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Armando Salguero: Rams Hear Call To ‘Run It Back’ But Their Answer Is Unclear In Some Ways

There were thousands of people cheering the Los Angeles Rams during their Super Bowl victory parade Thursday and, yes, there were seemingly thousands of ounces of alcohol involved in the festivities as well. Rams coach Sean McVay at one point was carrying a magnum of champagne that was literally the size of a child.

So this was a celebration for the Super Bowl champions.

This was the goal when the team famously acknowledged it was pushing all its proverbial chips to the center of the table. This was what the Rams were trying for when they went “all in.”

The small issue with being all in, however, is that eventually people get out. Move on. Let life happen.

And after beating the Cincinnati Bengals and, indeed, all postseason challengers the past month, that’s what happens next.

So here’s the good news: Coach Sean McVay, who has been coy about whether he’s returning to the team to defend the Super Bowl title, was acting a lot like a guy expecting to do exactly that on Wednesday.

He’s previously stiff-armed questions about his plans with vague “we’ll see” responses, but his actions after the parade suggested he intends to run it back.

This is how it played out: After the parade wound its way up Figueroa to just in front of the Los Angeles Coliseum where a podium was set up, McVay joined his players to say a few words.

Aaron Donald, the team’s best player and another one who has been unclear about his future, began to speak with the gathered fans.

“I’ve been having a little fun tonight, so if I slur my words, I apologize,” Donald said, and to be clear it was the middle of the day. “We world champions, that’s what it’s all about. All that hard work we put into it, all that strain … all the ups and downs, being here with you guys, I dreamed about this for so long.

“To be here is surreal. Like I said, I’ve been drinking a little bit, but we having a good time … We world champions! We world champions! We the best in the world, that’s what it’s about. Look at this trophy.”

Donald held the Lombardi Trophy aloft and soon McVay was asking the question on everyone’s mind.

“Are you interested in running it back?” the host of the festivities asked on behalf of the coach.

And then McVay grabbed the microphone from the host and began shouting, “Run it back, run it back, run it back, run it back!”

So this suggests the coach is returning. Why would he bring up the topic for someone else if he’s planning on leaving the sideline for a network television job or to tour the Earth or something?

“I think you saw Sean on stage today,” Rams COO Kevin Demoff told multiple beat reporters. “He’s ready to go defend our title.”

Anyway, at that point, Donald seemed to agree with the “run it back” chants.

“We built a super team,” he said. “We can bring the super team back. Why not run it back?”

So it’s fair to believe Donald is in — except, well, he didn’t exactly say, “I’m coming back.” And what he did say came while his mindset was admittedly altered by a few adult beverages.

So no one can be 100 percent certain Donald will definitely, absolutely return for the 2022 season until he says as much, but at least he’s given Southern California hope.

Whatever happens with Donald and McVay, it’s certain the Rams won’t be pulling off the feat accomplished by last year’s Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After winning Super Bowl LV, the Bucs were able to re-sign or return all 22 of their starters on offense and defense from the season before. They also returned their coaching staff intact.

That will not happen in Los Angeles because several coaches are leaving and at least a couple of starters won’t return, including offensive left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who is expected to retire, according to a source familiar with his plans.

Whitworth, 40, didn’t make an announcement during Wednesday’s festivities because he didn’t deem that the proper time or place. He knew this day was about the team rather than himself.

So when he was asked about his future, he deftly redirected the question as if dealing with an edge rusher.

“You know what? We’ll save that conversation for another day,” Whitworth said. “But what I will say is I haven’t touched on this yet: Five years ago, I was told I was a little too old and I was told that maybe my time was done.”

Whitworth was talking about that time when the Cincinnati Bengals moved on from him after 11 seasons.

“And I tell you this for every single person standing out there who’s ever doubted anything you’ve ever done,” Whitworth continued, “bet on yourself. It’s five years later and I’m holding this trophy and I’m 40 years old. Let’s go! Don’t let anyone’s opinions of you ever become your reality. Bet on yourself.”

The Rams bet on themselves this year, and the gamble is paying a handsome reward. But the bet is not without cost.

Because the team is currently looking at a roughly $20 million salary cap deficit that it has to address by the start of the league year on March 16. About $16 million of that will get wiped away by Whitworth’s retirement, but there are other issues:

Starting receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is unsigned for 2023 and even if he agrees to come back to the Rams — perhaps on a one-year contract — he faces a long rehabilitation following surgery to correct a ruptured ACL in his left knee.

He sustained the injury during the Super Bowl’s first half, and it will require extensive and diligent work for Beckham to be back in time for the early part of next season.

Starting safety Eric Weddle, who joined the team for the playoff run after being retired for two years, tore his right pectoral muscle during the Super Bowl. And he is re-retiring.

Starting linebacker Von Miller, who was traded to the Rams from the Broncos in November, is a free agent. And while he’s said many times how much he loved playing in L.A., he’s also said he wants to explore free agency.

Finally, the Rams will continue to suffer from the brain drain of recent years as coaches leave for better jobs. Offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell will be introduced as the Minnesota Vikings’ new coach Thursday and he’s bringing Los Angeles tight end coach Wes Phillips onto his staff, reportedly as the offensive coordinator.

So “running it back” will be put to the test if the Rams are indeed going to try that in 2022. At the very least, they’re going to have to adapt the term to fit their circumstance.

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero has covered the NFL since 1990 for the Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald and ESPN. He was a 2016 Associated Press Sports Editors Top 10 columnist. He is a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector and AP All-Pro team voter.

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