So far, the waves being made by the St. Louis Rams in free agency have been mostly small ones. Rather than try and land the few big fish that were out there, many of whom were beyond their best years and dealing with injury questions, GM Billy Devaney focused on finding depth. Hank Fraley, AJ Feeley, Kevin Dockery, Fred Robbins and the others are experienced guys brought here to play small, but important roles backing up or playing along side the younger players on the roster.
The strategy has been controversial mostly because the moves lack headlines. None of these guys represent a big move like last year's signing of C Jason Brown (which was actually the Rams first move of free agency, correcting Gregg Rosenthal's ill-infomred rant from yesterday), who was lured in with a pricey multi-year contract to fill one of the team's essential needs. For a Rams team with so many needs, the lack of splash has been a little deflating for us fans who'd like to see the team jump back into contention as soon as possible...damn the cost!
But depth is a need too. Since the latter part of the decade, the Rams have had noticeable talent deficiencies among their starting units, but injuries during that time pressed even more questionable talent into starting duty, all but assuring the woeful records of the last few seasons.
I could rattle off plenty of examples of the Rams lack of quality depth exposing them, but I'll limit myself. With the offensive line starting to click last season, a spate of injuries and the release of one player left that unit pretty threadbare. Incognito was gone because of his thick skull, Bell was injured, Smith was injured and a string of replacements couldn't prevent the Rams from getting sacked 15 times in their last three games of the season, including eight sacks in the season finale against the 49ers that sent rookie Keith Null to the bench with concussion-like symptoms. Would you rather have a proven starter like Hank Fraley ready to fill-in at guard or Roger Allen?
Think about that as it applies to other positions on the team. On the DL, would you rather have Fred Robbins in your rotation or LaJuan Ramsey? At CB, Kevin Dockery or Quincy Butler? At QB, Feeley or Boller?
As far as the notion that these additions seem to consist heavily of former Eagles and Giants, well, like I said in the comments last night: it may be cheesy, but it's an effective, low-risk strategy when you're grabbing role players and depth guys like this. (Contrary to Rosenthal's analysis, the James Butler addition was fruitful for the Rams; he was the only guy who knew the defensive scheme coming into the season). Fraley, Robbins, Dockery and Feeley have a pretty solid track record when it comes to the injury report too.
And of course, the "their guys" theory only goes so far. Devaney, Spagnuolo, etc. have also been bringing in their guys through the draft, guys like James Laurinaitis who have far bigger roles to play than depth, and will bring in some cornerstones in this year's draft as well. Throw in player brought in who are not from their former teams. Players like the freshly re-signed James Hall, who was brought in by, gasp, Linehan and Haslett, or Jason Brown, or Ron Bartell. This is how rosters get built...and rebuilt. Coaches bringing in their former players, journeymen, is nothing more than a time-honored strategy. When those guys make for upgrades beyond the seventh-rounders and undrafted players down the depth chart, it's a useful strategy.
More free agent thoughts...
It's great to see James Hall back in the mix. It seems unlikely that the Rams will bring back Leonard Little, with Hall being, ideally, more of a situational/rotational player, and a glaring need to add a DE through the draft, the Rams just won't have the roster spots.
TE Darcy Johnson is here to compete with Fells, probably for the third TE spot, assuming the Rams add another TE via the draft or trade, which I still think is possible. He's no lock to make the final roster, though I look forward to seeing what he has to offer.
It's impressive that given a choice to sign with the Super Bowl champs or the 1-15 Rams, James Hall chose the Rams. Who knows what kind of contract talk there was, but it still says something about what's going on at Rams Park.