The subject of the impending salary cap crunch has been a big topic for the St. Louis Rams in recent weeks. There’s no doubt the team will be looking to trim the budget down this offseason in order to free up some space to maneuver and make much-needed improvements in the offseason. One of the areas where those cuts could take place is along the offensive line, and that unit has some younger, cheaper talent vying for playing time in these final two weeks.
Obviously the team is set at left tackle after inking Jake Long to that big deal last offseason, but pretty much every other position is in flux. Moving along the line to left guard, Chris Williams is an impending free agent as is fellow guard Shelley Smith. Both have been average at best this season, and their futures are very much in question with the organization.
That’s where the finally active Barrett Jones comes into play as he will be getting his first playing time on offense this season after being inactive for the first 12 weeks during his recovery from an offseason surgery. He was a decorated collegiate lineman and brings a myriad of versatility to the Rams in the trenches. Hopefully his patience pays off and he shows signs of being a potential starter next season this week.
At center, veteran Scott Wells is as good as gone with his big cap number and injury issues. Younger, cheaper Tim Barnes will be a free agent this offseason, but he could be brought back at a bargain rate. If he can show promise in the middle of the line the Rams would be wise to consider him at that spot in 2014.
Right guard will likely see the aging Harvey Dahl exit stage left due to a substantial cap number next year. Rodger Saffold has looked great since kicking inside to that spot this season, but he will be a free agent when the year concludes. It’s possible he could get a big deal elsewhere to play left tackle since he manned that spot until Jake Long showed up, but it would be great for the Rams if they could bring him back to play guard on an affordable deal.
As for the right tackle spot where Saffold moved from, Joe Barksdale has been decent in his few games on the edge. He needs to show improvement over these final two weeks to convince the team that he is the solution moving forward at the position. Soon to be 26 years of age, Barksdale would keep the youth movement intact for this revamped line. He was a former third rounder for a reason, and the Rams still have him under contract for next year at a very affordable rate.
Though this will be an ongoing question for the team in these final two weeks, this game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be one-half of the equation toward solving the riddle along the offensive line. General manager Les Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher would love to see signs that they have at least three starters in their young guys auditioning over these coming games.