So last week I posted grades and a brief outlook on the 2014 offseason. This week I will take a closer look on what my hope is for the 2014 off-season. We'll look at cuts/restructures, re-signs, FA possibilities, and the draft. Obviously this is just my hope and could change greatly as players leave, and draftees perform at the combine and pro days.
First up, Cuts/Restructures:
The cap is basically maxed out already so cuts and restructures are a certainty this off-season. First lets look at cuts.
Scott Wells. This, to me, is a no brainer. The guy plays well when he's on the field. But the problem is he is never on the field. 2 full seasons in St Louis and he's played in 19 games. For 7 million a year you have got to provide more. It would be nice to have him for development of the younger guys, but he would have to take a huge pay cut which at this point I doubt he would agree to.
Isaiah Pead. Sorry guy, 2 seasons in the league and you have shown absolutely 0 signs of being any kind of quality player. RB is one of the easier positions to transition to in the NFL (not that any are easy) and he has shown no signs of progress at all. Still on a rookie contract it won't make a very big dent in the cap but at this point he's just wasting a roster space for another guy that could contribute.
Austin Pettis. Nothing more than a situational possession receiver. He's got steady hands but lacks athleticism to be anything more than a # 4 or 5 guy. Cut him to make room for another guy.
Now I'll go over a couple fringe guys that could be cut OR restructured.
Cortland Finnegan. I am a firm believer that he has gotten the short end from most Rams fans. His first season he had a pro bowl quality season but was overlooked because he played for St Louis. 101 tackles, 1 sack, 3 picks and gave up 0 TDs. Thats a hell of a season in most peoples eyes but for some reason nobody seems to give him credit. This past season obviously was a nightmare. The soft zone coverage scheme Walton brought was a terrible idea for Finn and JJ and neither had a good season due in large part because thats not how they play. They need to disrupt a WRs route at the line and are man-to-man cover corners. Then you add on the fact that he injured his eye 3 games in and tried to come back and play even though he was suffering blurry/double vision and you have a recipe for disaster. Hard to be a quality CB when you can't see straight. In my opinion, if he comes back healthy, he is a no brainer to keep. I believe he should restructure his deal just for the sake of saving the team some money to improve. Plus if they do cut him they will still have 6 million against the cap in dead money, seems dumb to cut a guy that you'll be paying 6 million dollars for him to play somewhere else. You need to have a veteran presence in the defensive backfield, and he is the only vet there. If the scheme plays to his and JJs strengths he will be a shutdown guy again and at worst a very good #2 CB.
Harvey Dahl. This is a toughey. He has been a quality guard and while he struggled with injury last season he is a nasty hard nosed lineman that brings a mean mentality to the O-line. This is one of the veteran guys I'd like to see stick around however it will be basically impossible to restructure his contract as they just did last September. The only way I see him sticking around for a cheaper deal is if the Rams extended his contract. I just don't see that happening at 32 yrs old coming off an injury plagued season.
Now for the definite restructures.
Sam Bradford. This is something that will almost have to happen for the Rams to have a successful off-season. I am a firm supporter of Sam and believe he is THE guy for St Louis right now and in the future. But his play as of right now does not deserve 17 million a year. He has steadily improved every year but 17 million puts him at the elite pay level and he is not an elite QB at this point in his career. I would be perfectly happy if the Rams extended his contract another 2-3 years and cut his pay down to around the 7-8 million mark or less with an incentive based contract. If Sam wants to succeed in the NFL, he needs to allow the Rams to build around him, and at his current cap hit, they can't do it.
Kendall Langford. Here's another guy that the St Louis fans don't seem to give enough credit to. He has been a good DT both seasons for St Louis. He started slow in 2012 but came on strong late and continued to improve through 2013. The guy is still young at 27 and is entering the prime of his career. With a cap hit of 6 million though and seeing that he is #2 behind Brockers I would be more inclined to restructure his contract and extend it 1 year to put him in the 3.5-4 million range.
Robert Quinn. This is more out of secruity than saving money. 2014 is the final year of his rookie contract and it would be absolutely devastating to lose him through FA next off season. Give him a 5 yr deal and keep his current cap # for 2014 with a pay bump 2015-2018. The guy is the defensive player of the year, get him locked down.
Next up, Re-signings:
Here is the list of Rams Free Agents: Saffold, Williams, Stewart, Dunbar, Clemens, Smith, Giordano, McNeil, Witherspoon, Barnes, Davis, Pointer, Veltung, Brown.
The majority of this group will be let go without a fight. But there are a few players the Rams need to re-sign. Let's take a look.
Rodger Saffold. This should be priority #1 for the Rams this off-season. He was a serviceable tackle for the majority of his career until the Rams moved him inside to guard where he showed all-pro capability. If the Rams could sign him he would solidify a guard position at pro-bowl levels for years to come. Something in the 3-6 million per year for 4-5 years range seems fair with his injury history.
