The concept of grading free agency and the NFL Draft immediately after they happen, or while they are still happening, will always be a bit nonsensical, since none of us truly know how those players will pan out on their new teams. However, much like in school, “grading” is not necessarily about how well you can perform in the real world, but rather, how well you performed “on paper.” Heading in the offseason, the Rams “needs” list included: free safety, outside linebacker and general linebacker depth, nickelback and general cornerback depth, wide receiver, backup quarterback, defensive tackle depth, offensive tackle depth, and, most glaring of all, multiple starting-caliber guards.
While the St. Louis Rams were a tad late to the game in free agency, they have unarguably stepped up their game recently. In under a week, the Rams have made four “key” free agent signings, and appear to be the front-runners for their first “big name” pickup of the offseason. So, how would we grade their performance thus far?
Rodger Saffold, OG/OT
Most successful organizations have shown that the most “valuable” signings of the offseason are typically the re-signings of vital players to your own roster. Due to a “failed” physical and some ineptitude on the part of the Oakland Raiders, the St. Louis Rams were able to sustain their most valuable free agent, Rodger Saffold. While he did not get the $42 million deal that the Raiders had dangled in front of him at the start of free agency, Saffold was handed a solid five-year, $31 million contract, with roughly $15 million in guaranteed money. While that may seem like a lot for the oft-injured, former-tackle, the Rams intelligently built in a fourth-year opt-out clause, and “peaked” Saffold’s contract in 2015, when the cap is expected to raise another $10 million and several of the Rams’ Top 5 contracts are in their “low” year (i.e. Chris Long, James Laurinaitis, and Sam Bradford). Moreover, Saffold is only averaging $5.9 million over the next three seasons, which would slot him outside of the Top 10 guards in 2014, in terms of salary. Overall, the Rams got their “top priority” free agent target for fair market price on a team-friendly deal. Can’t do much better than that.
Jo-Lonn Dunbar, OLB
Re-signing the former New Orleans Saint was a no-brainer move for the St. Louis Rams. After allowing Dunbar to “test the waters,” they essentially handed him a one-year, $751,157 contract for 2014. Dunbar was average, at best, last year, after coming back from a four-game suspension to start the 2013 season. However, his true value lies in his intangibles (i.e. ferocious attitude and leadership) and his familiarity with Gregg Williams’ defensive system. Moreover, if you consider his performance in 2012, Dunbar could be considered a bornerline starting-caliber outside linebacker, which will give the Rams more flexibility on Draft Day knowing that there is someone on the roster that can play the position with some effectiveness. In all, the Rams re-signed a tone-setting veteran linebacker who can aid in the installation of Gregg Williams’ defensive scheme, and only had to dish out a “table scraps” contract to sustain him.
Greg Reid, CB/KR/PR
Reid was the first reported “signing” of the free agency period for the St. Louis Rams. The one-time Florida St. star had been sidelined for the last two years recovering from two ACL tears. Last week, presumably fully recovered, Reid showed off his talents at the FSU Pro Day, reportedly receiving several raving reviews from scouts, including some that hailed him as the “best looking defensive back on the field.” Obviously, Les Snead and Fisher agreed, signing him to a three-year, league minimum contract with the team. In his college prime, Reid was not only one of the top cornerbacks in the game, but arguably the best kicker returner at the college level. While unideal size, some off-the-field red flags, and a significant injury history all stand as hurdles for the young defensive back, he appears to have all the requisite skills necessary to compete for the “starting” nickelback role on the Rams roster. With a no-risk, all-reward contract, there is nothing not to like about the Greg Reid signing.
Etienne Sabino, LB
Similar to Reid, Sabino was a should-have-been draftee that fell short of making a roster due to injury. However, unlike Reid, Sabino was an “average” talent, who had an underwhelming career at the Ohio State University. The former-Buckeye is an extremely athletic, well-built linebacker who will likely serve as the understudy to James Laurinaitis in the interior of the backer corps.
