Los Angeles Rams

49ers should benefit from Rams' poor choices, Jalen Ramsey extension

49ers should benefit from Rams' poor choices, Jalen Ramsey extension

The Los Angeles Rams are stuck between a rock and a hard place, and it's unlikely to get any more comfortable any time soon.

Forget the fact that they've been passed up by the 49ers and the rest of the NFC West. Ignore the fact that they're spending nearly $30 million in dead money this coming season to have running back Todd Gurley and receiver Brandin Cooks play for other teams. Gloss over the fact that quarterback Jared Goff might have the most burdensome contract in the NFL. Overlook the fact that they rank dead last in available cap space, and pay no mind to the fact that the Rams don't have a first-round pick in next year's draft.

Instead, let's focus on the move that arguably put them in such a terrible position, and likely will keep them there for several seasons to come.

Make no mistake, Jalen Ramsey is an amazing player. He might be the best cornerback in all of football, which is why it cost Los Angeles such a pretty penny to acquire him last season. To get him, the Rams sent their 2020 and 2021 first-round draft picks and a 2021 fourth-round selection to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jags never intended to sign Ramsey to the lucrative contract extension he surely would command, which was the main impetus in trading him. The Rams appeared ready to do what Jacksonville would not, particularly considering all the value they gave up in trading for Ramsey.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Well, the time to pay the piper is fast approaching, and it doesn't sound like the Rams should be expecting any sort of a discount.

"The Rams know where I stand," Ramsey said Tuesday on a video conference call with reporters (H/T ESPN's Lindsey Thiry). "I think that's all that matters at the end of the day. It will be handled. They know where I stand. They've been in contact with my agent. They're on the same page as my agent."

"I feel like everybody knew what type of situation it was gonna be once they traded for me," Ramsey added, "so I think it doesn't really need to be talked about that much. It'll get handled."

Ramsey's next contract is expected to reset the cornerback market, and deservedly so. He has all of the leverage, as Los Angeles cannot afford to let him go. They don't want to, but the hefty annual salary they'll be forced to pay Ramsey inevitably will make it much tougher to fill out the rest of their roster.

"The anticipation was to acquire him with the hope that he's a Ram for a long time," Los Angeles coach Sean McVay told reporters. "You want to figure out, 'How do we get him taken care of the way that he deserves and still make sure we're mindful of the entire team?"

McVay is considered one of the brightest minds in all of football, but even he is going to be extremely challenged to solve that quandary. The Rams can't afford to let Ramsey go, but they can't really afford to pay him, either. The most likely outcome is that they ultimately sign Ramsey to a record-breaking extension, but upon doing so, they'll be squeezed even tighter than they already are.

Los Angeles had its window. The Rams took their shot, and they missed. Trading what they did for a player of Ramsey's quality is far more defensible than giving an unproven Goff $110 million guaranteed, but combined -- along with some other moves that backfired -- they appear likely to put the Rams in the NFC West cellar, and to keep them there for the foreseeable future. 

[RELATED: 49ers stand to benefit from Seahawks' questionable moves]

The 49ers' division currently is considered perhaps the toughest in the NFL. But thanks to the Rams shooting themselves in the foot, that could change relatively soon.

Do 49ers have more offensive weapons than Seahawks, Cardinals, Rams?

Do 49ers have more offensive weapons than Seahawks, Cardinals, Rams?

Built by a mastermind in Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers' offense was much more a sum of parts than full of stars last season. The same can be said for this upcoming season as well.

Outside of George Kittle, the 49ers don't have any true star skill players. And yet, they ranked No. 2 in rushing offense and total points last season, behind only the Baltimore Ravens, which were led by MVP Lamar Jackson. San Francisco also was 13th in passing yards per game and fourth in total yards. 

With the emergence of the Arizona Cardinals and the Seattle Seahawks always being contenders, the NFC West might have become even stronger this offseason. So, how does the 49ers' skill positions on offense compare to the rest of the division? 

Let's break it down, position by position.

Quarterback

The obvious answer here is Seahawks star Russell Wilson is the cream of the crop when it comes to QBs in the NFC West. We know that, there's no arguing that notion. 

Where it gets interesting is, who comes next?

Cardinals QB Kyler Murray took home the Offensive Rookie of the Year in a pass-heavy offense that seems primed for him to put up huge numbers. Jimmy Garoppolo gets knocked all too often, but the reality is he had one of the best seasons for a quarterback in 49ers history, one season after tearing his ACL. And then there's Jared Goff, who took a big step back last season. 

It seems Garoppolo and Murray are vying for who's No. 2 in the NFC West QB race. It will be fascinating to watch, as both offenses got better and both teams have offensive-minded coaches who should set their quarterbacks up for success.

Advantage: Seahawks

Running backs

After the Los Angeles Rams let Todd Gurley go this offseason, there aren't any true big-name running backs in the NFC West. Raheem Mostert looked like a star in the making for the 49ers with his historic performance in the NFC Championship Game, but can they rely on him to be a true No. 1 back? 

Mostert is preparing like he will get 200 carries this season, however, that seems unlikely. Even after trading Matt Breida to the Miami Dolphins, San Francisco still has a deep group of backs that will share carries outside of Mostert.

Kenyan Drake could be an emerging star in Arizona and the Rams will rotate a flurry of inexperienced backs, including rookie Cam Akers. The Seahawks have a strong option in 1,000-yard rusher Chris Carson and will use many backs after him. 

Drake and Carson might be the most gifted of the group in the NFC West, but there's a caveat with the 49ers: Jerick McKinnon looks healthy again and receiver Deebo Samuel should be seen as an extra ball-carrier.