JoLonn Dunbar. Everyone says the Rams need to draft a LB first round but why do that when you already have Ogletree and JL55 entrentched at 2 spots. With those 2 you have 2 future pro bowlers.(1 who in my opinion already should have a couple in JL55) You don't need to waste a #1 pick on another guy when you can sign an above average LB who when put next to these 2 will play very well. Plus you could most likely sign him to a 2 yr contract for the league minimum in 2014 with only a slight pay bump in 2015. No brainer if you ask me.
Kellen Clemens or Austin Davis. Clemens probably played his way into a more expensive contract replacing Bradford this season. But if the Rams could sign him to a cheap 1 yr deal they should. If not keep Davis just so you have one backup that knows the system. Then draft a developmental QB in the mid rounds. Davis is a league minimum guy, Clemens probably played his way into at 1-2 million dollar deal.
Shelly Smith or Chris Wiliams. One of these guys will need to be resigned for depth on the o-line. Williams started for most of the season at 1 guard spot and did an average job. Smith filled in for injuries along the line and did above average as a backup. Again, need to pick one up for depth and then you can draft another couple guys for O-line depth. Williams would be slightly more expensive but both figure to be 1-2 million per year guys for 2-3 years.
Tim Barnes. Young and inexperienced he was thrown into a starting role after Wells went down and played very well. In my opinion with some more coaching he could battle for the starting C position and be an above average guy on the line. The plus, he's young and would come very cheap, the only set back is he has little experience starting and you'd have no idea what to expect through the course of an entire season. At the very least you'd have a great backup guy.
The rest of the guys will walk.
Now, Free Agent Possibilities:
This will mainly depend on who the Rams resign and what positions they decide to target in the draft. I'll go with best players available at the position of need.
First off, O-line. This is the hardest position to look at as the Rams have many players that will be cut/restructured/resigned. If the Rams can't get Saffold re-signed, this is the largest concern of the off-season. Names to watch are Eugene Monroe OT, Jered Veldheer OT, Alex Mack C, Geoff Schwartz OG, Brandon Albert OT. Fisher is a firm believer in developing young talent along the line so don't be surprised if the Rams resign Saffold or sign one of these guys and go through the draft for the rest of the line. But the holes in the middle are a huge need. Barksdale played great at RT but can he play at a high level for an entire season? If Wells is gone do they trust Barnes or Jones enough to take over? If Dahl gets cut they have two open guard positions unless Saffold is re-signed. Plenty of questions surround the o-line this year. It will be interesting to see what they do.
Next up, Defensive Backs. There are 2 positions of need, 1 safety spot and cornerback. If the Rams cut Finnegan CB is dangerously low on depth. The Rams will have to sign 1 veteran and draft at least 1 guy. Players to look at if Finn leaves would be veterans like Rodgers-Cromartie, Aqib Talib, and Charles Tillman. Rodgers-Cromartie comes with the bonus of having experience at safety. If Finn stays they will more than likely fill in depth through the draft. Safety is a position many believe they will shore up with one of there 1st round picks. I think they need a veteran guy to help develop McLeod, McDonald, and Daniels. Players to look at would be T.J. Ward, Jarius Byrd, Donte Whitner, and Bernard Pollard. Ward and Byrd are probably out of the Rams price range, although in a dream scenario they would be the guys to target. Whitner and Pollard are still good safeties more in our price range that could develop the younger guys into hard nosed big hitters, great fit for Fisher style D.
Last but certainly not least, WR. Ugh, every year this seems to be a top priority. Always attempted to fill through the draft I think this year they go the free agent veteran route. The Rams have a ton of youth but no veteran to help move there development along. A guy like Anquan Boldin would be perfect for the Rams. He's got a mean attitude and runs great routes. Has great hands. While he has lost a step or two he would be the perfect guy to develop this young group. He would probably get a 5 million per year 2 yr contract. Worth every penny to teach these young guys how to play the position. Other names to look at would be Eric Decker, Hakeem Nicks, and Jeremy Maclin.The only #1 type WR would be Nicks but he has major injury concerns. Decker will probably be inline to make 5 million+ per year but his numbers may be inflated due to Manning being a god like QB. I could be wrong but I see him as a solid #2 for most teams. Maclin was inline for a big pay day but a knee injury kept him out for 2013. I've watched him since his days at the ZOU and he is an electrifying player, but at the NFL level probably will never be more than a solid #2 guy. All 3 would help a little in development but all are still reatively young at 25-26 so hardly veteran. If you could sign one of them for 2-4 million per for 3-4 years it couldn't hurt. But the big prize for the Rams would be Boldin. He would do wonders to mature this young group.
