Likely Scenarios For 2014 St. Louis Rams’ Free Agents
Likely Scenarios For 2014 St. Louis Rams' Free Agents
There will be a lot of decisions to be made on the part of St. Louis Rams GM Les Snead. The plan to draft and develop players has been in place for almost two full seasons under Snead and HC Jeff Fisher with some solid return for their efforts. Last year the team nearly eclipsed the .500 mark for the first time in nearly a decade only to fall short at 7-8-1. It was a quick turnaround for a team that battled in the cellar of the NFC for years.
The Rams have not been as good as the preseason hype created by the media and experts that predicted them to be a dark horse favorite for the playoffs, but there have been some extremely bright spots for the even younger team. The roster has been completely turned over with many new faces, and to put it in the words of C Tim Barnes who has been with the Rams since 2011, "I barely recognize the team now from when I joined them." Only a few select players have survived the cuts since Snead took over.
The Rams have many backups, special teamers, and a few key players due to become free agents at the end of the 2013 season. That means finding ways to keep players they need through the restructuring of current contracts and trimming the fat. Snead will have to be creative in restructuring the contracts of the foundation of the team starting with Sam Bradford, Chris Long, and James Laurinaitis. Some of these positions can be filled through re-signing of current players and addition through the draft as Snead and Fisher have preferred to do since joining the Rams staff.
Tim Barnes Has 4 Games To Prove Value At C
The 25 year old center is getting his first real opportunity to start in the NFL this week. He can prove his worth to the team by performing admirably for the last four games of the season and earn himself a decent payday as the backup next year to continue his steady special teams play. Barnes is an intellectual player that has had to prove himself each day after going undrafted. Since joining the Rams Barnes has proven he is a capable man on the line on special teams, but being a starting center will add versatility and value to his future contract. He will be a cheap option for the Rams to keep close to home in Missouri. Most likely he will re-sign for a reasonable amount as the team has exclusive rights to him.
Improvements Need to Be Made On The Offensive Line
St. Louis has many linemen going up for free agency at the end of the season. Rodger Saffold is by far the most talented and needed to keep the line at least solid. Saffold could be the only lineman to price himself out of the Gateway City. With his versatility and abilities Saffold will most likely be set up to earn $4 million a year or more depending on where a team needs him. He is a monster at RG with his athletic ability and strength combination. At the tackle position he is still an above average option but not nearly as dominant. Recently I heard former Ram D'Marrco Farr gushing about Saffold's play at guard, and I agree with him. His potential at guard far outweighs his potential as a tackle. Don't look for him to be in St. Louis next season unless he takes a pay cut and moves to guard.
LG Chris Williams has received most of the playing time at LG this season and has nearly been a negative or even grade all season. The Rams really need to look at upgrading the position any way they can this offseason. Williams could be a cheap option for a few years, but you won't get the best results from him. St. Louis might look to re-sign him based on salary cap limitations.
Shelley Smith is a swingman on the interior of the line, but his upside is not very high. He's a cheap and mostly ineffective option that only adds depth. It would be a smart move to let him walk and give Barrett Jones a chance to step up next year as a full time back up/swingman.
Kellen Clemens Has Earned A Contract For Next Season
Kellen Clemens' play has not been spectacular this season, but it has been far improved compared to what I and many others were expected after Bradford went down. I had my doubts about Clemens' abilities, and you can go back to my past stories to confirm it. I admit I was incorrect as he has performed more than well enough to earn a contract somewhere next year. He's proven that he deserves a roster spot, but his chances of returning with the Rams will largely depend on where St. Louis goes in the draft. I am a believer in the Rams needing a young QB that can take over at QB when Bradford's guaranteed money runs out in 2015.
If they draft a QB in the second or third round of the draft this season and give him two years to develop behind Bradford it gives them a chance to make a decision on Bradford at that juncture. Still, Fisher likes Clemens as the backup which was made clear when he selected Clemens over the younger, more athletic Austin Davis. If they re-sign Clemens it will most likely be a deal similar to his near $900,000 contract for this season for a year, maybe two.
Jo-Lonn Dunbar Gives Rams Solid LB Corps
Jo-Lonn Dunbar came in last year and immediately changed the Rams' run defense. He provides powerful hits and is solid in pass coverage. His suspension for PEDs hurts his leverage when it comes to contract negotiations, because even if you believe it was an accident or just a mistake on his part it hurts his reputation. Teams won't want to take a chance on a player that isn't a superstar. The combination of James Lauranaitis, Alec Ogletree, and Dunbar is one of the better linebacking groups the Rams have had in recent years. Fisher likes Dunbar's play and I am sure the Rams will try to find a way to bring him back for another year or two at $1-2 million a year. However, anything over $1.5 million is an overpay for a player that doesn't reel in a lot of sacks, fumbles, or interceptions at LB.
What To Do With The Safeties
The play of St. Louis' safeties has left a lot to be desired. It was a point of emphasis last year and the Rams did well in selecting T.J. McDonald in the draft. Still, there is a lot that needs to be done in the secondary to fix it. Darian Stewart is a more than capable starter that has struggled to stay healthy enough to stay on the field. Stewart is an above average athlete at safety, but he struggles to make head turning plays. He won't get a big contract whether he goes or stays, but Snead has to find an upgrade at safety to someone that is a center field type. It is likely that he will return for another year, but it's not a guarantee.
The Rams made a move to add depth to the secondary and special teams when they went after Matt Giordano. Giordano provides depth and a veteran presence, but he is not what they need patrolling the deep zone or trying to man up on the freak hybrid tight ends of the NFL. He could come back to the Rams if there are no other shoppers on the market for a backup safety/special teams player. St. Louis has to focus on all parts of the secondary in the draft in order to upgrade their pass defense.
Mike McNeill Will Stick Around
Tight end is not a position of need for St. Louis with Lance Kendricks and Jared Cook under contract. Mike McNeill performs well as the third option with good hands and provides a solid blocking option at FB and on the end of the line. He is an affordable commodity for the Rams to hold onto at a cheap rate. If they choose not to re-sign him it won't be a big loss, but it would be in their best interest to hold on to a versatile cheap player that sees time on special teams as well. You might not be able to pick him out of a crowd, but McNeill does a lot for this Rams team.