For those football junkies that truly believe that there is no “offseason” in the NFL, today is like Christmas morning. At 4:00pm, free agency will officially begin, marking the start of the 2013 season (at least in terms of the rosters). With anticipation building, we at Ramblin’ Fan figured we would give everyone some helpful hints about going through the process!
1. Don’t fret over other teams getting new toys
There was mass hysteria in the Twitter-verse yesterday when the announcements came that Seattle had traded for Percy Harvin and the 49ers had traded for Anquan Boldin. There was seemingly an instant demand for action by the St. Louis Rams, which simply was not going to occur prior to the start of free agency. Now, with the period about to open up, many will expect the Rams to pull in some huge name by 4:01pm. Not all acquisitions come in the opening minutes of free agency, especially if those involve restricted free agents with high-value tenders. So Rams Nation, do not freak out if the St. Louis Rams are slow out of the gate to sign the next big superstar. Remember the “Dream Team” back in 2011 after the Philadelphia Eagle “won” free agency? Every team has a plan, and not every player fits into every system. #InFisherWeTrust
2. Sometime boring news is the best news
While picking up Jake Long might grab the cover of Sports Illustrated, sometimes the most important deals of the offseason are simply re-signing players to the roster. For the St. Louis Rams, there are some big names that could be wearing new uniforms in ’13. First and foremost, the Rams need to get a deal in place for William Hayes, who was unarguably the best 4-3 rotational defensive lineman during the ’12 season. Bradley Fletcher is another familiar name on the defense that the St. Louis Rams might want to hold onto, especially in an evolving league of the spread, pass-oriented offense. The Rams have already started the process with the re-signing of Jermelle Cudjo and the tendering of Darian Stewart, so look out for some of the less “flashy” moves by the team as free agency begins.
3. March 13th is not the final roster
While the “big names” will likely drive media to talks of how they will change the dynamic of their new team in ’13, the St. Louis Rams roster will not be cemented by morning tomorrow. Free agency is like “rolling enrollment” and more pieces will continue to move around up until, and after, the NFL Draft in April. While it may sting to watch Seattle or San Francisco sign player after player, there is not necessarily any rush to start making transactions. Fisher and Snead undoubtedly have a plan for the offseason, and that might include less of a splash in free agency, and more of a focus on the NFL Draft. There is, sadly, plenty of time before Bradford takes the opening snap of the ’13 season, and there is no telling what the “new” roster is going to look like in 5 or 6 months.
4. Don’t raise your nose to lesser-known players
Prior to last season, the vast majority of NFL fans’ outside of New Orleans had no clue about Jo-Lonn Dunbar. Now, he is one of the most beloved players on the St. Louis Rams defense, made an argument for a Pro Bowl birth in ’12, and single-handedly ended Alex Smith’s career in San Francisco. Sometimes a good scheme fit and the opportunity to get on the field is all a player needs to unleash his potential in the NFL. With the combination of scouting and coaching experience between Les Snead and Jeff Fisher, there will undoubtedly be some acquisition that will leave most of us stratching our heads in confusion. In the NFL, producing on one team does not necessitate production on the next; the same thing goes for the opposite.
5. Don’t be smitten with statistics or highlight films
Most of my years focused on analyzing data and formulating those findings into a coherent statement to support my point. In the NFL, it is not hard to put a spin on someone’s number to make that person look much more talented and productive then they really were on the field. Sacks and touchdowns are nice figures for a casual bar conversation, but those shouldn’t be the make or break “statistics” for any player. Remember also that team changes more than likely means a scheme change for that player. Just because Calvin Johnson got nearly 200 targets in the Detroit offense does not mean he would get anywhere near that number in significant less pass-happy St. Louis’ offense. Moreover, some systems inherently make player look better than they really are… just ask Kansas City or Arizona how all those quarterbacks from New England and Philadelphia have worked out.
The second mistake we often make it getting entranced by some spectacular highlight reel, showing touchdown after touchdown in dominating fashion. They are called highlight reels for a reason… Josh Cribbs might look like the best player in the NFL if you piece together every big play he has made over the last 5 years, but what it won’t show is the other 80% of the snaps he takes on the field.
The likely targets…
If you heed all of the previously mentioned warnings, you might be able to sit back and actually enjoy the thrill of free agency today. For those who are wondering what to expect from the St. Louis Rams, there are several likely targets for the team. Clearly, the most obvious place to start is the offensive line, where there is seemingly an opening at both left guard and right tackle. While the Warmack/Cooper talk has been fairly consistent in mock drafts, there should be some pause on the idea that Fisher would “give up on” the 4th round pick from last year’s draft, Rok Watkins. There are plenty of options at right tackle though, including some household names and a few middle-tier players.
The St. Louis Rams might also be looking to fill at least one of the vacancies in the deep secondary. Louis Delmas, Dashon Goldson, and Adrian Wilson are all veteran players that the St. Louis Rams could be looking to sign. Other spots, like wide receiver and outside linebacker, are also possibilities, although the smart money is on the team addressing those positions at some point in the NFL Draft. Also, you can bank on the Rams grabbing some “depth” players, or players that will be used in rotation, as opposed to being boneified starters from Day 1 . Depending on who they actually release and retain, St. Louis may look for depth on the offensive/defensive line, at linebacker, and wide receiver.