Rams retaining Ernest Jones would be new historic chapter

Linebacker Ernest Jones is entering the final season of his rookie deal. If the Los Angeles Rams sign him to an extension, it will be the first time they have signed a defensive draft pick to a second contract since Aaron Donald in 2018. Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire

LOS ANGELES -- Since Aaron Donald signed a contract extension before the 2018 season, the Los Angeles Rams have not signed a defensive draft pick to a second contract.

But six seasons later, the Rams have a candidate to break that trend. Linebacker Ernest Jones, a third-round pick in 2021, is entering the last season of his rookie deal and, alongside Donald, is one of the leaders of the Los Angeles defense.

Going into last season, the Rams knew they'd be relying on Jones, their defensive playcaller, even more in 2023. During the offseason, the Rams lost several veterans on their defense, including linebacker Bobby Wagner and cornerback Jalen Ramsey, and returned just three defensive starters from the previous season.

"He's someone who is a very important part of that defense for many reasons," general manager Les Snead said. "Definitely the leader of the defense, or has evolved to become one of the key leaders of the defense."

Jones made such an impact that Raheem Morris, the Rams' defense coordinator last season who was hired by the Atlanta Falcons in January, said in December that "it's [Jones'] defense."

"He controls the walkthrough," Morris said. "I'm just there and when he wants me to move away, he'll kindly let me know. That is the biggest thing I see from Ernest when he wants to take over. What he brings to our game-day atmosphere when he's feeling right is different than a lot of guys I have been around."

Snead acknowledged that "in the past, it's been tough for us to re-sign someone after three years." But after the Rams took on significant dead money last season instead of spreading it out over two years, they have more financial flexibility this offseason. According to Over the Cap, the Rams have more than $40 million cap space entering free agency.

And while the Rams have not typically paid linebackers in recent history, Snead said the way the team is built has evolved, as well.

"In the past ... we've been invested in some other positions, but I think as we evolve and as teams evolve, there's times where you may be less invested at certain positions that you were in the past and one of your better players is an inside linebacker," Snead said. "So he's definitely someone we'll discuss and definitely someone we'd like to have around."

Jones had his best season of his young career, with 145 tackles, 4.5 sacks and six passes defensed in 15 games. Jones was dealing with a knee injury just before the Rams' bye week and missed the Week 9 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

At the time, coach Sean McVay pointed out the significance of missing Jones, saying, "When he's out there, he ends up bringing an element of energy, leadership [and] production that is really important to us.

"He is a tough stud that has a great way about himself. People just love being around this guy. He's got a timely way of making big time plays. I think you're seeing him feel really good and he provides a toughness, a physicality and just a presence in the middle of our defense that has been a huge factor for us. He's made an outstanding impact."

And when McVay was asked last season about the possibility of the Rams signing Jones to a contract extension during the offseason, he said, "I mean, we love him."

"I love what he's doing," McVay said. "And he has made that position more valuable than whatever the league values because of his impact not only the production, but as a player, but more importantly as a person in the way he elevates everybody around him. We love him and I'm really grateful to have him on this squad."