With three games to play, the Rams have four items on their to-do list:
• Keep developing those young players who are worth building around.
• Start weeding out the unworthy players, particularly those declining veterans who carry significant salary cap hits for next season.
• Continue defining their priorities for the 2014 NFL Draft, which could make or break this regime.
• Continue assessing the effectiveness of this coaching staff and its schemes, game-planning and play-calling.
This season is effectively over. The goals Jeff Fisher set for this team will not be met.
The time left on the 2013 calendar must be spent gearing up for Year 3 — which was always going to be pivotal for Fisher and Co., given the structure of the Robert Griffin III trade.
The Rams must maximize the value of their remaining games. We saw an example of that Sunday, when rookie Stedman Bailey ran some nice routes and finally looked like an impact receiver.
Tavon Austin broke off another huge play, this time a 56-yard run. Alec Ogletree was busy at outside linebacker again and recorded a blitz sack. Tim Barnes got a long-awaited start at center in place of the battered Scott Wells.
Fans should judge the remaining Rams games on how much progress these and other youngsters make against the New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks.
RAMS CHAT: JIM THOMAS AT 1 PM
You are weary of understandably waiting for next year. So are the veterans who suffered through previous regimes.
But what happened before 2012 is none of Fisher’s concern. He has to focus on 2014 and beyond.
He took the helm of a team that won just 15 games during the previous five seasons. He inherited little talent and lots of baggage.
The team’s slippage this season is disappointing, but hardly surprising. Some experts hyped the Rams, but they always looked like an 8-8 team in this corner of cyberspace.
They subtracted proven playmakers Steven Jackson and Danny Amendola. They said goodbye to Brandon Gibson, too, even though he was one of Sam Bradford’s most trusted targets.
Removing that much offense is dangerous, especially for a young team playing in the NFL’s toughest division. Shifting to a wide-open attack with no proven playmakers is risky, especially against a daunting schedule featuring several playoff contenders.
Then you throw in Bradford’s catastrophic knee injury and, well, you find yourself at 5-8 and needing to upgrade across the board.
Pessimists want to dismiss the entire rebuild as a failure, given the failure of Isaiah Pead, the regression of Janoris Jenkins, Chris Givens and Daryl Richardson and the halting progress of Brian Quick.
Optimists will point to the emergence of Zac Stacy and the strides made by Bradford, Austin, Bailey, Ogletree, Robert Quinn, Michael Brockers, Joe Barksdale and longshot Benny Cunningham.
A true assessment of the rebuild is somewhere between these extreme fan views. The Rams have made middling progress under trying circumstances.
That is not what fans hoped for, but it is what it is.
The NFL has seen some dramatic turnarounds this season, especially in Kansas City. The league has seen startling collapses, most notably in Houston.
Meanwhile, the Rams have inched along, earning a few big victories on the field and many smaller victories in player development.
They could win a couple more games, especially if the playoff-bound Seahawks have already earned the home field advantage by Week 17.
But the larger objective is to finish with a better team than they have today. They could do that by coaching up their younger players and coaxing more breakout performances from them.
They could do that by playing more aggressively on both sides of the ball to test the limits of their talent. Take some shots. See what happens.
The Rams have nothing more to lose this season and plenty to gain.