With the National Football League’s new year starting next Wednesday, franchise tags and free agency moves are on the agenda for a lot of teams. For the NFC West, a division that is predicated on strong quarterback play, having firm pieces on defense is highly important.
Sean McVay, head coach and quarterback whisperer for the Rams, navigated his team to the playoffs last season as a first-year coach. While marquee names like Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, Sammy Watkins (now a free agent) and Robert Woods drew attention because of the success, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips had guys in position also to make critical stops on the field.
Despite an 11-5 finish in 2017 and having arguably the best defensive front in the league, Los Angeles has made some moves this offseason – including the trades of defensive end Robert Quinn to the Miami Dolphins and inside linebacker Alec Ogletree to the New York Giants.
The aftermath of both moves crowns former University of Alabama standout, Mark Barron as the captain on defense. Although he spent the first two years of his playing career with the Buccaneers, Barron’s last three seasons have been in a Rams uniform (L.A. in 2015-16).
A first-round pick of the 2012 draft, Barron received a five-year, $45 million extension from the Rams in 2016 that included $20 million guaranteed and a $5 million signing bonus. All of this was made possible after the converted safety totaled 118 tackles at outside linebacker that year.
Hailing from Mobile, Ala., Barron finished second on the team with 85 tackles, a team-high three interceptions and four pass deflections through 14 games last season. With his lateral quickness and hard-hitting prowess, the Rams picked off 18 passes en route to the playoffs.
Losing Quinn (62 sacks as a Ram) hurts, but Los Angeles has Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers and Connor Barwin to attack quarterbacks. And while Ogletree is a productive inside backer, Barron has proven to be more instinctive and also has more athleticism than Ogletree in space.
Former Crimson Tide linebacker C.J. Mosley has taken over in Baltimore, and prior to injury Dont’a Hightower had solidified himself in New England. The bright lights of California want to make Barron “the man” and for the usually quiet athlete, next season looks to be interesting.