The PD has a short article today about the impact of a no-salary-cap year on the St. Louis Rams. It's not much that hasn't already been covered. With no cap, that means the available talent pool in free agency is extremely limited, consisting mostly of older players. In the article, GM Billy Devaney and VP of Football Operations Kevin Demoff note that the Rams have plans for both a capped and a no-cap year, but they don't elaborate on those plans. I thought it might make for a nice Saturday read if we speculated on the specifics of what a no-cap season means for the Rams.
The Quarterback Chase
The Rams really need an answer at QB for 2010, and they can either find a new starter via the draft or a guy who is already on an NFL roster. Readers know that I'm firmly in the Jason Campbell camp. However, Campbell's one of those guys that will be a RFA with a no-cap year. Word is Washington's new head coach would like to hang on to Campbell too, for at least a season. The few names to watch for that will be free agents in an uncapped year include Chad Pennington, Chris Redman, and...and... The trade route offers a little more with some intriguing younger names like Brodie Croyle or Kellen Clemens, and of course Michael Vick. Some players will be available via roster cuts, but that's not the best route for finding a starting QB. The best course to find the most talented quarterback this offseason might well be the first round of the draft. That would save the team having to give up precious draft picks for a stopgap, a move they can't afford, but that leaves the team with Keith Null and their draft pick as the two main guys. The idea of bringing Bulger back as a backup/mentor would be a consideration if they drafted a QB. In an uncapped year, a reduced contract for Bulger isn't as pressing of a need.
Not that the draft wasn't already important, but in no-cap year the stakes get even higher. To me, it means that the Rams need to hit on as many picks as possible and still get as many players as possible who can contribute right away. That should please the Suh fans, since the Husker DT seems likely to make a big impact even as a rookie. For a team still pretty bereft of talent, it stands to reason that a player like Suh would instantly make them a more competitive team.
They also need to acquire as many more picks as possible. The same logic that makes Suh so attractive at first overall might well make the first overall pick attractive for trading partners. Devaney will have to weigh the offers very carefully. And let's not confine that to the first round. Additional picks in the second and third rounds would be great to have as well.
I've said before that player trades, never a regular feature in the NFL, will be really big this year. The Rams don't have many players to trade, given how little depth they have. They'd get offers on Steven Jackson, which they won't entertain. Another player that might get some interest is FS Oshiomogho Atogwe who will be a RFA, again, thanks to the uncapped year. I'd hate to see Atogwe go given the needs the Rams have in the secondary, but you have to listen to offers. If the Rams can upgrade at CB and get some pass rushers up front, then they have decent depth at safety with James Butler and Craig Dahl. It's not ideal, but if they could address some key needs with players or draft picks obtained by trading Atogwe, then it might be worth the hit they'd take at the safety position.
Last year, the Rams made the roster cuts and free agent signings to get younger as a team, targeting players with clean(ish) injury histories and on the way up in terms of their development. With the free agent market shaping up the way it is, that strategy might be out the window this year. And that's fine. Signing a guy who isn't a five-year solution at certain positions of need (like CB, OT, or OLB) isn't going to cut them off at the knees and thwart the rebuilding process. They can always come back to those positions in future drafts or more robust free agency periods for a long-term solution.
Learn to Love
Finally, the Rams and their fans may have to settle for some old familiar faces at a few positions. That means bringing back some players who would be gone under normal circumstances. The best example of this that I can think of is Alex Barron. Yes, I've lead the change to have this guy cut, but it wouldn't be smart to create a need where you don't have one. (we covered the arguments for and against bringing back Barron in this post). Marc Bulger, who we discussed above, is another guy this applies to. That doesn't mean they automatically inherit their old starting roles, but they could be useful as depth.
Even if there is some kind of agreement reached on the cap for this season, a new CBA is likely to reshape the landscape. It's a brave new world that's coming to the NFL.