It’s a well-documented fact that St. Louis Rams’ Head Coach Jeff Fisher has never used a first round pick on an offensive lineman.
Should that change in April and Fisher opts to use either the second or 13th overall pick to shore up his line, it makes sense that they’d go for a tackle given Jake Long’s age and ACL/MCL injury, Rodger Saffold’s high level of productivity when switched to guard and Joe Barksdale’s uncertain long-term status with the team (outlined expertly by ESPN’s Nick Wagoner). Not only was Saffold a revelation at guard, but he’s also due to become an unrestricted free agent in 2014.
When the Rams pick at No. 2, they figure to have a couple obvious choices should they decide to select a tackle. Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews seems to be the consensus top choice at the position, but Auburn’s Greg Robinson is shooting up draft boards after a dominant performance in Monday night’s BCS National Championship game. Either choice seems safe and would provide both tackle depth and a potential replcement for Long, but where does that leave the guard position?
Along with Saffold, guards Shelley Smith and Chris Williams are also headed for unrestricted free agency, and there is a chance that Harvey Dahl falls victim to the Rams’ limited cap space. That leaves only Brandon Washington remaining on the roster as a true guard. As a backup, Washington made his first and only appearance in two seasons with the Rams in Week 17’s 27-9 loss to the Seahawks. Given the Rams’ limited amount of funds this offseason, the team is looking at trotting out a 2014 starting offensive line that may look remarkably different from last season.
I’m of the belief that the Rams must make re-signing Saffold a priority this offseason, but whether his future would then lie at guard is questionable. Saffold has proven a more-than-capable left tackle in the league, a position that regularly attracts a large paycheck. If the Rams manage to keep Saffold, his versatility will likely be more of an immediate focus than his long-term position due to the Rams’ thinness along the interior of the line.
Then there’s Barrett Jones, the center/guard that the Rams selected out of Alabama with the 113th pick in last year’s draft. Jones was a regular on the inactives list in his first season of professional ball, but his achievements in college were substantial and give merit to discussion of an increased role in 2014 given the team’s lack of interior line depth. At different times in his college career, Jones played left tackle, center and right guard. Of his 50 collegiate starts, 25 came at the guard position. However, he was awarded the Rimington Trophy in 2012 as the nation’s best center, and also picked up the Outland Trophy, which honors tha nation’s top interior lineman overall. What Rams’ coches have in store for Jones going forward remains to be seen, but harking back the “V” word, Jones’ versatility may be crucial next season.
As far as depth goes, there is talent in the middle rounds of the draft at guard (I’ll leave the details here to the offense-heavy mock draft over at Turf Show Times), but it seems that the Rams may have to allocate a bit of cash towards bringing in a free agent. Restructuring Dahl’s contract is a possibility as well, but it may be far down the list of Rams’ priorities. Dahl’s injury history of late and relatively uninspiring play may take the Rams a different route. Giants guard Kevin Boothe will hit the market as an unrestricted free agent, and he has also played at all three position along the interior of the line. At 31, he may be looking for one last long-term contract, but I doubt the Rams would have to break the bank for his services. Boothe started Super Bowl XLVI for the Giants at left guard, and perhaps that experience could prove valuable for what looks to be a young-ish offensive line in 2014.
Kansas City’s Geoff Schwartz will also be available, and at 28 years old, can perhaps provide some long-term consistency at the position. Schwartz came on strong in the latter half of 2013 and ended up taking the starting position away from fellow guard Jon Asamoah. The Chief’s running game was fearsome in 2013, finishing in the top-10 overall led by running back Jamaal Charles’ 1,287 yards. The Rams have transformed into a run-first team with the emergence of running back Zac Stacy, and it would be to their benefit to bring in a player like Schwartz should he be affordable.
Worth noting – Miami guard and former Ram Richie Incognito will hit the unrestricted free agent market in 2014 as well. That one’s just for chuckles.
What it all boils down to is that the rocky situation presented by the offensive line will be a major focus in the 2014 offseason. I’m firmly in favor of re-signing Saffold, but whether it’s through free agency or the draft, plan on seeing some new faces along the interior of the offensive line come fall.
Is this the best tweet ever by the St. Louis Rams’ official Twitter account?