In most sports, the trade deadline during the actual season is the most active and exciting time of the year for player moves. For the NFL, at least this year, it appears as though the “tag” deadline will be hard to beat, especially if you have any stock in the Kansas City Chiefs. So, with all of the tagging, and not tagging, how does the free agent market look now?
While the contract figures have not officially been released, Dwayne Bowe has reportedly signed a five-year contract with the Kansas City Chiefs worth roughly $11 million per year. With Bowe off the market, there are few to no elite wide receiver prospects left to be signed. The New England Patriots did not franchise Wes Welker, but likely have the money and the cap space to sign him to, at least, a short-term deal to stay with Brady. The Green Bay Packers have explicitly stated the desire to re-sign Greg Jennings, following the announced retirement of Donald Driver. Finally, everyone with a cap un-friendly contract in Pittsburgh restructured their deal, which could mean the oft-dissatisfied Mike Wallace could finally see the huge deal he has been searching for during his numerous holdouts over the last couple of seasons.
The second tier of available receivers is a steep drop off, especially considering, according to NFL.com, the next-best pool includes three current/former St. Louis Rams players: Brandon Gibson, Danny Amendola, and Donnie Avery. By all accounts, the Rams best option is to re-sign one, or both, of our current wide outs, and pursue a wide receiver in the upcoming 2013 NFL Draft; Cordarrelle Patterson or Tavon Austin anyone?
We also might look at some of the “cast off” players that have yet to succeed in the NFL, for one reason or another. The St. Louis Rams could certainly benefit from a player like Jerome Simpson, who had some solid production in Cincinnati before signing with Minnesota and indulging himself in their “pass-happy” offense.
My guess? The Rams will likely hand Gibson another contract and go for a wide out at either 16th or 22nd in the draft, depending on who is left on the board…
Offensive Line: Offensive Tackle and Guard
Unlike some positions, the linemen received very little love this offseason, at least in terms of getting handed the franchise tag or a big contract. Ryan Clady and Branden Albert were both tagged by their respective teams, but outside of that, the market is wide open with some intriguing names. Jake Long will garner most of the media attention, and is expected to be asking for a contract somewhere in the range of $11 million per year, which the St. Louis Rams can clearly not afford. Even if they had the cap space, there is a reason that Miami is letting the 2008 first overall pick walk without an offer; injuries.
On Ramblin’ Fan’s Free Agent Wish List, we asked Santa for Sebastian Vollmer, who was not given the tag by New England. While Vollmer has had his fair share of injuries, he shouldn’t be nearly as expensive as Jake Long, and is arguably the best right tackle in the league, which is what St. Louis needs. He would likely do much better in a less pass-oriented offense, and could benefit from playing next to the mauling Harvey Dahl on the line.
However, there are some of other options available if the Rams want to spend their allowance on a franchise offensive lineman. The Minnesota Vikings opted out of tagging Phil Loadholt, who is a monster in the run game, but will likely be re-signed to a long-term deal with a push from Adrian Peterson to retain him. The Bengals chose to tag defense over offense, leaving Andre Smith available if any team is willing to hand him the money. Alternatively, if St. Louis wants to sure-up the interior of the line, the Buffalo Bills have left one of the best guards in the league, Andy Levitre, scratching his head after they franchised Jairus Byrd. He would demand a hefty bag of cash, but would still be significantly less expensive than any of the free agent offensive tackles, especially those protecting the blindside.
The notorious “butt-fumble” in New York might be pinned on Mark Sanchez’s highlight reel for all of eternity, but so will Brandon Moore, the proud owner of that posterior. Moore would be an instant upgrade over Rob Turner or Rok Watkins, for now, and would come at a significantly reduced rate, at least in comparison to the rest of the previously mentioned players.
Defense: Outside Linebacker and Safety
This offseason, it appears that teams were much more concerned with losing their defensive super-stars than retaining their offensive role players. However, there are still some top-shelf talents left on the market for the St. Louis Rams, should they choose to blow their money on safety or an outside linebacker to join Jo-Lonn Dunbar and James Laurinaitis. The most intriguing name might be one that the Rams have become pretty familiar with over the last couple of seasons, Dashon Goldson. While San Francisco has more than enough cap room to retain any player they want, they seem willing to let Goldson try out the market. The one-time Pro Bowler has plenty left in the tank, and could be a more moderately priced version of Quintin Mikell, who should be chopped as a cap casualty in the coming weeks. Not only would he upgrade the backline of the secondary, but he could provide priceless intel on the San Francisco 49ers’ defensive and offensive schemes. Jeff Fisher should be salvating at the thought…
With Joe Flacco signing his blockbuster deal, the roster in Balitmore could look drastically different in the coming months. One of the potential causualties of his deal is the extremely under-rated Dannell Ellerbe. Ellerbe is an all-round linebacker that could play on either the weakside or strongisde in a 4-3 base defense, and is a Hall-of-Fame talent in comparison to Rocky McIntosh or Mario Haggan (no, I am not suggesting he is a HOFer). “Three-down” linebackers do not typically demand as much money as the pure pass-rushers, so he could be had for a relatively low cost.
There are several other safeties thought could be a good fit in St. Louis, should they choose to go in that direction. William Moore, a former Mizzou football star and Les Snead draftee, is one of the “big name” secondary players available in free agency. Atlanta did free up some cap room with their recent releases, but Moore is expected to test the market. Louis Delmas, from Detriot, is another intriguing option, especially given his connection to new defensive coordinator, and former Lions’ secondary coach, Tim Walton. Delmas’ injury troubles might drive down his asking price, but much like Sebastian Vollmer, he is one of the best in the league at his position when healthy.
As for other linebacker options, there are a number of potential fits in the Rams scheme, should they opt to pursue some strongside help in free agency. Daryl Smith, from Jacksonville, is one of the more underrated linebacker in the league, but will likely be retained by only team he has played for in his tenured career. Philip Wheeler and Erin Henderson could be low-cost options to fill in at linebacker. Wheeler is much younger, and would likely be better suited for the weakside, shifting Dunbar to SAM. Henderson is weak in coverage, but can still dominate against the run on the strongside; something that the St. Louis Rams have struggled at in the last couple of years.