Gregg Williams. This changes everything. This one change affects outlook, confidence, free agency, and finally, the draft. As I—and many others—began forecasting the offseason more than a month ago when playoff hopes were officially buried, I couldn’t help but think about the wasted potential of what I believe should have been a top-10 defense. The offense remains a work in progress to be sure, but that shouldn’t be a surprise to any realistic Rams fan. But the defense? Ugh. All that changed yesterday. The dream offseason could not have gotten off to a better start.
First, the team has some decisions to make in Free Agency. This is the first area where Williams will make his mark. The team has shown its proclivity for signing players with ties to its coaches. It’s been well-documented and blatantly obvious. I see this trend continuing. Enter Malcolm Jenkins.
Jenkins was drafted during Williams’ first draft with the Saints, and I’d bet Williams had input into this selection. Jenkins played for Williams for 3 seasons and if reports from former players are true, he would probably love to play for him again. I was all-aboard the Jairus Byrd train 2 days ago, but again, everything changed yesterday. Jenkins is 26, a former 1st-rd draft pick, and has shown flashes of high-level potential. Paired again with Williams, he could be a star. Better yet, a star who won’t cost $8 million per.
Along the same lines, the Rams should look to re-sign Jo Lonn. He wasn’t the revelation of 2012, but he also wasn’t the reason the Rams defense took a step sideways. He followed Williams here initially, and I don’t see why playing for him again won’t light a fire under his ass. Remember, the team drafted an OLB for the future last year, and in a 4-3 alignment, Dunbar—the 2nd OLB—only averaged 50% of the snap counts over the last few weeks. I like the Rams to retain him on a cheapish one or two year deal, while giving Ray Ray another year to develop.
As long as we’re looking at signings and re-signings, Saffold needs to be retained. I have no doubt he’ll test the market, and I’m worried that some team will give him a shot at Tackle—and the accompanying cash—so this is where I want Fisher and Snead to devote some time and energy over the coming month. Devise a plan to make Rodger feel indispensable and loved. This plan will require some cash, so cut Dahl and Wells, add up the savings, and give it to Rodger. Done.
Staying on the line, Wells is now an ex-Ram, so give Barnes a qualifying offer, let him and Barrett fight it out for the starter’s job, and call it a day.
Now on to one of the most troubling decisions to come soon: Finnegan. As previously mentioned, I was all for cutting Finnegan and using that money for Byrd. But with Jenkins and his bargain-for-a-potential-star salary already on board, I say Fisher sits down with Cortland, pats his head gently, and says something like, "Cortland. Listen, you know I love you. I brought you here to be a leader, and quite frankly, have already given you quuuiiiite a bit of money. So, I know your eye was broken, or whatever, but let’s be honest: you didn’t play so well last season. I still love you, in spite of that, but I’m gonna need you to take a paycut. A small one. Weeeellllll… I love you and I shouldn’t have just lied to you there. It won’t be a small one. How does that sound?" Finnegan’s reply will seal his fate with the Rams. My guess is he agrees. Or doesn’t. Who knows?
With FA mostly settled and the defensive starters in place, it’s time for the draft. Buckle up, and take off those pessimistic, Mister-Realistic glasses you’re wearing. It’s going to be wild one.
As much as the Texans would love to draft Clowney, I bet they decide a QB offers the more immediate path towards re-establishing relevance. I don’t care which one they take, as long as his name isn’t Johnny Manziel; that will screw up future plans. HOU takes Teddy Bridgewater.
With one QB now gone, Cleveland makes its move and offers the Rams its 2014 #4 overall and 2nd round picks, and their 2015 1st round pick. Many see both 2014 1st round picks as a starting point, but I don’t see them giving up both 1st round picks this year AND their 2015 1st round pick; I’d rather have next year’s pick for reasons I’ll explain later. CLE takes Johnny Football.
JAX is desperate for a QB. With Clowney still on the board, they are tempted. But they need a QB, no matter what Caldwell says publicly about Gabbert. Snead and Fisher are getting dizzy from holding their breath for 10 minutes, but Blake Bortles, who grew up only a 2-hour drive from Jacksonville, makes too much sense. Card’s in. Yahtzee.
Amazingly, the player who some are calling a generational defensive prospect is still on the board. Goes to show how important the QB position is. Snead calls his old pal Dimitroff and seals the deal they have had in place for weeks. ATL gives up their 2014 #6 overall and 2nd round picks, and their 2015 2nd round pick. ATL takes Clowney.
OAK is now in a quandary. With the consensus top-3 QBs off the board, the Raiders sprint to the podium and take Sammy Watkins. Fisher slams his glasses on the table; many Rams fans rejoice. It’s time to finally fix the damn O-Line with some youth and talent.
