So it is very widely known around here the Rams need to address the safety position. But how are they going to do it? There are several options, re-sign Dahl and Stewart and stand pat. They could chase a player in FA to replace Dahl and keep Mikell, or they could draft the future safety in April. But which of these options makes the most sense for the team. Let's take a look at the free agent options first.
In a recent article by Jim Thomas for the Post-Dispatch, Thomas fully breaks down the Rams salary cap issues for 2013. Everyone thought going into 2013 the Rams would have plenty of cap space to do what they wanted...so what happened? Well according to Thomas Long and Laurianitas happened. Their two contracts now account for $26 million for the 2013 salary cap, that is a ton for only two players.
While I think Long and Laurianitas are very much worth the money and I am glad they received their contract extensions, it sort of puts the Rams in a salary cap bind for 2013. Currently they only have 47 players under contract for 2013, this number includes the 8 practice squad members, and these salaries account for $119 million of the $121 million cap (this cap number also includes the set aside money for draft picks). They have 13 of their own FA to deal with and according to Thomas they only have around $2 million to re-sign them.
There are solutions. The Rams could just cut loose all of their free agents and fill those holes via the draft. This isn't a very attractive option as it would mean losing talented proven players that are fan favorites, specifically Danny Amendola. Another option is to restructure or release players under contract that are "expensive" against the cap. Two players here come to mind, Quinten Mikell and Wayne Hunter.
Mikell is getting older and in 2013 he is going to count $9 million against the cap. He had a very solid 2012 and seems to fit well in the Fisher defense. Unfortunately the Rams just simply can't afford him. Snead and Demoff should try and re-structure his deal but I think the end result will be in releasing Mikell and saving $9 million for 2013. The second player, Hunter, has also been a good player for the Rams and provides solid depth on the O line, however, he is going to cost $4 million against the cap next year. $4 million is really expensive for a third tackle, I don't see any way the Rams keep Hunter.
So with these two moves the Rams have added $13 million for next year. This still isn't very much money to help address safety in FA. There is another contract that is currently going against the 2013 cap to the tune of $7 million. Said contract belongs to the one and only Steven Jackson. It is hard to imagine a Rams' team with out SJ39 leading the way on offense, but it could be a reality in 2013. The truth is Jackson is getting older and he isn't quite the back he used to be, and in my opinion isn't worth $7 million for next year. I see the Rams trying to work out a cheaper deal for Jackson, but I would be surprised if he stays. A team like Green Bay has been looking for a back like SJ for years and if they get the opportunity at him they wont pass it over. Also Green Bay is the perfect landing spot for Steven, as he wont be asked to carry the load and will finally get a chance to play for a winning team with a shot at the Super Bowl.
So how do all of these moves affect the Rams' options at safety. Well after these moves they will have around $20 million in cap space to sign FA. A portion of that will probably wind up going to Amendola and it should. The team will also push hard to re-sign Hayes and Turner and I hope they work out deals for both. After these 3 deals going out and landing a super star FA isn't much of a reality. It is hard at this point in the year to discuss specific FAs as so many on the current lists will be re-signed by their own teams before they hit the open market, but we all know the big names.
I think going into 2013 the Rams should treat the safety position the same way they treated the corner back position in 2012. In 2012 the new regime came and completely wiped out depth chart at corner. Only one corner, Fletcher, from 2011 remained opening day and he wont survive to 2013. They started from scratch at corner and it seemed to work out pretty well, bringing in a veteran in Finnegan and then using two high draft picks on future stars in Jenkins and Johnson. This should be the Rams approach for safety this year. After cleaning out who is currently there is Dahl, Stewart and Mikell, the Rams are left with Rodney McCleod and Matt Daniels. While McCleod and Daniels are solid special teams players, they aren't an option as starters.
With the remaining money they have available they should pursue a starting caliber safety in FA and then use multiple high draft picks in April on two potential starters. With two first round picks the Rams should use one on the best safety available, whether it be Reid, Vaccaro, Elam or another. They should follow that up with using a 3rd or 4th rounder on another safety they can groom into a starter in 2014.