Rams will draft a defensive lineman, but will it be at No. 31?

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — The Los Angeles Rams addressed their most pressing needs in free agency when they signed outside linebackers Dante Fowler and Clay Matthews and safety Eric Weddle.

With about $4.8 million remaining in their salary cap, according to ESPN Roster Management, the Rams must supplement a roster primed to make a repeat Super Bowl run.

The Rams have seven selections in the 2019 draft and are expected to pick in the first round for the first time since 2016, when they moved from the 15th pick to first overall to select quarterback Jared Goff.

It remains a possibility — and wouldn’t be surprising, given their recent history — that the Rams could trade out of the 31st pick. Last year, they sent their first-round pick (23rd overall) to the New England Patriots in exchange for receiver Brandin Cooks. Then the organization engaged in a flurry of draft-day moves to acquire a bundle of late-round selections.

In 2017, the Rams waited until Round 2 to make a pick after sending their first-round choice in the trade for Goff.

If the Rams hold on to their first-round pick on April 25, it seems increasingly likely that they will use it to fill the void left by defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who played last season on a one-year deal worth $14 million and whom general manager Les Snead said was unlikely to be re-signed because of budgetary constraints.

“I do think because it’s a good defensive line draft, our goal is to come out of the draft with probably a young defensive lineman,” Snead told ESPN at the NFL’s annual meetings in Phoenix. “That can happen, or guess what, I’ll say there are 31 other enemies that may decide to hinder our vision.”

A late first-round pick doesn’t leave much room for planning, and Snead certainly left open the possibility that the team could pick a lineman with any of its later picks. The Rams have two third-round picks, as well as a fourth-, fifth-, sixth- and seventh-round pick.

Regardless of which pick the Rams use to bolster their line, their current personnel situation, coupled with a draft deep in defensive line prospects, could create a fortuitous situation.

The Rams return two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, who last season led the league with 20.5 sacks and is under contract through the 2024 season after he signed a six-year, $135 million extension in August.

Michael Brockers, a first-round pick in 2012, also returns in the final season of a three-year, $33.25 million deal.

While Donald is a one-man wrecking crew who last season faced more double teams than any other defensive player in the league, Brockers has a proven ability to play multiple positions, including the five-technique and nose tackle, and that could be key for the Rams as they prepare for the draft.

“What [Brocker’s] flexibility allows you to do is maybe pick the best player, and not necessarily we have to have a nose tackle, but you can pick maybe the best five-technique,” Snead said. “It does give you some flexibility, and it’s looking like that’s what we’re going to do there.”

Brockers’ contract situation and the uncertainty of whether he’ll return in 2020 could prompt the Rams to invest a first-round pick in a long-term solution on the line.

The Rams also return several players who are expected to play supplemental, if not larger, roles, including Morgan Fox, who tore his ACL during offseason workouts last year and was sidelined for the season, John Franklin-Myers, who had a promising rookie season, and Sebastian Joseph-Day, who was inactive every game last season but whose development the Rams continue to invest in.

Snead said each could be in the plan in 2019, though roles are far from settled. “A lot of that is going to be determined draft, post-draft, OTAs, into training camp,” Snead said. “Because you’re not going to decide all those things in OTAs.”

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