Rams and their key free agents.
General manager Les Snead is aiming to get those situations resolved sooner rather than later, but the organization will take its time with those decisions.
Speaking to a group of reporters at the NFL Combine Tuesday afternoon, Snead provided updates on where things stand with inside linebacker Cory Littleton, outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr and left tackle Andrew Whitworth, as well as players who are entering the final year of their contract in 2020.
Littleton and Fowler
The most immediate decision the Rams face is whether they want to use the franchise tag, and if so, who they want to use it on. L.A. last used the franchise tag in 2018 on former safety Lamarcus Joyner, but it has two candidates in Littleton and Fowler.
Both linebackers are pending free agents – Littleton for the first time and and Fowler for the second time in as many years – and in position to command lucrative deals this offseason based on their play in 2019. Littleton expressed a desire to return to the Rams toward the end of the season.
Snead's preference is to find a long-term solution rather than the short-term fix afforded by a franchise tag.
"We would always love to get things done before, try not to use the tag because that can become more of a short-term type decision, but it doesn't mean that you do," Snead said. "Technically, I think you try to work to the deadline to get something done with the players you want to get done, and then from there, as it gets closer, decide is it best to utilize that or not. I don't think it would be, 'alright, day one, we're putting the tag on someone.' This free agency, the puzzle is a little more complicated but definitely manageable. And then adding the fact that new coordinators are in, some tweaks to scheme, really taking our time to work through which positions and which players playing those positions are the most important to help us moving forward."
Whether the Rams can keep one or both may depend on the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).
NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported last week that the NFL and NFLPA agreed to push back the franchise tag window from Feb. 25 to Feb. 27, with the deadline to apply the tag now set for March 12. However, if players approve the current proposed CBA – which has already been approved by owners – Pelissero reported in a follow-up tweet that teams would go back to being able to use only one tag, instead of both the franchise and transition tag this year. The league and NFLPA reps are meeting in Indianapolis this evening to discuss it after the NFLPA executive committee voted, 6-5, not to recommend the current CBA proposal, according to Pelissero.
"We have a franchise and a transition available right now, right," Snead said during his podium session. "There hasn't been a collective bargaining agreement so I think at that point we're still going through a lot of things, trying to determine the best strategy to get as many of our good football players who've helped us win a lot of games over the last three years back. That's always impossible but having those tools in the tool box definitely allows you to try to accomplish that."
Free agency officially opens March 18th at 1 p.m. pacific time, but Snead is aiming to have a contract done beforehand.
"He would go in the same boat, in that the goal would be to do something before the bell rings for free agency, with Whit and all the players that we want back," Snead said.
Timeline for Kupp, Johnson and Ramsey extensions?
Wide receiver Cooper Kupp, safety John Johnson III and cornerback Jalen Ramsey's contract are all set to expire after the coming season, but that doesn't mean new deals and extensions aren't on Snead's mind for them.
Snead said the organization has long preferred getting ahead of these details, but its focus will first be on the pending free agents whose contracts expired after the 2020 season, then shifting that urgency to players in situations like Kupp, Johnson and Ramsey.
"You have to take it in process, but strategically we've always enjoyed checking that box for not only us, but for the player so that we all know, OK, we're here together and we're working toward the same goals for a long time," Snead said.
As for Ramsey, Snead hopes he'll be in a Rams uniform for a long time.
"There's really no timeline on that, like when the deal gets done, at this point," Snead said. "But we'd definitely like to have Jalen helping the Rams for more than just the 2020 season."