Deciding Fate of Every St. Louis Rams 2014 Unrestricted Free Agent
St. Louis Rams: Deciding Fate of 2014 Unrestricted Free Agents
A drastic improvement in year one of the new regime with head coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead was supposed to lead to bigger and better things in year two. Although that never materialized in the 2013, it’s hard to call the St. Louis Rams’ season a failure.
An injury to signal-caller Sam Bradford really put the club behind the eight-ball in Week 7, and the uphill battle didn’t get any easier with a slew of other players underperforming throughout the season. Sophomore slumps afflicted many of the team’s younger success stories from the previous year, and some rookies failed to truly blossom as many expected.
But the hope is clearly visible with the NFL’s youngest roster two years running as Zac Stacy had an outstanding first campaign at running back and Alec Ogletree really stood out at linebacker. That young nucleus combined with two more first-round picks in the 2014 NFL Draft will allow the Rams to build an incredibly talented, young core to truly succeed for many years into the future.
Youth is certainly a great thing for a team to have on its side, but key veteran free agents are vital to the success of any roster. The Rams have several names set to hit the open market they would like to bring back in 2014, but there are nearly just as many the team should wave goodbye to this offseason.
If only GM Snead was listening it would make deciding the true fate of the unrestricted free agents in St. Louis much easier. Unfortunately that isn’t the case, but here is how each player with an expiring contract ranked in order of importance for how they should be prioritized this offseason.
10. Tim Barnes, C
He may actually be a restricted free agent, but center Tim Barnes is worth bending the rules for. With Scott Wells a candidate to be a salary cap casualty, Barnes becomes an absolute must to at least give the top tender if the team can’t work out a reasonable multiyear deal with him. He played well as replacement down the stretch in 2013 after Wells went on injured reserve (IR) with yet another injury, so it only makes sense for the team to do everything in its power to bring him back.
9. Mike McNeill, TE
Tight end isn’t exactly a need area for the Rams with Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks on the depth chart. At just 26-years-old when next season begins there’s a chance Mike McNeill’s back for depth purposes, but his role will be virtually nonexistent once again if he returns.
8. Will Witherspoon, LB
The addition of Will Witherspoon was one of familiarity and desperation prior to last season, and the Rams likely won’t be inclined to do it again for 2014. He only tallied 13 combined tackles all year and will be 34 years of age before next season begins. With Alec Ogletree and James Laurinaitis firmly entrenched it seems unlikely for Witherspoon to return next year.
7. Darian Stewart, S
The safety play was atrocious all year for St. Louis so it would be a real surprise if Darian Stewart returns next season. He is still just 25-years-old so potentially new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams can work some magic on him, but it’s likely the Rams will still draft a replacement this spring. Even still, a one-year deal with very little in guaranteed money could be in order just to keep some depth at the position.
6. Matt Giordano, S
Let’s just reiterate how awful the safety position played last season. Even though Matt Giordano barely saw the field and can’t be assessed much of the blame, it’s very unlikely the 31-year-old will return next season. He had just 14 combined tackles but did force a fumble and take an interception back to the house last year. Still, the young T.J. McDonald plus a combination of another rookie or Darian Stewart will be more than enough depth at the position.
5. Shelley Smith, OG
There really isn’t much in terms of depth at the guard position for the Rams, and Shelley Smith could be a bargain possibility another to re-sign this offseason. As much as the team wants to remake line it isn’t all possible in one offseason given the strict salary cap constraints they will be operating under. Something near the $575,000 he made this past season would make a lot of sense for the Rams if they could bring him back.
4. Chris Williams, OG
The same story applies to Chris Williams who really remade career with Rams after being declared a bust with the Chicago Bears. He offers versatility to play tackle if necessary and has played at a decent level as a guard in St. Louis. Another one-year deal at the right price would be an appealing option if the Rams still aren’t ready to thrust Barrett Jones into a starting role in 2014.
3. Jo-Lonn Dunbar, LB
39 combined tackles is all Jo-Lonn Dunbar was able to compile after a career year in 2012 saw him put up 91 with two interceptions and two forced fumbles. A PED suspension prior to the start of the 2013 season caused the Rams to cut him loose before bringing him back once that league-imposed ban was lifted. There’s no question he brings leadership that really aided team once he returned, and it would make sense for the Rams to bring him back on another potentially discounted, short-term deal given the PED issues and lack of production this past season.
2. Kellen Clemens, QB
It seems crazy to say this, but Kellen Clemens is pretty much a must re-sign given Sam Bradford’s knee reconstruction. Clemens played well in stretches season even though he was heavily criticized by many for his limitations under center. There’s no doubt the Rams will add a quarterback at some juncture of the 2014 NFL Draft, but hopefully that youngster won’t see the field outside of the preseason. Though Clemens isn’t one of the best backups in the league, he certainly isn’t the worst either. A relatively affordable deal should be possible for the soon-to-be 31-year-old journeyman.
1. Rodger Saffold, OL
There’s no question Rodger Saffold was one of the most important players in 2013 for a banged up Rams offensive line. Jake Long’s season-ending knee injury and subsequent reconstruction along with the newfound versatility to move inside to guard and play at Pro Bowl level makes bringing Saffold back top priority among the Rams’ free agents. The team is going to have to trim some fat from the budget to make ends meet, but one of their biggest investments after cutting dead weight is re-signing Saffold. He won’t turn 26 until June and is just now fully realizing his potential in the trenches. The Rams can’t afford to break the bank for him, but anything within reason must be done to make sure he’s still wearing a horned helmet in 2014.