Finally, the Draft:
Praise be to the football gods for that RGIII trade. Quickly becoming one of the most lopsided trades in recent history, the Rams will use there final 1st rounder from Washinton this year. The Rams have 3 main areas of concern as stated above. OL, DB, WR. The Rams hold the following picks this year. I got this off a website so it may be wrong, but it should be close and I believe they also have a late round pick from Indianapolis.
1st Round: #2, #13
2nd Round: #12
3rd Round: #11
4th Round: #10
5th Round: #13
6th Round: #12
7th Round: #11
So alot of this depends on free agent moves and re-signs. But lets get it goin with....
1st round #2 overall pick: Trade down. The Rams have shown often since Snead and Fisher took over they don't like keeping top picks. And with the RGIII trade at a close they decide to trade the #2 pick down again for a couple more seasons of multiple 1st rounders. With Guys like Bridgewater, Manziel, Bortles, Clowney, Mathews, and Lewan it should be relatively easy to find a trade partner desperate for QB help, OT hep, or an amazing pass rush talent like Clowney. I've heard it all. Rams take Clowney, a QB, a tackle. But the Rams have no need for Clowney with there ends filled up with Long, Quinn, Hayes, and Sims. Fisher and Snead have said every year that Bradford is there QB. And Fisher has never drafted an OL in the first round. The only guy I can see the Rams possibly taking is Sammy Watkins. He is a true #1 type talent at WR and while I think he would be a great pick, I just don't see the Rams drafting him #2 overall. Also think about the fact that they could move down in a trade with Cleveland, Oakland, or Minnesota, all QB needy teams and still possibly get Watkins. At some point they will have to develop the WRs they have. In this scenario Oakland decides they don't want to miss out on there guy to Cleveland or Jacksonville so they give up there 1st rounders this year, 2015, and 2016 so they can pick up Johnny Manziel. "They would never give up that much for him" It's Oakland, yes they would. So with the #5 pick the Rams get there man in Sammy Watkins. I hope they can get a veteran guy through free agency. However, money is extremely tight so I think they will have to pray that Watkins turns into a star.
1st Round #13 overall pick: Being completely honest I could see them trading down again. However I will let them keep this one and draft Fisher's first OL in the first round Taylor Lewan. Mathews is gone at this point and Lewan has been rated higher than Mathews by some. Snead says Long will be ready for the start of the season and Barksdale played very well. But if they can't re-sign Saffold and they get rid of Wells and or Dahl they will be void of any depth at all. Lewan isn't a depth guy obviously but they could ease Long back in and once he returns they could try Barksdale at a guard position during the pre-season to see if he can play at a high level. Otherwise, you can never have too much depth.
2nd Round #12 Pick: This could go 3 ways. DB, OL or BPA. Since I have no idea who the best player available will be, I go DB. I pray the Rams get a good veteran Safety in free agency and in this case they did so Safety is set. Finn returns on a restructured contract but the Rams desperately need depth and they pick up one of these 3 guys. Jason Verrett, Lamarcus Joyner, Bradley Roby. Roby is probably the most raw, but most physically gifted of the bunch. Joyner is the most ready for the NFL and as an added bonus for the Rams has safety exerience. He is small for either position but plays big and would be perfect as a nickle back and could fill in at safety when needed. Verrett is an All-American corner with great ball hawking ability. Another good nickle option that could develop into an excellent big play corner. My hope is they get Joyner and have a hybrid safety/corner.
3rd Round #11 Pick: Back to the OL with this pick. Gabe Jackson (if he falls this far) is a big man but is extremely quick and nimble for his size. He gets tossed around by stronger lineman but not due to lack of strength or size, just lack of overall intensity which could be taught and if the Rams keep Dahl he could develop this guy and teach him to play with attitude. The Rams need depth and this guy is a developmental prospect with the ability to be a stud.
4th Round #10 Pick: Alot has been put into the DBs in my off season and its not done yet. The defense would have been a top 10 group had the pass defense not taken a huge step backward. So they decide to go with another CB in E.J. Gaines. As a huge Mizzou fan I may be biased, but this guy went 1 on 1 with some of the best WRs in the nation and shut down all of them. Pinkle said from the first day he joined the team that he was the most gifted CB he'd ever seen and he had a terrific senior season. He's been projected as high as the 2nd round and as low as the 6th. He definitely has the talent of a 2nd rounder. He doesn't have great tackling skills, more of a grab and drag guy or just a shove type guy. But he's one of the best coverage guys in the draft and thats what you really need in a corner. The Rams are now stacked in the defensive backfield and there defense as a whole is set up to be a top 10 group.
5th-7th round will be BPA and depth picks. Look for QB, maybe Aaron Murray or Connor Shaw. Depth at DT should be easy to find as this is a deep year for DTs. Also more depth on the Oline wouldn't be surprising.
This is my take on the off-season. Obviously it is a very rough outline of what I hope for and I could be wrong on every aspect. But if it happens to turn out similar to this I think the Rams would be sitting pretty come week 1.