I am torn. I wanted the Rams to draft Jake Matthews when I thought he would declare for the 2013 draft, and I still love him now. I admittedly didn’t watch a lot of Auburn games this season, but I watched two of their most important games this season and Greg Robinson is a brick wall. Fisher has ties to Matthews, but both he and Snead have ties to Auburn. Matthews is the safer prospect in my eyes, but Robinson has more upside. He can immediately be a force on the right side while refining his pass protection skills to be the eventual franchise LT. Robinson is the pick.
With the 13th pick, only Robinson and Matthews have been taken and MIA wants a Tackle. Reports tie them to Zack Martin, and Snead offers them a reasonable deal. MIA gives up their 2014 #19 overall and 3rd round picks, selects Zack Martin, and Rams fans keep waiting.
The 19th pick comes around and the Rams are ready to pick. Lucky for them, Justin Gilbert is still on the board. Gilbert provides the Rams an immediate impact at Kick Returner, the best young dime CB in the NFL, and an insurance policy/replacement for Finnegan. The secondary that was a glaring weakness just a season ago is now a force to be reckoned with for years to come.
With the 35th pick in the draft from CLE, the Rams select Aaron Donald. Many are now pegging him for the 1st round after a dominating performance during Senior Bowl week, but his relative lack of size will scare teams off. The Rams get a rotational DT with loads of potential.
With the 37th pick from ATL, the Rams select Gabe Jackson. Like Larry Warford this past season for the Lions, Jackson will step in immediately and be a road grader for Stacy. While many point to his pass protection as shaky, his dominant run blocking will more than make up for any lapses in pass pro. The O-Line is now fixed. And it will be DAMN good.
With their own 44th pick in the 2nd round, the Rams select Dion Bailey. As a USC fan, this is a complete homer pick. But don’t let that dissuade you from the fact that Bailey is a very, very good football player. He is an absolute ballhawk. With the FA signing of Jenkins, Bailey can take at least a year to adjust to the pro game while being a special-team ace with the potential to step in and produce if need arises.
With their own 75th pick in the 3rd round, the Rams select Jimmy Garoppolo. I admittedly don’t know a lot about him, and haven’t seen any more than youtube highlights, but he has starter’s potential. He hopefully won’t be counted on to step in immediately. The Rams can assess Bradford throughout 2014 and develop Garoppolo. If he looks like a starter, the Rams will be in an enviable position for the future with a young, quality backup.
With the 81st pick from MIA, the Rams select Michael Sam. Not sure if he’ll still be on the board, but if he is, the Rams will pounce. Sam might be a little small for DE, and some have pointed to his limited pass coverage experience as reasons it can be hard to project him as an OLB. I hope he falls, and I hope the Rams draft him.
With the 106th pick in the draft, the Rams will go back to the Mizzou well and draft EJ Gaines. What’s that you say? The Rams secondary is a weakness? Not anymore.
By now, if you’ve read this far, you’re probably bored and hate me. Sorry. And some may wonder why they don’t see a WR anywhere in FA or the draft. Simply put, it’s because I want the current Rams WR corps to get reps. I am hoping that Givens gets back to playing like he did in his rookie season. He’ll never be a #1, or maybe even a #2, but he can still be a deep threat. Bailey was a revelation at season’s end and I want him to be on the opening game starting roster. He deserves his chance. Tavon is Tavon and he will get his chances. This is the last year for Quick, and if he is to take any steps forward, he needs reps. Drafting a WR with a high pick will limit those reps. This will be the magical third year for Quick, and if he doesn’t produce, remember, that’s why I wanted a 2015 #1 pick instead of the 2014 #26 pick. If the Rams are still in need of a true #1 WR, 2015 could be the year to again move up if need be, ala Tavon Austin, and draft DGB, assuming he isn’t in jail next year. If Quick and co. progress, and Snead is correct when he says he thinks the WRs are fine, the Rams will again have two 1st round picks, with one of them possibly being pure gold—I don’t know about you, but I don’t think Pettine will be the answer in CLE. If CLE does indeed flounder in 2014, and Bradford doesn’t progress or gets hurt again, the Rams will have the ammo to hit the QB-reset button and draft Mariota or Winston. Either way, the Rams will have some nice real estate in 2015 and Robert Griffin III will continue to be the gift that keeps on giving… and giving.
So, to sum up this "Dream" offseason...
Cut: Dahl and Wells
FA Signing: Malcolm Jenkins, FS
Re-sign: Saffold, Barnes, Dunbar
1a) Greg Robinson, T
1b) Justin Gilbert, CB/KR
2a) Aaron Donald, DT
2b) Gabe Jackson, G
2c) Dion Bailey, S
3a) Jimmy Garoppolo, QB
3b) Michael Sam, DE/OLB
4) EJ Gaines, CB
Thanks for reading.