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Rams should aim to bring back safety T.J. McDonald

The veteran safety has become a critical part of the Rams' secondary, and it would be wise for the front office to re-sign him to a new deal in free agency.

Heading into the offseason, one of the least discussed players for the Los Angeles Rams up to his point in time has been veteran safety T.J. McDonald

McDonald is set to become a free agent for the first time in his NFL career after finishing the fourth year of his four-year, $2.9 million rookie deal. He has played the entire contract out with the Rams following being selected in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft. 

Since then, he has been a constant for Los Angeles' secondary making 53 starts while providing stability at his position. In the 2016 season, he started all 16 games recording 64 total tackles with one sack, two interceptions, and six pass deflections. 

According to Pro Football Focus, McDonald last year graded 58th overall among all qualified safeties (75.3), 23rd in pass coverage (80.8), and 78th against the run (53.6). Although these numbers don't necessarily jump out, he has shown to be a durable and consistent option for the Rams throughout his brief career in the NFL. 

Despite having the reputation as a hard-hitting safety, the 26-year-old has been more than a serviceable option against the pass that could make a viable asset for Los Angeles' defense under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. In the last two seasons with the Denver Broncos, Phillips received strong play from his defensive backs that are loaded with Pro Bowl level talent across the board. Both starting safeties for the Broncos in TJ Ward and Darian Stewart have racked up Pro Bowl nods in each of the past two years

McDonald could be a major part in that in a defensive scheme with his play in pass coverage. Despite the Rams' inconsistencies against the pass, he has become a source of reliability in the secondary, which could make him a player that Phillips leans on in his system. 

What could also make McDonald a feasible option to bring back is that Los Angeles doesn't possess much depth at the position with Cody Davis being the likely candidate to replace him in the starting lineup if he were to move on in free agency. Davis has been sparsely used in his first four seasons in the league playing primarily as a backup safety.

Although McDonald should be in line for a significant pay raise for him from his rookie deal, it should remain in a reasonable price range for the Rams to dish out in order to keep him aboard. Los Angeles will have just above $40 million in salary cap space at their disposal this offseason. 

If there is any free agent that would likely return to the Rams, it appears to be McDonald given his value to their secondary and the expected price range that he will command on the open market. Ultimately, he could be one of the first dominoes to fall into place for Los Angeles once the free agency period begins in a few short weeks. 

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