The off-season will be in full swing in matter of time. The start of free agency is next month, the NFL draft is looming, and the Scouting Combine is right around corner. Dynamic playmaker Percy Harvin is on the trade-block and big name free agents such as Jake Long and Dwayne Bowe headlines this year’s class. Last year the Rams made a splash in free agency by signing six players, and each of them started the majority of the season. That list includes:
- CB Cortland Finnegan
- DT Kendall Langford
- OLB Jo-Lonn Dunbar
- C Scott Wells
- RT Barry Richardson
- G/C Robert Turner
However, with roughly $10 million to sign newly acquired free-agents, re-sign their own free-agents, as well as draft picks, the Rams may find it difficult to duplicate last year’s success in free agency. That number could increase if Steven Jackson or Danny Amendola are retained, but that remains to be seen. Also, safety Quintin Mikell is due a $6 million salary and counts $9 million against the cap. St. Louis will either re-construct his contract or cut ties with him completely.
As questions hover over the Rams’ cap situation, here are options at positions of need available via free agency:
This could possibly be a make-or-break year for Sam Bradford. If the Rams wish to tap into Bradford’s full potential, keeping him upright should be the number one priority. Barry Richardson was the weakest link on the Rams O-line, as he was constantly beat by speed rushers on the edge. St. Louis could go after the Dolphins’ former number one overall pick Jake Long and slide Roger Saffold to the right side, but he would demand more than the Rams would like to spend. A lot of buzz is swirling around Patriot’s rising right tackle Sebastian Vollmer. He would immediately fill the void if they choose to go that route.
Other notable tackles is Ryan Clady (DEN), Sam Baker (ATL), Phil Loadholt (MIN), Bradon Albert (KC), Jermom Bushrod (NO), Andre Smith (CIN) and William Beatty (NYG). At guard, Buffalo’s Andy Levitre is the headliner followed Louis Vasquez of the Chargers.
The Rams were in the middle of the pack in the league with a total of 21 takeaways. Starting safeties Mikell and Craig Dahl combined for a total of one interception. Perhaps their biggest need, the Rams could have two new safeties next season. Jairus Byrd is the most sought after of the safety bunch. Byrd has a total of 19 career interceptions and leaped onto the scene as rookie hauling in nine. He corralled five INT’s this past season. Dashon Goldson of the division rival 49ers is also a highlight of the class. Often known as a hard-hitting safety, Goldson had 14 INT’s during his tenure in the Bay area.
Both Byrd and Goldson are still in their prime, at ages 26 and 28, respectively. Other notable names are William Moore (ATL), Kenny Phillips (NYG), Louis Delmas (DET), James Ihedigbo (BAL) and Corey Lynch (SD).
With the decision not to hire Rob Ryan as their defensive coordinator, St. Louis avoided a huge overhaul in re-configuring the defensive unit. Beside safety, OLB was the only weak spot on the Rams’ defense. For a unit that is already on the brink of cracking the top-10, if they are able to land a sideline-to-sideline OLB to plug in next to stalwart James Laurinaitis and Dunbar, who arguably became the Rams’ biggest pickup, they could possibly have one of the league’s top ranked defenses.
The quarterback position is evolving and linemen are becoming more athletic. This is forcing teams to covet rush OLB and switch to a 3-4 alignment. The only notable 4-3 linebackers are Daryl Smith (JAC), Phillip Wheeler (OAK) and Dannell Ellerbe (BAL). Rey Maualuga could also be an option.
WIDE RECEIVER, TIGHT END
I believe the perception is bigger than the actual need for a wide receiver in St. Louis. They got surprising production from 4th-round WR Chris Givens and the organization is still developing Brian Quick. Though troublesome, the recently acquired Titus Young can stretch the field and become a solid number two. If the now often-injured Amendola isn’t resigned, Pettis has reliable hands to step in and fill the void. Brandon Gibson is most likely gone if another team overpays for him.
If the Rams wish to address this position via agency, the class is loaded with star power. Greg Jennings (GB) is perhaps the best wideout available, but he’ll be 30 in September and has a history of injuries. Jennings might be a big risk considering the amount of money he will command. A popular name among Rams fan is Dwayne Bowe of Kansas City. Bowe has eclipsed 1,000 yards three times in his NFL career and 995 yards as a rookie. A lot of grumbling has been surfacing about his inconsistency, but a lot of that can be credited to poor quarterback play. He has caught passes from Brodie Croyle, Tyler Palko, Tyler Thigpen, Damon Huard, Brady Quinn and Matt Cassel. Need I say more? However, Bowe may also command a lot of money.
Other notable WR are Mike Wallace (PIT), Wes Welker (NE) and Brian Hartline (MIA).
Lance Kendricks enjoyed a breakout season, but this regime has no ties to him. Matthew Mulligan and Mike McNeil were primarily used as blockers, combining for on 12 receptions last season. Adding a receiving TE to go along with Kendricks could also bolster the receiving core. Athletic and rangy TE Jared Cook has been linked to the Rams because he played under Jeff Fisher in Tennessee.
Other available tight ends are Fred Davis (WAS), Brandon Myers (OAK), Martellus Bennett (NYG) and Dustin Keller (NYJ).
The Rams have already secured their place Kicker and punter for years to come in Greg Zuerlein and Johnny Hekker were both rookies this past season. What the Rams need is premier returnman. They have experimented with Amedola, Pettis, Givens, Isaiah Pead and Janoris Jenkins, but neither have panned out. Young may be suited to return kickoffs and punts as well.
Notable KR/PR available: Ted Ginn Jr. (SF), Joshua Cribbs (CLE) and Brandon Tate (CIN).