Advantage: 49ers

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Receivers

Everything changed once the Cardinals acquired DeAndre Hopkins from the Houston Texans this offseason. Arizona now has one of the best receivers in the league, and a true No. 1 for their young QB. Pairing Hopkins with the ultra-reliable Larry Fitzgerald gives the Cardinals one of the best duos in the NFL. 

D.K. Metcalf is a problem for opposing cornerbacks and the jacked-up receiver should be even better in Year 2 for the Seahawks. He and Tyler Lockett give Seattle a solid duo, and the Rams' one-two punch of Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods is nothing to scoff at. 

So, where do the 49ers fit in? Samuel looks like the perfect weapon for Shanahan and should emerge as the No. 1 receiver for San Francisco. Kendrick Bourne continues to be clutch and is a nice secondary option. After that, it's all potential and a lot of question marks.

The 49ers have high hopes for first-round pick Brandon Aiyuk, and the same goes for Jalen Hurd and Trent Taylor coming off injuries. General manager John Lynch also hasn't given up on Dante Pettis yet. 

The Cardinals have the star power, but the 49ers could have the depth. We'll give this one to Arizona, though, it's a tight contest.

Advantage: Cardinals

[RELATED: Why 49ers' Aiyuk could struggle finding targets as rookie]

Tight End

George Kittle. 

Need I say more? No, no I don't. Will Dissly (Seattle), Tyler Higbee (Los Angeles) and Maxx Williams (Arizona) all are nice pieces. None are Kittle. Not even close. 

Advantage: 49ers

The 49ers might not have the most star power, but they do have the most offensive weapons when you take into account adding Aiyuk, plus getting several injured players back this season. 

Whenever the NFL season starts, San Francisco's offense should be a scary sight for opposing defenses.

49ers' offseason ranked 16th-best in NFL, but opened gap in NFC West

49ers' offseason ranked 16th-best in NFL, but opened gap in NFC West

There are still some notable names currently unsigned, but generally speaking, the roster-building portion of the NFL offseason has concluded. The draft -- and most of free agency -- is in the rearview mirror, and now we can more accurately evaluate the progress, or lack thereof, that each team has made.

ESPN's Bill Barnwell has been ranking all 32 teams' offseasons, and he ranked precisely half of them as having worse offseasons than the 49ers, who came in at No. 16.

"The 49ers stuck to their plan on both sides of the ball with their two first-round picks," Barnwell wrote in describing what went right for San Francisco. "After trading defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to the Colts for the No. 14 pick, they used that selection to draft his replacement, Javon Kinlaw. The 49ers then traded up six slots in the bottom half of Round 1 to add another weapon for Kyle Shanahan, wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, who gives Jimmy Garoppolo another playmaker who can threaten opposing defenses with the ball in his hands.

"Later during the draft, they found the best possible replacement for the retiring Joe Staley by trading two picks for star offensive tackle Trent Williams."

While Barnwell believes the 49ers did well to replace outgoing standouts, he is less confident in some of their other choices.

"Buckner was one of the NFL's best defensive linemen, and while Kinlaw could develop into a superstar, that dominant 49ers line is going to miss Buckner's talent," Barwell argued. "San Francisco also re-signed Arik Armstead to a five-year, $85 million deal, which is an awful lot of money for a player who has only one season in five as an impactful pass-rusher. Armstead is a great run defender, but the organization is paying him like the guy who had 10 sacks in 2019 as opposed to the one who had nine sacks combined across his previous four seasons."

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While Barnwell is correct in pointing out that Armstead is coming off a contract-year performance, he also fails to acknowledge that the 49ers really didn't have much of a choice in giving him that deal. They knew they weren't going to be able to keep both Armstead and Buckner moving forward, and only one of them was going to retrieve a first-round pick in a trade. So, while Armstead's price tag might seem high to Barnwell, it ultimately was the better road to go down of the two -- assuming Kinlaw turns out to be the player the 49ers hope he'll become. 

As for what San Francisco could have done differently, Barnwell suggests that the 49ers should have traded back in the first round of the draft to collect more picks, rather than trading up to select Aiyuk. That's a fair critique, and it's certainly possible there will be players drafted after Aiyuk who turn out to be better receivers. But, if general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan identified Aiyuk as their guy, then it's tough to blame them for making the aggressive move to acquire him.

Remember how the roster-building portion of the offseason has concluded? Well, not exactly. There are still many tasks all 32 teams have on their plates, and one obviously stands out above the rest for San Francisco.

"Extend George Kittle," Barnwell described as the 49ers' top remaining offseason priority. "San Francisco's star tight end is entering the final year of his rookie deal, and after Austin Hooper became the first tight end in league history to sign a deal averaging more than $10 million per season, Kittle should push the market much further forward. A four-year extension should top $50 million."

[RELATED: 49ers favored in every game except one on 2020 schedule]

It's not a matter of if Kittle will get that record-setting contract, only when. And assuming that gets accomplished during the offseason, one would imagine the 49ers might get a slight bump in the offseason rankings. Still, for a team that was at least one tier above all but three other NFL teams last season, having an "average" offseason is nothing to scoff at. After all, it's easier to improve when you have more ground to make up -- or at least you'd think that would be the case.

The 49ers still fared far better than two of their divisional opponents. The Los Angeles Rams were ranked 28th, while the rival Seattle Seahawks came in at 26. Given that San Francisco already was superior to both of those teams entering the offseason, it would appear the gap between the 49ers and the rest of the NFC West has grown even wider.