The St Louis Rams’ 2014 season has been over for a long while, but matters came to an official end with the New England Patriots’ victory over Seattle at last week’s Super Bowl. What NFL fans are up against now is that annual abyss of nothingness where headlines are dominated by college prospects, coaching changes, and the inevitable offseason arrests. In an attempt to justify their salaries during this silly season, commentators clutch at straws to make something out of nothing, secretly hoping for more player indiscretions to fill column inches. It is the time of year which makes true football fans.
The Rams’ search for an offensive co-ordinator is thankfully over after a soap opera of farcical proportions. Free agency is a few weeks away, and the Draft is frantically waving at us from the far side of the room of time. The scouting combine – and the NFL’s nauseatingly repetitive coverage of this annual meat-fest – is next on the agenda, but, in the meantime, all is relatively quiet. But, of course, this is yet another key off-season for the blue-and-gold, so even in these days of seeming inactivity, there are important issues lurking below the surface:
What will happen at quarterback?
This is, perhaps, the most intriguing of offseason issues, and the one that could have the most impact on the team’s prospects for 2015-16. Sam Bradford will once again be returning after his second consecutive offseason injury, and head coach Jeff Fisher has already committed himself to reinstating the former Number One pick. A healthy Bradford is clearly the best quarterback on the roster, and the Rams should take advantage of what, we hope, will be Sam’s eagerness to prove himself as a long-term starter. But, the injury history is still a major concern, as is the lack of depth at the position – as last season’s struggles proved. There are some – though not many – intriguing options through free agency, trades, and the Draft, but, of course, none of these offer much greater certainty than relying on Bradford’s crystal knees. It is clear that important decisions need to be made, but little can happen until Sam’s hefty contract is looked at, and, possibly, re-structured. The only certainty is that Bradford will not be making the money he is contracted to make next season, neither with the Rams nor with anyone else.
What will the Rams do with the Number Ten pick?
This is a topic that will generate immense debate over these next few months, particularly as the Draft picture starts to take better shape after the combine and pro days. Amateur and professional analysts alike will consider a multitude of possibilities – staying put, trading up, trading down – all with the inevitability that none of them will get it right. The Rams’ many needs will be thoroughly considered, with many pinning the future of the franchise on youngsters who have not played a single down in the NFL. The current consensus tends to shift from interior offensive line to safety, with the comment sections of many blogs alight with the value-over-need debate. A quarterback looks unlikely at 10, but with so many permutations depending on what the Rams do in free agency, at this stage we might as well be predicting the Lotto numbers.
Who will be cut?
The offseason is as much about who loses their jobs than about new additions to the squad. Some of the more successful younger Rams have made older players more expendable (see Aaron Donald and Kendall Langford) and the front office might see this as a valuable opportunity to shift some of the salary weight. Veterans such as Scott Wells and Davin Joseph have clearly outstayed their welcome, while the future of Jake Long looks shaky. Some commentators have even suggested that players such as Jo-Lonn Dunbar, James Laurinaitis and even Chris Long could be offseason casualties (I might have agreed with the latter until I saw the significant improvement to the d-line on his return), and what happens to Kenny Britt could also dictate whether wide receiver becomes a priority for the 700th season running. Lance Kendricks will also be a free agent soon, and the team needs to decide what they will do with this under-rated player who quietly led the team in touchdown receptions.
Are the Rams moving to L.A.?
This is a question that will probably not be answered this offseason, but it will hang over the franchise for as long as it is a possibility. The fact that the Rams have not ruled out the potential move – thereby avoiding a major distraction – is an indicator that, at the very least, they could be considered candidates for relocation. It is not clear what effect this would have on the Rams’ offseason plans, but the uncertainty of the situation could discourage players who might not relish the turmoil of such an upheaval, while others could prefer the quieter mid-west to the commotion of the City of Angels. Alternatively, it could end up not being a factor at all. But, what is clear is that the confusion will not help the franchise for as long as the threat of relocation looms.