Like quarterback Jared Goff and cornerback Jalen Ramsey, Rams outside linebacker Leonard Floyd was a top-10 pick in the 2016 NFL draft.
But while Goff and Ramsey had their fifth-year options exercised — ensuring big paydays had they not received massive extensions from the Rams — the Bears in March cut Floyd after four seasons.
On Monday night, Floyd faces his old team when the Rams (4-2) play the Bears (5-1) at SoFi Stadium.
Asked Saturday whether there was special motivation because of how his Bears career ended, Floyd began by saying that he was motivated to help the Rams win.
“But yeah, going into this game it’s a little more added energy for it going against my old team,” he said during a videoconference with reporters after practice.
Floyd has two of the Rams’ 20 sacks, and he plays nearly every snap for a unit that ranks fourth in the NFL in pass defense, fifth in scoring defense and 11th in rushing defense.
“Leonard's done a great job for us,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “I mean, the versatility, the passion he plays with, he's done a great job rushing the passer.”
Floyd also was part of tough defenses with the Bears. But after recording seven sacks as a rookie, his sack production decreased each season. If the Bears had exercised their fifth-year option, Floyd would have earned $13.2 million this season.
Parting ways with the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Floyd was a difficult decision, Bears coach Matt Nagy said.
“He’s a really good player, but when you start getting into the business side of it, there’s just decisions that have got to be made and that was one of the tough ones we had to make,” Nagy told Los Angeles reporters Saturday during a videoconference.
After last season, the Rams needed an edge rusher because the cost of keeping Dante Fowler was deemed too steep. Fowler, who amassed a career-best 11½ sacks in 2019, signed a three-year, $45-million deal with the Atlanta Falcons that included $29 million in guarantees, according to overthecap.com.
New Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley coached Floyd in 2017 and 2018 when he was the Bears’ outside linebackers coach. The Rams signed Floyd to what is essentially a one-year, $10-million prove-it contract.
“Watching him this year and what he’s doing for Brandon Staley and for coach McVay, you’re seeing a guy that’s making plays at certain times that we saw in the past,” Nagy said. “And he’s always going to play hard. And they’re doing a great job with him, and he’s playing well.”
Ramsey, acquired by the Rams in a trade last October, said that Floyd provides energy and passion, even in tough stretches such as last Sunday in a defeat against the San Francisco 49ers.
Now Floyd will be playing against his former team.
“This is a big game for him, obviously, and we’re going to have his back,” Ramsey said. “And I hope he plays extremely well, and I hope we get the win for him. ... I don’t know his situation and how it went down in Chicago, but ... I’m extremely happy to have him here on our team.”
McVay is not concerned about Floyd getting overly excited on the field while playing against the Bears.
“That’s not something that I worry about at all,” McVay said. “If anything, he’s brought consistent juice week in and week out. He’s a great energy guy for us, and I expect nothing different Monday night.”
Floyd anticipates another defensive struggle.
“It’s going to come down to crunch time and who’s going to make that big play,” he said.
The Bears' defense features many of the players that Floyd teamed with the last few seasons. He said he remains close to end Akiem Hicks, outside linebacker Khalil Mack and others.
“Really the whole defense,” he said. “They’re all my guys. I’ll make sure I speak to them after the game.”
Veteran kicker Kai Forbath is scheduled to join the Rams on Sunday, but McVay said Samuel Sloman would kick against the Bears. ... Tight end Tyler Higbee (hand) was limited during practice and is listed as questionable for Monday’s game. “I’m hopeful that he’ll be able to play,” McVay said. “He’s a big part of what we do, but we’ll see what happens when that rolls around." ... A decision whether to activate defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson has not been made, McVay said. Robinson returned to practice this week after going on the non-football injury list during training camp. “If not this week, then the hope will be next week, so we’ll see with him. But he looked really good, moved around well and looked like the guy that we thought he was.”… Mack (back) was limited in practice Saturday and was listed as questionable on the Bears' injury report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.