NFL Comparison: Na’il Diggs
Bottom Line: Sabino is versatile prospect capable of rushing the passer, handling tight ends, and holding the point as a strong side ‘backer and also works hard to plug holes when lined up inside. Sabino still has upside, but will need to prove he can play on special teams. -NFL.com
Assuming that Sabino can make the final roster, he will provide some much needed linebacker depth, and could play a significant role as a special-teamer. With the Rams signing him to a minimum, one-year contract, the one-time mid-round prospect is another no-risk, all-reward pickup for St. Louis. However, his relatively-low impact “ceiling” doesn’t give him as much value as Greg Reid.
Alex Carrington, DE/DT
As a former-3rd round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, Carrington is one of the only signees with any substantial playing time in the league. The versatile defensive linemen was used all over the field in Buffalo, literally having played four “different” positions in the Bills’ ever-changing defensive scheme. Carrington made Pro Football Focus’ “Secret Superstar” list prior to the start of the 2013 season, a year that the newly-crowned starter would play in only three games due to a season-ending injury. Following the 2012 season, the highly-reputable PFF had this to say about the 3-4 DE, 4-3 DT hybrid,
…Carrington blocked three more kicks in 2012 to set a franchise single-season record, and finished 2012 with the highest PFF grade by a special teamer.
Nevertheless, Carrington’s breakout season wasn’t confined to special teams. He earned a +8.7 overall grade on defense, with only three negatively-graded games. He averaged a pressure every 10 pass rushes, and his 7.8 PRP tied for the 10th-highest mark of any DT. Though he still graded negatively versus the run, he improved upon his 2011 performance and had some bright spots, like a defensive stop on 4th-and-1 in his final game of the season.
Much like his role in Buffalo, Carrington will be a rotational player on the defensive line behind entrenched starters, Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford. However, defensive tackle depth was a problem at times for the Rams last season, with William Hayes likely providing the only “competent” relief on the interior; and that was merely as a situational pass rusher. Like the Dunbar signing, Carrington allots the Rams more flexibility on Draft Day. However, unlike Dunbar, the former-Bill still has plenty of “upside” as a player in the NFL, and has the potential to be a highly impactful player in 2014. To top it all off, it was announced earlier today that the Rams signed Carrington to a one-year, $1.5 million contact. Absolute steal!
Shaun Hill, QB
The long-time Detroit Lions’ backup had been on the Rams rumor radar for nearly a week before his signing was announced yesterday. Shaun Hill comes into St. Louis as the “replacement veteran” for Kellen Clemens, who left for relatively-lucrative deal with the San Diego Chargers this offseason. While Hill may not be a master of the Schottenheimer offense, he is still considered one of the best backups in the league. Back in 2010, Hill started 10 games, completing 61.8% of his passes for 2,686 yards and 16 touchdowns. Unlike a Mark Sanchez or Mike Vick, Hill is a non-threat to incumbent starter Sam Bradford. However, he is as solid of a backup as there is in the league, and fills a void on the Rams depth chart that has been there, arguably, since St. Louis selected Bradford with the first overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.
Looking back at the “areas of need,” the Rams have quietly “filled” over half without making a single selection in April. Saffold is not only a Top 15 starting guard, but also provides depth at offensive tackle. Jo-Lonn Dunbar fills the void at the other outside linebacker spot. Greg Reid has the skill set, when healthy, to compete for the starting nickelback role, as well as potentially easing the pressure on Tavon Austin as a kick returner. Etienne Sabino, if nothing else, could be a valuable special teams player, and could very-well make the roster as a depth player at inside linebacker. Alex Carrington provides much needed depth on the interior of the defensive line, with the potential to eventually move into a starting role with some development. Lastly, Shaun Hill finally provides the Rams with a “proven,” veteran backup quarterback.
Overall, we’d give the St. Louis Rams a solid, way-too-early B+ grade for their offseason thus far. They have quietly signed a number of quality players to fill vital roles, all while avoiding “breaking the bank” on any single free agent. In fact, at this point, all six signing will likely count less than $9 million combined against the Rams’ salary cap in 2014, an impressive feat given some of the ridiculously large contracts that were handed out this offseason. With Kenny Britt still on the radar and the entire 2014 NFL Draft class yet to be selected, that B+ grade is clearly a bit pre-mature. However, the Rams have certainly started off on the right track.
Visit TiqIQ.com for the best deals on tickets as soon as the Rams 2014 schedule is released!
Tags: St. Louis Rams