Jake Long Injury Drastically Changes St. Louis Rams' Offseason Plans

By roywhitehead
Jake Long
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The St. Louis Rams‘ fear of the worst came to light when it was announced that OT Jake Long was diagnosed with a torn MCL and ACL in his right knee. Rumblings that Long could return in time for the start of next season should be ignored. For every Adrian Peterson there are a thousands of Steve Smith types who never fully recover from the destructive injury to the joint. Smith was a member of the Rams after suffering his injury and never regained the same explosiveness he had prior.

That is a cautionary tale for all of you hopefuls. Looking at it realistically puts long back in a year, not six or eight months. A player that is that big and puts pressure on that knee every single down sliding to his left, right, or driving forward to create a hole for a running back shouldn’t be expected to recover on an Adrian Peterson timeline. Look at what happened with Robert Griffin III this season. He was rushed back to action after not seeing a single down in the preseason and looked awful until he was shut down.

Fortunately for St. Louis the same deal that landed the Washington Redskins RGIII gave them a guaranteed top 5 pick in this year’s draft. How can St. Louis prepare themselves for the start of next season without Long in the lineup? They have several options available depending on their salary cap issues. First they could elect to eliminate the contracts of Harvey Dahl and Scott Wells saving them $10 million that can go towards retaining the versatile Rodger Saffold.

Saffold will garner a lot of attention if he makes it to free agency. St. Louis could opt to sign him to a lucrative deal and allow him to fill in at LT until Long can return to action. As we saw on Sunday when Saffold seamlessly shifted from RG to LT mid-game he can handle the load anywhere on the line. When Long returns Saffold could pretty much fill in anywhere on the line. One thing is sure to me; they have to retain Saffold because he has the talent to play any position and he makes the line that much better when he is at guard.

The second option is to look to the draft where Jake Matthews, Taylor Lewan, and Cyrus Kouandijo have been given can’t miss pre-draft grades. With that they can either try to have one of the rookies fill in at LT or the smarter move would be having whichever one they draft start at RT where there is less pressure and shift someone else to LT. The recent play of Joe Barksdale would be intriguing to see if he could handle things at LT.

If HC Jeff Fisher‘s history says anything about the Rams’ draft prospects it is that he is one of the most unlikely coaches to take a tackle early. He has only used a pick higher than the third round on a lineman twice since becoming a head coach in 1994. There will be other options than the three guys who will go in the first round, but you aren’t looking at top talent for a position that has to be top-notch in protecting Sam Bradford‘s blindside. Later options include Morgan Moses, Zack Martin, or Cyril Richardson who could slip into the third round or beyond.

One thing is for sure: The RGIII trade is the gift that keeps giving. Whether you want to call it luck or great planning by the men in charge, it is turning out to be a good idea to spread the picks out over several drafts. Another choice that is very unlikely is for GM Les Snead to find someone in free agency. That would be a horrible idea after spending all of that money on Long and the team being salary cap limited already. It makes no sense to spend the amount of money it would take to bring a solid LT month or two rental when there are so many other areas of need in St. Louis.

Roy Whitehead is a St. Louis Rams writer for rantsports.com, follow him on Twitter @roypatrick1, or add him to your network on Google

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