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Los Angeles Rams add quality, quantity in 2017 NFL free agency

By The Sports Xchange
Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) throws against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans November 27, 2016. File photo by AJ Sisco/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/6200b73b75af4719813614ef123825cd/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) throws against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans November 27, 2016. File photo by AJ Sisco/UPI | License Photo

AGOURA HILLS, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Rams quickly and decisively got to work trying to rebuild their team in the image of new head coach Sean McVay, an energetic, offensive-minded leader who puts as much emphasis on chemistry, leadership and locker room presence as he does finding the right talent and scheme fit.

By the end of the first phase of free agency, McVay and the Rams found a high-end answer to their left tackle position and veteran leaders whose impact will be felt in multiple ways.

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They also added a dependable weapon for young quarterback Jared Goff, a versatile, veteran playmaker for new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme and perhaps a new starting cornerback.

And in landing Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth, dependable wide receiver Robert Woods, high-motor outside linebacker Connor Barwin and cornerback Kayvon Webster, the Rams added as much character as they did talent to help improve their 4-12 team from a season ago.

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Most importantly, the added chemistry seems to fit the kind of team McVay hopes to build.

"I think they are taking on our image, kind of what we've all agreed that we're looking for," McVay said. "When you really look at some of the players that we've acquired; when you look at an Andrew Whitworth, you look at a (RB) Lance Dunbar, Robert Woods -- especially just on offense -- get Kayvon Webster and Connor Barwin -- these are good people that kind of represent what we want to be in terms of that football character: accountability, coachability, you can depend on these guys. Then, they also have a certain way about themselves when you talk about them."

Whitworth, in particular, should benefit the Rams in a number of ways, as his talent will allow the team to be flexible in moving some of its younger linemen to better position fits while also lifting the veteran presence in the locker room.

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McVay was immediately drawn to Whitworth upon meeting him.

"Just how impressive he is when you talk football, you feel like you're talking to a coach," McVay said, "Talking to those other coaches that have been with him: Jay (Gruden), (Bengals defensive coordinator) Paul Guenther, (Bengals offensive coordinator) Ken Zampese, even (Bengals head coach) Marvin (Lewis) -- talking about the leader that he is. Whether it was offensive or defensive players, he had a way of bringing people together.

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"You get around him and he's got a presence and a way about himself that's very impressive. He's a guy that we feel very fortunate to have. He brings his family in and you can see he's all about the right stuff. That's why, I think, he'll be great for us."

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Woods won't be called upon to blow the top off a defense, but he is a precise route runner with dependable hands and is a willing, active run blocker.

Webster has a history with Phillips after playing under him in Denver and is expected to compete for a starting job opposite Trumaine Johnson -- unless Johnson is traded -- and Barwin is an ideal fit at outside linebacker in Philips' 3-4 defense, having played under him in Houston.

The Rams also addressed their backup running back position with the signing of former Cowboys backup Dunbar, re-signed kicker Greg Zuerlein, added a third quarterback in Aaron Murray and addressed their defensive line depth with veteran DL Tyrunn Walker.

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Among the losses were veteran defensive linemen Eugene Sims (released), William Hayes (traded to Miami), veteran running back Benny Cunningham (signed with the Bears) and starting center Tim Barnes, who was released.

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In addition, veteran safety T.J. McDonald signed a free-agent contract with the Miami Dolphins and wide receivers Kenny Britt and Brian Quick signed with Cleveland and Washington, respectively.

--Wide receiver Robert Woods is coming home, literally. The former USC wide receiver, who grew up in the Los Angeles area, is returning to his hometown after signing with the Rams as a free agent. The veteran spent his first four seasons with the Buffalo Bills, where he caught 203 passes for 2,451 yards and 12 touchdowns.

"I've always wanted to come home and play for the hometown team," Woods said. "The Rams made the trip home and so did I."

Woods will provide a much-needed dependable target for young QB Jared Goff.

"Big day, very exciting," Woods said. "I just can't wait to get going and look forward to working with (QB) Jared Goff. Big thank yous to (owner/chairman) Mr. (Stan) Kroenke and (general manager) Les Snead for bringing me on board. Big day, big opportunity, can't wait to be a part of it -- (offensive coordinator) Matt LaFleur, (head coach) Sean McVay -- big things going on, on the offensive side. Very excited to be a part of it."

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--Left tackle Andrew Whitworth was the Rams' top target to improve their play at left tackle, but also serve as a mentor to quarterback Jared Goff and help solidify an offensive line ranked among the worst in the NFL last season.

The 35-year-old Whitworth has graded out as one of the time three left tackles over the last three years and keeps himself in top physical shape.

"As I've always said it's a simple thing and cliche of just doing your job. But the reality is that if every single football player goes out there and does their job we're going to play real well," Whitworth said.

"The first thing I have to do is do my job well and hopefully that can impact and influence throughout my group. I know some of those guys and I think a lot of some of them. I think that from the guys that I do know, I look forward to getting the chance to know the rest of them and know them better - kind of know who they are as a player and how I can help."

--Outside linebacker Connor Barwin was a second-wave free agency addition to the Rams, but brings with him a level of production that should fit perfectly with new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.

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Barwin has been a productive player at outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, but slumped last year when moved to defensive end in a 4-3. That, coupled with the Eagles' need to free up money to help add weapons and protection to young quarterback Carson Wentz, led to Barwin being cut loose.

Barwin had 26.5 sacks from 2013-15 with the Eagles in the 3-5 but only five playing in the 4-3 last season. He is especially looking forward to reuniting with Phillips, who coached him two seasons in Houston.

"Wade did a lot for me in the two years I was with Houston," Barwin said. "He taught me so much about being a pro, enjoying being around the game every single day and he really elevated my game as a pass rusher."

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