As we creep slowly towards free agency, we thought it might be appropriate to go back and rank the free agent signings of the Fisher/Snead era from both a performance and overall value standpoint. The Rams have limited funds to work with this offseason, so making smart deals for free agent talent will be key if the Rams want to take the next step in 2014. Here’s how their efforts over the last two years shook out:
5. Jared Cook
Cook makes the list, but barely. The five year, $35.1 million contract the Rams dealt to the 26-year-old tight end wasn’t quite justified in his first season with the Rams, but Cook did lead the team with 671 receiving yards and added five touchdowns to his haul. The downside of his season was that a large chunk of his production came in Week 1 against the Cardinals when he caught seven balls for 141 yards and two touchdowns. Outside of that game, he’d only top 49 yards receiving in one other game, an 80 yard effort against the Bears in Week 11. Perhaps year two will pay greater dividends.
If we’d made this list heading into last year’s offseason, Langford probably wouldn’t have come close to cracking it. In his first year with the Rams, Langford was atrocious against the run and registered just four sacks. The Rams doled out a four-year, $22 million contract to Langford prior to that season, and was able to improve this past season despite a poor 2012. While overshadowed along the defensive line by stalwart Chris Long and newly-crowned PFWA Defensive Player of the Year Robert Quinn, Langford quietly registered 16 quarterback hurries (fourth on the team), nine quarterback hits (second on the team) and added five sacks.
3. William Hayes
Hayes has been one of the Rams’ most consistent players in his two seasons with the team. His 12 sacks as a Ram are a modest number, but he has been one of the team’s strongest defenders against the run and has accumulated 29 quarterback pressures. Hayes is a more than capable complement to Quinn and Long, and I’d argue that he’d be a starter on most other teams around the league.
2. Joe Barksdale
Barksdale performed at a relatively expected level in 2012, registering a -2.7 in spot duty according to Pro Football Focus. However, as fellow offensive linemen Harvey Dahl and Rodger Saffold battled injuries in 2013, Barksdale earned 13 starts at right tackle and performed remarkably better than anyone could have predicted. His grade jumped to 12.2, good for second-best among all Rams offensive linemen. With a contract of four years for just $2.04 million, the Rams may just have found a capable starting right tackle at a bargain price.
1. Jake Long
The Rams secured Long’s services in 2013 with a four-year, $34 million deal that many considered questionable given his recent injury history. Long utterly smashed those doubts throughout the season in becoming far-and-away the team’s highest rated offensive lineman with an overall grade of 25.8 and being a key reason behind the emergence of rookie running back Zac Stacy. His knee injury was a disappointing end to what was a stellar first season in gold and blue, but the team seems optimistic about his recovery. Should he pick up where he left off in 2014 (A big if, I know), he’ll continue to make the Rams’ brass look like geniuses.
However, outside of Long, Barksdale, and Hayes, the Rams’ crop of free agents in the last two years generally fall into either the “meh” category or the “oh God what were they thinking” category. Linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, center Scott Wells, and guard Chris Williams are members of the former, while cornerback Cortland Finnegan has a spot firmly reserved in the latter.
The Rams could lose a key piece of their coaching staff to an SEC school.