Rams target Raheem Morris to be defensive coordinator

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Gary Klein
·4 min read
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FILE - In this Aug. 19, 2019, file photo, Atlanta Falcons then-assistant head coach/passing game coordinator Raheem Morris watches from the sideline during the first half of a preseason NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, in Jacksonville, Fla. The Atlanta Falcons have named defensive coordinator Raheem Morris interim head coach after firing Dan Quinn. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)
The Atlanta Falcons' Raheem Morris watches from the sideline during a preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Aug. 19, 2019. Morris has emerged as the top candidate to be the next Rams defensive coordinator. (Phelan M. Ebenhack / Associated Press)

The search for a new defensive coordinator appears to be moving relatively quick for Rams coach Sean McVay.

Two days after Brandon Staley left to become head coach of the Chargers, Raheem Morris emerged as a candidate to replace him, people with knowledge of the situation said.

Morris, 44, was the Atlanta Falcons’ defensive coordinator and interim coach this season. He was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach from 2009 to 2011, compiling a record of 17-31.

McVay and Morris have a history.

In 2008, Morris was the Buccaneers' defensive backs coach when McVay was a first-year offensive assistant on coach Jon Gruden’s staff.

The Buccaneers fired Gruden after that season, and then hired the 32-year-old Morris to succeed him. McVay spent the 2009 season coaching in the defunct United Football League.

Morris and McVay were reunited in 2012 in Washington, where McVay was the tight ends coach and Morris the defensive backs coach. McVay was elevated to offensive coordinator in 2014.

Morris has three stints as a defensive coordinator — for Kansas State in 2006, with Tampa Bay while doubling as the Buccaneers' head coach for part of 2009 and all of the 2010 and 2011 seasons, and with the Falcons this season.

The Falcons were 0-5 when Morris took over for the fired Dan Quinn. They won three of their next four games but finished with five consecutive losses.

The Falcons ranked 29th in total defense, sixth in rushing defense and last in passing defense. They were 23rd in sacks and 19th in scoring defense.

Under Staley, the Rams ranked first in fewest yards and points given up. They were first in passing defense and second in sacks. The defense also scored five touchdowns for a team that finished 10-6 and advanced to the divisional round of the NFC playoffs before losing to the Green Bay Packers.

McVay has lost top assistants to other teams after each of his four seasons with the Rams. Staley is the latest, but he might not be the last.

This week, McVay and the Rams tried to stem the flow, at least symbolically.

The Rams declined the Chargers’ request for permission to interview offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Kevin O’Connell, a person with knowledge of the situation said. Regardless of whether O’Connell, who did not call plays for the Rams, was a top candidate with the Chargers, McVay took action and planted a flag to prevent another possible loss of a staff member who worked only one season for the Rams.

Staley could pursue other Rams assistants.

Staley’s departure afforded McVay and the Rams no time to sit back, catch their collective breath, evaluate the roster and ease into addressing offseason needs before the start of free agency in March and the draft in late April.

The 2021 salary cap has not been set, but with revenue losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the cap is projected to fall from $198.2 million to about $176 million, according to overthecap.com.

Safety John Johnson, edge rusher Leonard Floyd, cornerback Troy Hill, center Austin Blythe are among the Rams’ top unrestricted free agents. Receiver Josh Reynolds, tight end Gerald Everett, running back Malcolm Brown, defensive lineman Morgan Fox, linebacker Samson Ebukam and long snapper Jake McQuaide are other unrestricted free agents.

Cornerback Darious Williams, who had a team-best four interceptions, is a restricted free agent.

“It's easy to say you want them, but if another team wants them more, usually those guys, the money is usually what drives a lot of the decision-making processes and rightfully so,” McVay said this week.

Beyond the coaching staff, there are other concerns, not the least of which is McVay’s relationship with quarterback Jared Goff. McVay said after the loss to the Packers that Goff, the recipient of a $134-million extension before the 2019 season, was the Rams quarterback “for now.” He doubled down the next day, saying all positions would be open for competition, including quarterback.

“Everybody’s earning their spots,” he said.

Among the Rams' needs this offseason will be acquiring a legitimate deep threat.

After trading receiver Brandin Cooks last March to clear salary-cap space, the Rams' offense suffered. McVay had said Reynolds could fill that role, but the Rams’ only long touchdown pass was a 56-yard strike from Goff to Robert Woods.

“You did feel not having Brandin this year,” McVay said. “What does that mean? I think that's something that is important to look at. … We weren't as explosive in some of those things specific to the pass game as we've been in years past.

“It's something that we definitely have to be mindful of addressing moving forward.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.