It has been 66 long days since the Rams bowed out of the 2013 regular season in Dec. 29′s 27-9 loss at Seattle. In that time, we’ve had nothing to feed our relentless appetite for all things Rams except mass disparate conjecture over the team’s two first round picks, the value of guard/tackle Rodger Saffold, and the future of quarterback Sam Bradford.
Oh sure, the combine was fun and the franchise tag period kept us GLUED to the edge of our seats, but finally the real meat of the NFL offseason is about to be served. Come next Tuesday, the free agency period begins and the first real step is finally taken in determining makeup of the 2014 Rams. With that said, here’s a final run down of where the Rams stand at this very moment with free agency looming next week.
What we know:
- The Rams are set to jettison 12 players onto the market. Of the 12 players, four are interior linemen, three are safeties, and two are outside linebackers. Not surprisingly, these have become three major focus areas among pundits and fans in discussions of team needs.
- Of the interior linemen that Rams are set to lose, Saffold has emerged as the top priority for re-signing and the team’s ability to do so will ultimately determine how the rest of the offseason plays out. The other guards, Chris Williams and Shelley Smith, will likely have their value reassessed after it’s determined whether or not Saffold returns. Center Tim Barnes, who is an ERFA, can be re-signed for a mimimum contract offer, but it’s unclear at this point where he fits in with the team’s long term plans.
- The Rams’ soon-to-be-free agent safeties are Darian Stewart, Matt Giordano, and ERFA Quinton Pointer. Stewart has been the biggest contributor among the three, but in an ideally competitive secondary, all three are role players at best.
- Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Will Witherspoon’s potential departures leave a hole at outside linebacker. Dunbar started 10 games in 2013 and was stout, if unspectacular. Witherspoon is in the twilight of his career and played only 137 snaps this past season. Re-signing Dunbar wouldn’t be a completely unrealistic move, but the Rams can probably afford to inject some youth at the position.
- The remaining free agents are quarterback Kellen Clemens, tight end Mike McNeill, and wide receiver Justin Veltung. Of the three, Clemens is far-and-away the most likely to be back in 2014 after admirably filling in for Sam Bradford in the latter half of last season.
- The NFL’s salary cap has been raised to $133 million, which gives the Rams a bit more room to work with than the projected range of $123-$126 million. As it stands, they have $6.8 million in cap space, but will likely have to find ways to increase their budget a bit if they’re expecting to sign their rookie class as well as some veteran assistance. For a further breakdown on the team’s salary cap situation, check out Turf Show Times’ piece from Monday.
What we don’t know:
- How much do the Rams really value Saffold? Is the perceived necessity of his re-signing merely a product of the team’s combination of age, inconsistent play, and wavering health along the interior offensive line in recent years? His re-signing (or lack thereof) will shape the rest of the offseason, as mentioned above, but the team must approach the situation objectively. STL Today’s Bernie Miklasz makes a compelling case that the Rams should be careful not to overpay Saffold based on the inflated value that’s been placed on him throughout the offseason.
- What positions do the Rams want to fill with veteran experience? Safety has been tossed around quite a bit as a potential candidate for adding an available free agent. Now that it’s been confirmed that Buffalo’s Jairus Byrd, a St. Louis native, and Cleveland’s T.J. Ward will both be available, the Rams could potentially add some serious talent to the position. Additionally, cornerback Alterraun Verner has ties to both head coach Jeff Fisher and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and is an on-the-rise player that could instantly bolster the secondary. However, the team will have to find some additional cash if they want to realistically consider adding one or more quality players. Which leads us to…
- How will they go about creating further cap space? While the cap boost to $133 million was a nice surprise, the Rams will have to free up a bit more room to have a truly effective offseason. This will likely be figured out early on in the process, and there are three names being mentioned most among potential cap casualties. Cornerback Cortland Finnegan, guard Harvey Dahl, and center Scott Wells may be sent packing to allow the team to afford to bring in younger, more affordable talent.
Six days from now, we’ll start getting our answers.