Rams free agency and draft strategy for this year and looking forward to 2014: Part 3

In my previous post I tackled the 2013 draft. In this post I'll look forward to the 2014 offseason.

Post draft brings the addition of UDFA's and other miscellaneous lower tier free agents to the camp roster. There is no way I can predict that scenario, so I will just focus on the players I drafted and the ones already on the roster. My draft picks bring me to 61 players under contract for the 2013 season, with 8 on the practice squad and 53 on the active roster.

I currently have 43 of the 53 players on my active roster, and all 8 practice squad players, signed through at least the 2014 season. There will be 10 free agents in 2014 from my current roster. 7 UFA's and 3 RFA's. The 7 UFA's are - starting LT Saffold, starting WLB Dunbar, rotational DE Sims, back-up LB Hull, , back-up LT Hunter, starting RG Schwartz, and 6th WR Avery. The 3 RFA's, who must be paid a minimum of $1.3 million each to be retained are - back-up G Smith, LS McQuaide, and back-up TE McNeill.

As I mentioned in Post #1, with the cuts of Mikell, Dahl, and Hunter in 2013 I have already cleared $17 million in cap space from 2014.

The addition of Scwenke via the draft was done with the expectation that he will replace Wells as the starting Center in 2014. All of Wells guaranteed money will have been paid by the end of the 2013 season. Wells will be cut in the Spring of 2014, freeing up an additional $5.5 million in cap space.

The addition of Hodges was also done with the expectation he would replace Dunbar if Dunbar wants too much money to re-sign. Dunbar will turn 29 in the Spring of 2014 and I am not thrilled about a long-term contract with a aging, smallish LB that is not real good is pass coverage.

Rotational/back-up players such as Sims, Hull, Hunter, Smith, McNeill, and Avery may be re-signed but are not a high priority and can be replaced via the draft, players off the practice squad, or with cheaper free agents if not re-signed.

McQuaide is the LS and is not worth the $1.3 million minimum, as the average salary for a LS is right around $700,000.00, with the highest paid LS receiving about $1.2 million, and he's also a back-up LB. Many others also serve as back-up LB's or TE's on their team as well. He can be replaced with a younger, cheaper player.

This leaves me with Saffold and Schwartz as my main players I need to make a decision on.

As I mentioned in Post #1, I restructured both JL55 and Finnegan's contracts in 2013 by converting their "misc. bonuses" to signing bonuses and then prorating them throughout the remaining years of their contracts. This results in an additional cap hit of $2.2 million from JL55, and an additional $1.25 million from Finnegan.

If the salary cap stays relatively flat for 2014, as is expected, it can be reasonably estimated to settle in at around $125 million. Under the current salary structure of the team I should have about $20 million available after the move to release Wells I mentioned above. After I set aside $9 million for the 2014 rookie class and an IR cushion, that will leave me with roughly $11 million to work with without making any further roster cuts.

If Schwartz plays well he can be re-signed at a reasonable rate and won't break the bank. He'll only be 27, so a long-term agreement would be reasonable.

I have real difficulty with the idea of signing Saffold to big-time LT money. He plays well when he's in the game, but he is prone to injury and that is a bad trait for a LT. At this time I am looking to replacing him through the 2014 draft, where LT's Matthews, Lewan, and Kouandjio will be available. It will probably take a top 5 pick to land Matthews, but Lewan and Kouandjio may very well be available in the 10 - 15 range. With the uncertainty surrounding RG3's knee, and the general instability in the current NFL, I could be within range of drafting any player I wanted, either by virtue of the Redskins and/or our 2014 team performance, or by the flexibility allowed to me by having 2 1st round picks. I am sure I can use one to trade up if need be, or use both and trade up twice depending on where I pick in the 1st, and not just for a LT, but also for a player like Clowney or Lee if I see fit. I have great flexibility to move up or down the 1st round as I see fit to obtain some real impact players to help us take the next step into Superbowl contention.

In playing GM I tried to fill needs with an eye toward the future, both in who I need to acquire, how and when I will acquire them, and how it will impact the salary cap and team roster moving forward. For example, if Lane Johnson would've been available to me at #16 in the 2013 draft I would've grabbed him there as the heir apparent to Saffold, giving me even more flexibility in the 2014 offseason and draft to find impact playmakers. For example, instead of needing to spend big money on re-signing Saffold, or using a 2014 1st round pick on his replacement, I would have Johnson in the wings and could more openly use my 1st rounders to trade up to grab a player like Clowney or Lee if need be without having to worry about that LT position. Further, in not having to use my available salary cap space to re-sign Saffold, I can go out and sign multiple free agents to bolster other positions on the team and strengthen the team as whole.

The bottom line is that the Rams will have a great deal of flexibility to improve the roster through both free agency and the draft during the 2014 offseason.

Well, that's it for me. Now I'm off for a vacation to sunny LA, the land of Champ and Moose! Go Rams!!!

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