Is the Los Angeles Rams Gig Really a Desirable Opening for a New Head Coach?
The long national nightmare is over.
On Monday afternoon, the Los Angeles Rams announced Jeff Fisher had been relieved of his duties as head coach. The timing -- while seemingly inevitable -- was a little strange. Yes, it did come after Los Angeles’s worst loss of the season (a 42-14 home trouncing at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons), but it also came just four days before the Rams are set to take on the NFC West-leading Seattle Seahawks on Thursday Night Football.
There’s been plenty of reactions to what Fisher did or didn’t do as a head coach, so that’s not what we’ll get into. Instead, let’s take a look at what there is on the Rams roster for the next coach and whether the gig is really an attractive one.
In the interim, the Rams named special teams coordinator John Fassel as head coach, which makes a ton of sense. Special teams has long been the best unit on the team and promoting the coordinator allows the offensive and defensive coordinators to continue focusing on coordinating their respective side of the ball, or whatever coordinators for the Rams actually do.
But while Fassel is the logical pick for the remainder of this season, he doesn’t appear to be on the short list for full-time replacements in 2017. He said as much -- fairly bluntly -- when asked following the interim promotion.
Fassel, asked if his talks with the organization make him believe he has a chance of eventually being named the full-time coach: "No."
— Alden Gonzalez (@Alden_Gonzalez) December 13, 2016
So, we know the Rams are going to have a new head coach next season. That’s good news. The team he’ll be coming into? Well, less so.
State of the Team
By our nERD metric, the Rams are the 30th-best team in the NFL. The two teams worse than Los Angeles by our metrics are the San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns, and there’s not a sizable gap between the Rams and 49ers after 14 weeks.
While Los Angeles would be set to receive a top-5 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft with the current standings, their first-round pick belongs to the Tennessee Titans due last year’s trade for the No. 1 overall selection and Jared Goff. They will also be without a 2017 third-round pick due to the trade.
For a team in need of a rebuild, they’ll be without picks in two of the first three rounds of this year’s draft.
Per Spotrac, the Rams will have an estimated $43 million in cap room in the offseason, with their biggest pending free agents being cornerback Trumaine Johnson -- playing 2016 on the franchise tag -- safety T.J. McDonald, and wide receiver Kenny Britt.
Through Week 14, the Rams have the 32nd-ranked offense by Adjusted Net Expected Points per play. Goff has only started four games, but in that time, he’s been the league's worst quarterback.
There have been 38 quarterbacks who have dropped back at least 100 times and none rank below Goff in Passing NEP per drop back. He’s also 38th in Success Rate, which measures the percentage of plays that positively impact NEP.
Of course, Goff is still learning, but his play has not been a positive sign, especially in a season when other rookie passers have been succeeding -- at least to some extent.
At receiver, there’s a wild juxtaposition in production among the two current starters. Britt, the pending free agent, is currently 11th in Reception NEP per target among 82 wide receivers who have been thrown to at least 50 times.
Meanwhile, Tavon Austin, who signed a four-year/$42 million extension in the offseason and will hold the highest cap hit for the team in 2017 -- ranks 82nd. Their third receiver, Brian Quick, who will also be a free agent, is in the middle of the pack at 38th by Reception NEP per target.
Then there’s the running game, which is centered around Todd Gurley. After a stellar rookie season, Gurley has taken about three steps back in 2016. There have been 33 running backs with at least 100 carries, and Gurley ranks 28th in Rushing NEP per attempt. His longest run of the year is just 24 yards.
A lot can be blamed on the offensive line -- which is a complete mess -- and the offensive scheme -- samesies -- but Gurley is not completely blameless in his inefficiency. Figuring out what’s wrong and what needs to be fixed in the 30th-ranked running game by Adjusted Rushing NEP per play will be a big objective for the next coach.
Defensive Star and the Rest
If you’re looking for the best assets on the team, they come on the defensive side.
The Rams rank 13th in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play, and that side of the ball has the team’s biggest star in Aaron Donald. Donald should be a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate whenever he steps on the field, and he leads the team with seven sacks while playing on the interior of the line. He’s a force against the pass and run and he’ll turn 26 years old in May.
He also makes what has been a strength along the rest of the defensive line, with Robert Quinn and others, even better.
Los Angeles will also have two highly-paid linebackers on the roster next season in Alec Ogletree and Mark Barron. The duo are the top-two in tackles on defense, but that has more to do with opportunity than their actual play.
The Rams are just 20th against the run by Adjusted Defensive NEP per play and much of that comes from the times opposing rushers get through the line and into the second level against linebackers and defensive backs. Football Outsiders has the Rams ranked first in stuffed rate against the run (good defensive line penetration), but 27th in second-level yards allowed and 31st in open field yards allowed (bad linebacker and secondary play).
Any construction of that secondary in 2017 first must deal with contract decisions on McDonald and Johnson, who have played the third- and fifth-most defensive snaps on the team, respectively.
With the Rams now in Los Angeles, it’s likely they’ll want to make a splash hire for their next head coach. In the hours after Fisher was fired, rumors started about both Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll. Both of those have since been shot down.
It’s likely the Rams will end up gunning for one of the top offensive coordinators ready to be promoted -- whether it's Kyle Shanahan of the Falcons, Josh McDaniels of the New England Patriots, or even Jim Bob Cooter of the Detroit Lions.
It could behoove them to take a look at some defensive coaches, or even a special teams coordinator like the Kansas City Chiefs’ Dave Toub, but with the trend of hiring the opposite traits of the last coach, it’s more likely Los Angeles will look to someone they can bill as the fix to their offense.
The Rams’ roster might have some shiny pieces, but overall it’s not a well-built team. It’s a rebuilding project lacking immediate assets to kickstart the rebuild.
There’s also a new stadium opening in 2019 and it wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest there’s going to be pressure to have a winning product by that time. Fisher, after all, was fired for failed expectations when he and the roster pretty much performed exactly how most of us thought they would.
There are so few head coaching opportunities in the NFL, but the Rams job might not be as enticing as they’ll try to make any prospective coaches believe.