Plenty of areas saw significant improvement for the St. Louis Rams in 2012. One of the exceptions to that statement was the outside linebacker where the club struggled for continuity and consistency throughout the year. Now that the Rams have solidified a successful nucleus for much of their defense, this is the offseason where the outside linebacker position needs to be addressed.
Obviously James Laurinaitis remains the leader of the linebacking corps as he has been all four of his seasons in the NFL. He has been Mr. Consistency starting all 64 possible contests during that time period accumulating more than 100-plus tackles to lead the club in all of those years. He received some help in an unexpected addition last offseason when the team brought Jo-Lonn Dunbar on board from the New Orleans Saints. His signing was relatively unnoticed prior to the season starting, but once the action began, Dunbar had an instant impact on the field.
In order to continue that trend in the right direction however, the Rams must find a strong side linebacker to complement these two. A combination of Rocky McIntosh and Mario Haggan manned the spot last year, but both are free agents and neither stood out. The team needs to add another backer for the strong side or they could choose to slide Dunbar over and find a new weak side backer. Either way, the Rams must add some help at the linebacker level.
The two obvious options are either the draft or free agency, but given their limited salary cap resources, the team will likely be forced to wait rather than sign one of the bigger names on the market. That isn’t such a bad option as Dunbar proved last offseason.
Perhaps the most intriguing of all free agents set to hit the market is Detroit Lions linebacker Justin Durant. He had 103 tackles in 2012 and the Rams new defensive coordinator Tim Walton is very familiar with him from his time spent in the Motor City. He could come at an affordable price having carried a $3.625 million cap hit in 2012. Durant could very easily be this year’s Dunbar having familiarity with an incoming defensive coordinator (remember, Gregg Williams was set to be the defensive mastermind a year ago hailing from the Saints).
In the end, don’t expect the Rams to be ultra-aggressive when it comes to finding a replacement at the strong side linebacker position. They will likely bide their time and make an astute acquisition that turns out to be another big addition to the defense. General Manager Les Snead has proven that he can improve the team without going wild in free agency so expect that philosophy to continue this offseason.