A breakdown of the Los Angeles Rams' 2019 free-agent signings.
Clay Matthews, linebacker
What it means: Matthews provides experience at both outside and inside linebacker, though it is anticipated that he will spend most of his time on the edge. In 10 seasons with the Packers, Matthews had 83.5 sacks, 15 forced fumbles and six interceptions -- including two returned for touchdowns. It will be interesting to monitor where Matthews fits on a defense that includes outside linebackers Dante Fowler Jr. and Samson Ebukam, returns inside linebacker Cory Littleton but no longer can rely on the veteran presence of Mark Barron, who was released to save $6.33 million in the salary cap.
What's the risk: Matthews has name value, especially in the greater Los Angeles area, where he attended Agoura High (15 miles from the team’s training facility) and grew into a star at USC after joining the team as a walk-on. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean the All-Pro is the missing piece the Rams needed. In 16 starts last season, Matthews produced 3.5 sacks and seven tackles for a loss -- the fewest sacks and TFL’s in a single season of his career. Following veteran safety Eric Weddle, Matthews is the second defensive player who the Rams have signed in free agency who could be considered past his prime.
Blake Bortles, quarterback
What it means: Bortles’ one-deal ends the Rams’ search for a quarterback to backup Jared Goff. Sean Mannion, the backup the last four seasons, is an unrestricted free agent. The third overall pick in 2014, Bortles struggled to find consistency in five seasons in Jacksonville. He led the Jaguars to the AFC title game in 2017, but had a 24-49 record as a starter. Last season, Bortles passed for 13 touchdowns, with 11 interceptions, and was replaced as the starter. With the Rams, Bortles is expected to serve as a reliable backup to Goff. For Bortles, a season under coach Sean McVay could provide the veteran quarterback a boost as he attempts to reignite his career.
What’s the risk: This is low-risk move for the Rams. The Jaguars are on the hook to pay Bortles $6.5 million in 2019, though that amount will be offset by Bortles’ deal with the Rams, which is likely to be a relatively small number given the Jaguars must continue to write him checks. Money aside, Goff has proven durable in three seasons and has yet to miss time because of injury. So while it’s uncertain how quickly Bortles will pick up McVay’s scheme, it’s unlikely -- based on previous seasons -- that he will need to be inserted for Goff. A lack of playing time could potentially cause an issue for Bortles with on a one-year deal and the intention of once again earning a starting spot somewhere in the NFL.
Dante Fowler, outside linebacker
The Rams signed Fowler to a one-year deal worth $14 million. Here's a closer look at the outside linebacker who spent much of the previous season with the Rams:
What it means: Fowler was expected to test the market in free agency, but instead agreed to terms on the eve of the "legal tampering" period. Fowler's decision to remain with the Rams settles their most pressing offseason need of finding a pass-rusher, a key position in defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme. Fowler's impact grew throughout the season and the playoffs after he was acquired at the trade deadline from the Jacksonville Jaguars. In eight regular-season games, he had two sacks, a forced fumble and pass deflection. Fowler's contributions should grow in 2019 after a full offseason and training camp in Phillips' system.
What's the risk: There is little risk in the Rams' decision to sign Fowler to a one-year deal. Fowler immediately fills a position of need, and a one-year contract enables the team some flexibility to decide if the fifth-year pro is a long-term solution worth a high-priced extension. Fowler, however, takes on a great deal of risk. With multiple teams in the market for edge rushers, there's the potential that Fowler, the third overall pick in 2015, left money on the table by signing with the Rams ahead of free agency. There also is no security in playing on a one-year deal, so Fowler must ensure that he performs to expectations and stays healthy throughout the season so that he can sign another deal in 2020.
Eric Weddle, safety
What it means: Finding a starting safety was near the top of the Rams' offseason list with five-year veteran Lamarcus Joyner set to become an unrestricted free agent after he played last season on the franchise tag. Weddle, a two-time All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowl selection, will start alongside John Johnson III and joins a secondary that also features All-Pro cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters. A savvy 12-year veteran, Weddle is a proven playmaker with 29 career interceptions and was once called a "football savant" by Ravens defensive coordinator Wink Martindale. With Weddle signed, the Rams can turn their attention to filling roles at defensive tackle and outside linebacker.
What's the risk: Weddle's addition comes as a low-risk move for the Rams given it is a two-year deal with only $5.25 million guaranteed. However, there are some concerns. While Weddle is a proven playmaker, he experienced a significant drop-off in production last season. In his first two seasons in Baltimore, Weddle intercepted 10 passes -- the most by a safety in that span. But last season he did not did not pick off a single pass and had only three pass breakups. Weddle started all 48 games for the Ravens over the past three years, and has played 170 of a possible 176 games since 2008, tied for fourth among defensive players. But the 34-year-old said he considered retirement at the end of the season. Weddle opted to continue playing and says that he feels good and his body is in good shape.