Re-signing Roger Saffold and Jo-Lonn Dunbar. Offers accepted by a few Restricted Free Agents. Picking up Alex Carrington, Shaun Hill, Etienne Sabino and Greg Reid. Missing out on Jairus Byrd and Alterraun Verner. Rumors about Kenny Britt. When the Rams’ front office said they would be keeping a low profile during free agency, they certainly were not joking. The Rams have been one of the quietest teams around, and have made a few low-key additions to the squad, presumably in the hope of leaving the real strengthening in the Draft. Armed with two first-round picks – including Number Two overall – the Rams are definitely in a position to take key strides next month.
Free agency can, at times, affect a team’s draft strategy, but in adding mainly backups to the team, the Rams’ priorities have not changed much. Retaining Saffold might have been seen as an imperative move, but it hardly alters the team’s key needs. Saffold looks as if he will now be enjoying the remainder of his career as a guard, and the Rams are hot on tackle Roger Barksdale, but, with a few marquee players available in the draft, tackle is still high on the team’s agenda. It is true that re-signing Saffold might have made interior linemen less of a priority, but the importance of protecting Sam Bradford means that the overall strategy has not changed. Likewise Dunbar. Should an outside linebacker fall to the Rams in the Draft, expect them to make a move.
Wide receiver was another position that many identified as a major need for the franchise, and the Rams have not addressed this in free agency. While signing Britt would give the team a proven big and speedy target that could stretch the field, the move must be seen as a temporary low-risk/high-reward measure. Gaining Britt would be a bonus reinforcement for a corps that badly needs a playmaker, but it would not fill the need on a more permanent basis. The Rams are still looking for this receiver, and will head into the draft with the position among the top of their shopping list, regardless of Britt’s decision.
Another interesting move is at quarterback. Fears about Bradford’s performance and his recovery from injury, when combined with Kellen Clemens’ departure, made many see the Rams draft a project quarterback in the lower rounds. The team signed Shaun Hill, a veteran who has had some successful experience at the position. This should fill the void left by Clemens, but, again, this is not a long-term solution. The Rams need to draft a quarterback who, in Bradford and Hill’s shadow, will learn the game and slowly develop into a capable backup. Austin Davis may once have been this developmental quarterback, but the Rams did not seem to use him as such last season. It is possible that he may find himself competing for a final roster spot after the Draft.
The biggest impact on drafting strategy, however, may have come from the Rams’ failure to address the safety position in free agency. None of the more attractive options at the position – Byrd, T. J Ward, Chris Clemons – signed for the team, leaving the Rams very thin in the defensive backfield. Safety has always been a major priority for the Rams this off-season, but it now seems like an urgency. Should the Rams find themselves get beaten to any tackles, receivers or quarterbacks they cherish in the Draft, they could take some – though not much – comfort in the fact that they, at least, have Saffold, (maybe) Britt and Hill. At safety, however, there is literally nothing. And this needs to change on draft day.