* This post was originally a comment on VanRam’s article on the teams remaining roster needs, but it became too long.
I was looking at baseball stats and measurables the other day as a function of the management of my fantasy baseball team, and it got me thinking about something that can apply, in theory, to the current Rams situation: WAR, or Wins Above Replacement. For those of you that follow baseball as I do, you know that this measure cannot be directly applied to football, as counting stats in baseball are far more indicative of a player’s value than those in football. In other words, it is hard to quantify a player’s value in football by stats alone. There are so many schematic variations and teammate-dependent variables, that stats do not tell the whole story. What WAR is, however, is an interesting way of thinking about a player’s value, relative to a potential replacement. If this thinking is applied to the Rams and their current “needs”, I believe it may present a clear argument as to which current players are more/most important to replace. Here goes…
Steven Jackson is obviously not the player to be replaced; it is the 2nd RB who is in question. Neither Darby nor Tosten are adequate 2nd RBs. At best, both are 3rd/emergency RBs, and hopefully neither will ever have to be used on a full-time basis. The need, therefore, for a replacement is crucial, especially if Jackson were to become injured. Three names that have come up quite a bit are Darren Sproles, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Reggie Bush. They would add a dynamic dimension to the offense, and would be able to capably spell Jackson and keep him fresh. In addition, they would serve as decent starters in the event of a Jackson injury (I hate to keep bringing up a potential injury to Jackson, but as a pragmatist, I must acknowledge the possibility). Van seems to like Ronnie Brown, and I personally, like Michael Bush—although admittedly the recent DUI may invalidate his 4 pillars qualifications. In the case of both Brown and M. Bush, they provide very different qualities as they are less dynamic than Sproles, Bradshaw, or R. Bush, but might be better as replacements in a featured role. One important factor, as it pertains to a 2nd RB, may be economic, as both Sproles and R. Bush will likely be expensive. Would that money be better served elsewhere?
Let’s face it: the team will not be acquiring both SLB and WLB in free agency. With that reality in mind, the FO must decide which position presents the most pressing need. In my opinion, Vobora showed signs of being an adequate SLB last season. If he is allowed to remain in that role, I think the more pressing need is at WLB. Like above, neither Chamberlain nor Kehl will suffice at WLB. I am a big fan of Chamberlain as a player, but his value should remain on ST. Some names that have surfaced here at TST as potential replacements are Manny Lawson, Rocky McIntosh, Thomas Davis, and Thomas Howard. For my money, I think Manny Lawson would be a beast at WLB (it doesn’t hurt that the potential of watching Manny in a Rams uni lighting up the 49ers makes me tingly). McIntosh is also intriguing, as he would be a great 4 pillars guy, and would be returned to his more natural position after being slightly mis-cast as a MLB for the Skins. Davis is a serious injury risk, and it is hard what to make of Howard, as he showed tons of potential before being buried on the Raider’s bench—a disconcerting sign, to say the least. Again, as above, the price tag may determine which player best fits the team. In any case, I believe the WAR value of Lawson over Chamberlain is extremely high.
While some have clamored for 2 new offensive guards—I may have been guilty once or twice—again, it ain’t going to happen. While I do not share Van’s enthusiasm for Bell, he is being paid like a starter and his role, if healthy, is almost certain. So I will cast my gaze at RG. It has been argued that Greco was, and can be, a serviceable RG. While I am not inclined to disagree, I am also worried by the fact that the team opted to have him share time with Goldberg last season, and we all know how productive Goldberg was. Like Vobora, I do believe Greco can be serviceable at the position, but it can also certainly be upgraded. Two names I’ve seen thrown around are Harvey Dahl and Davin Joseph. I really like Dahl, but he is 30 and may ask for a longish contract for big dollars, much like Bell. The thought of throwing Bell-like money at another OG scares me. Joseph is younger, but I suspect Tampa will be wary to let him leave, therefore driving up the price. In the end, do Dahl or Joseph present enough of an upgrade over Greco to spend the money it will require to acquire them, at the possible expense of, say, a FA safety?
Enough has been made of Spags’ devaluation of the S position, that it now seems unlikely the team will throw big money at a FA. Add to that the fact that they seem to have faith in Dahl, like the potential of Stewart, and just drafted two safeties. It seems unlikely they will add a notable FA, but in any case, it is still worth examining a few players. Quintin Mikell’s name has come up recently, but I don’t know that it makes any sense. Mikell is 30, as is OJ, and if the team was inclined to give big money to a 30 year old safety, it would seem that re-signing OJ would have been a no-brainer. Three other names of particular interest could be Eric Weddle, Dawan Landry, and Michael Huff. All three are younger than Mikell or OJ, but all three could potentially be expensive. All three would also serve as significant upgrades over any of the current safeties on the roster, but again, it seems unlikely that it will happen.
This is a position that seems ripe for a FA addition. Fred Robbins is a stud. The only problem is that he is a 34 year old stud. Gibson, on the other hand, is a dud, and any other DT on the roster is no better than a rotational guy, at best. Given that the team only has one real starter, and he is getting older—or is just plain old, by football standards—a replacement DT would serve as a huge upgrade. When looking at potential FAs, only 2 names really stand out to me: Barry Cofield and Brandon Mebane. Both are young, being 27 and 26, respectively, and both are proven all around DTs. Both are extremely stout against the run, while presenting above-average pass-rush skills. Cofield would seem to have the obvious advantage, given his connection to Spags. If the Giants let him go—which seems more possible now that they drafted Austin—this move seems to make all the sense in the world. His price tag may be somewhat high, but if the Rams trot out Long, Cofield, Robbins, and Hall, with Quinn subbing in situationally, the D-Line would be an absolute menace for opposing teams. And looking toward the future—post Robbins and Hall—the D-Line would seem to be set for years with Long, Cofield, and Quinn. In other words, I believe the WAR measure is quite high when comparing Cofield to Gibson.
In sum, all 5 positions certainly present a current “need”. After thinking about it, however, it seems as though only three positions present current priorities to be upgraded: DT, RB, and OLB. Please don’t bash me with the argument that OG and S need to be upgraded. I get that point, but given the current situation, I think the other 3 positions should be more highly prioritized. In the end, because it is unrealistic to think that the team can sign the top FAs at all three positions, the FO must decide, with an eye on finances, which combination of players best serves the team’s purposes. Because I think a 2nd RB, while important, will only serve as a change of pace to Jackson, I believe the value of that position does not warrant big FA dollars. In addition, with major capital—in the form of draft picks—having recently been spent on upgrading the offense, I believe the highest priorities should be placed on DT and OLB. In my estimation, the upgrade at those two positions outweighs that of the other three, given the FOs presumed player valuation system and the current players on the roster. Given that, I believe that Barry Cofield, Manny Lawson, and a 2nd/3rd tier FA RB, like Jerome Harrison or possibly an undrafted player like Derrick Locke, would serve as the best combination of FAs to help get the team to the playoffs, and possibly beyond.