After big Matthew Stafford move, Rams' offense to get minor reshuffle

Austin Blythe is a versatile lineman who started last season at center, but can the Rams bring him back? Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Rams wasted no time after the season making a significant change to an offense that performed inconsistently during the 2020 season.

Fourteen days after a divisional playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers, the Rams agreed to trade quarterback Jared Goff, a 2021 third-round pick and 2022 and 2023 first-round selections to the Detroit Lions in exchange for quarterback Matthew Stafford.

The trade will become official at the start of the league year on March 17.

Stafford joins an offense expected to undergo minimal personnel changes from last season.

The Rams are anticipated to return at least eight offensive starters, including receivers Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp, tight end Tyler Higbee and running back Cam Akers. Four of five starting offensive linemen also remain under contract.

However, with the pending salary cap drop, surprise roster moves could be on the horizon. The 2020 salary cap was $198.2 million but is expected to fall to the $180 million range. The Rams are currently over the anticipated cap by more than $35 million, according to overthecap.com.

"It's always a puzzle," Rams general manager Les Snead said, adding he anticipated this offseason would involve more player movement than ever before because of the unusual variables with the salary cap.

The Rams are not expected to have the resources to pursue top talent in free agency.

"There's going to be a lot of things that we've got to really navigate through as we're trying to figure out the best way to put our team together as we figure out what is that cap," Rams coach Sean McVay said. "What does it look like specific to some of the things that we're in the midst of trying to figure out?"

Questions remain on how the Rams will shape offensive scheme and personnel around Stafford.

Adding dynamic playmakers is a priority after the offense failed to consistently produce explosive plays.

"We'll always look at those five eligible [receivers] and if we can add firepower, someone to make a play, that's good in whatever shape, form or genre." Snead said. "We talk about receivers a lot and how can they make a play. Some people can run by people. Some people can make people miss."

The Rams have lacked a deep threat since trading speedy receiver Brandin Cooks to the Houston Texans last offseason. Snead and McVay said going into last season Josh Reynolds could fill the deep-threat role. However, the offense struggled to look down field, an issue that did not appear solely related to Reynolds' ability.

"I definitely think that you did feel not having Brandin this year," McVay said. “What does that mean? I think that's something that is important to look at.”

After playing a reserve role his first three seasons, Reynolds started 13 games last season and caught a career-high 52 passes for 618 yards and two touchdowns. However, the pending free agent is expected to sign elsewhere.

Second-year pro Van Jefferson, a second-round pick from Florida, is likely to receive increased snaps alongside Woods and Kupp, but the Rams must continue to search for another true deep-threat playmaker.

Playing the last four seasons behind Higbee, Gerald Everett showed an ability to be a dynamic playmaker but never established a consistent presence. He also is expected to depart in free agency after the Rams drafted Brycen Hopkins in the fourth round last year.

Snead likened the kind of explosive players they'd like to find to Akers, who cemented his status as the feature back in the final stretch last season.

Akers will lead a running back room that also returns Darrell Henderson Jr., though it remains uncertain whether pending free agent Malcolm Brown will return. Brown has spent the entirety of his six-year NFL career with the Rams and has proved himself as a sturdy and dependable back over the past two seasons.

Also, the Rams are in search of a solution at center, with Austin Blythe scheduled for free agency.

"We've talked about the importance of that center position, having the command and the capacity that you're looking for because of the amount of responsibility that you put on that specific individual with where the communication starts, he and the quarterback working in unison," McVay said.

Blythe moved from guard to center in 2019 when Brian Allen suffered a season-ending knee injury nine games into the season. Blythe provided stability at the position and the Rams re-signed him last offseason to return on a one-year deal. He started every game in 2020.

"He did a great job and he's definitely somebody that we appreciate, we value," McVay said.

But it's unclear if Blythe will return if he tests the market. Allen remains on the roster and continues to be an option to return to center.