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Rams free agency and draft strategy for this year and looking forward to 2014: Part 1- Updated

As we rapidly approach free agency the Rams are faced with deciding which free agents to keep and which to poach from other teams, if any. All the while they must keep an eye toward the upcoming draft and the 2014 offseason, when players such as Saffold and Dunbar will become free agents. Salary cap implications, draft positioning, and player evaluations will be just a few of the factors that will determine the path the Rams will take. No one knows for sure how things will play out over the next few months.

With that in mind I have decided to play GM for the Rams for this upcoming free agency period and the draft. But instead of just simply listing who should go or stay, or who we should draft this year, without backing it up with numbers and long term goals that explain my moves, I have tried to put together a comprehensive plan that takes into account the long-term planning that an actual GM needs to adhere to in order to be successful in the NFL. I'm not claiming I know what it takes to be a GM by any means, but I feel this is the best way to address my views of what the Rams should do in free agency and the upcoming draft while keeping an eye on 2014 and beyond. Ramsfan 1313 has done some excellent work educating us as to the implications of player contracts and the salary cap, both in the here and now and long-term, as well as providing in depth analysis of the NFL draft process as it pertains to positional values and draft strategies that teams might use when deciding which players to pick and when. I have leaned on his excellent work in developing this post. Now off to being the Rams GM.

While the whole process is intertwined, I'll start in chronological order. Part 1- Free Agency 2013:

The Rams currently have 46 players under contract for the 2013 season. 38 of those players are on the active roster, and 8 are on the practice squad. This leaves 15 active roster spots open that need to be filled. SJax has Declined his $7 million player option for 2013 and will become a free agent on March 12, and as such he is not counted as being on the current active roster. With that move the Rams are currently $8.9 million under the 2013 salary cap of $123.9 million. So, cuts still need to be made. Here is my plan:

1) Cut Wayne Hunter - saves $4 million this year and clears $3 million from 2014.
2) Cut Quintin Mikell - saves $3 million this year and clears $10 million from 2014. More on this below.
3) Restructure JL55 - Convert his $11 million "misc. bonus" to a signing bonus and prorate it over the 2013-2017 seasons. This move frees up $8.8 million this year, and adds $2.2 million to 2014 cap number. More on this in Post #3.
4) Restructure Finnegan - Convert his $5 million "misc. bonus" to a signing bonus and prorate it over the 2013-2016 seasons. This move frees up $3.75 million this year, and adds $1.25 million to 2014 cap number. More on this in Post #3.
5) Cut Harvey Dahl - saves $4 million this year and clears $4 million from 2014.
6) Cut Matthew Mulligan - saves $.75 million this year.

These 5 moves put the Rams at roughly $33.2 million under the cap. I Set aside roughly $9 million for the incoming rookie class and any players the Rams may have to sign to replace anyone sent to the injured reserve list. That leaves me $24.2 million to work with.

Now on to addressing free agents. I'll begin with our own:

1) Re-sign Hayes to a 3 year $7.5 million deal. He played for $900,000.00 last year. Have to keep him. This is probably about $1 - $1.5 million under what he's worth, but can increase the guaranteed money to entice him to stay.
2) Re-sign SJax to a 2 year $7 million deal with $5 million guaranteed. The guaranteed money keeps him a Ram.
3) Re-sign Robert Turner to a 2 year $2 million deal. He played for $.7 million last year. He brings versatility and depth to the O-line.
4) Re-sign Wayne Hunter to a 1 year $.925 million deal. That's what he's worth as an aging back-up at this point in his career.
4) Re-sign Laws to a 1 year $.75 deal. That's what he signed for last year. He was injured and did nothing to change his value, so he'll come cheap and provide depth.
5) Retain ERFA Mike McNeill (TE). He has to take the offer if he wants to play in the NFL, He'll cost $.5 million.

These 4 moves leave roughly $15 million in cap space. Now, I'll bring in some new faces:

1) Sign RT Phil Loadholt (Vikings) to a 5 year $25 million deal. One of the top RT's in the NFL coming off his best season of his young career.
2) Sign S Chris Clemons (Dolphins) to a 4 year $16 million deal. Excellent run stopping and coverage ability, solves our Free Safety needs - ranked 8th in coverage and 6th in tackling efficiency.
3) Sign DT Jason Jones to a 2 year $6 million deal. Jones passed up a longer term contract last year for a 1 year "prove it" deal with Seattle and it didn't work out for him. The Rams, and his former coach, are a perfect fit.
3) Sign RG Geoff Scwartz (Vikings)to a 1 year $1.5 million "prove it" deal. Schwartz brings versatility as he has played well at both Tackle and Guard and he has been a strong run blocker and grades very well in pass protection.
4) Sign WR Donnie Avery (Colts) to a 1 year $.825 million deal. Can provide some veteran leadership for extremely young WR corps. Will basically be Steve Smith's replacement, and he is an upgrade from Smith.

These moves leave about $675,000.00 that can be added to the pool to sign players for injury replacement, or to add a 5th CB, etc...

Now the depth chart after these moves, and prior to the draft:

OFFENSE:

TE - Kendricks, Harkey, McNeill
RT - Loadholt, Barksdale
RG - Schwartz, Smith
C - Wells, Turner
LG - Watkins, Turner
LT - Saffold, Hunter
WR - Quick, Givens, Pettis, Avery
RB - SJax, D. Richardson, Pead, Ganaway
QB - Bradford, Davis

DEFENSE:

RDE - Quinn, Hayes
RDT - Brockers, Conrath,
LDT - Langford, Jones, Laws
LDE - Long, Sims
SLB - Brown,
MLB - Laurinaitis, Hull
WLB - Dunbar,
CB - Finnegan, Jenkins, Johnson, Pointer
S - Clemons, McLeod, Daniels

SPECIAL TEAMS:

LS - McQuaide
K - Zuerlein
P - Hekker

I know many will ask - Why cut Mikell now when we could cut him after June 1st and save $3 million this year? My answer is simple. Mikell wil count $6 million against the cap no matter when he is cut. If he is cut prior to June 1st, the whole $6 million goes against 2013's cap. If he is cut after June 1st, $3 million goes against 2013's cap and $3 million goes against 2014's cap. Either way we lose $6 million in cap space, but by cutting him now we save $3 million in 2014 since the full hit goes against 2013's cap. His cap hit for 2014 is $10 million, so he won't be retained for 2014 even if the Rams do keep him around for 2013. If I'm GM, which I am for this exercise, he's gone now because the extra $3 million in cap space next year is more valuable to me than the extra $3 million this year.

With these moves our roster now stands at 53 players. 45 on the active roster and 8 on the practice squad. That leaves 8 open spots on the active roster yet to fill.

Next step, the 2013 draft. Part 2 coming soon...

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