The St. Louis Rams were the youngest team in the NFL this season. Although the entire roster will age a year in 2014, it's likely the Rams will again have the distinction of being the NFL's youngest team. Jeff Fisher - on his weekly show - indicated the Rams will be YOUNGER in 2014 than they were this season:
The only way the Rams' 2014 roster can become younger than the 2013 edition is self-evident: replacing older players with younger ones. The two main vehicles for injecting youth into the roster are: the NFL Draft and the UDFA process. The Rams currently have 9 selections - their original 7 picks, plus Washington's 1st round pick and Indianapolis' 6th/7th round selection from the Josh Gordy trade - in the 2014 NFL Draft. Many expect the Rams to accumulate additional picks in the upcoming draft, especially after Les Snead suggested the Rams were open to trading away the number two overall selection (link). The Rams have also been quite successful bringing in young talent via the UDFA process. It's reasonable to suggest the Rams' roster will undergo a 20-25% turnover this off season. Jeff Fisher shared his thoughts about roster turnover during his December 30 press conference:
“I would expect that we would have less, yeah. But there’s always going to be turnover. In good teams, there’s 15 or 20 percent turnover in rosters, so I think we’d have less than we had last year. Certainly significantly less than two years ago.”
The accompanying chart presents the dozen oldest Rams heading into the off season:
Player Position Age in 2014 Will Witherspoon OLB 34 Scott Wells C 33 Harvey Dahl OG 33 Matt Giordano S 32 Kellen Clemens QB 31 Brady Quinn QB 30 Cortland Finnegan CB 30 Chris Williams OG 29 Jake Long OT 29 Chris Long DE 29 William Hayes DE 29 Jo-Lonn Dunbar OLB 29
William Hayes, Chris Long, and Jake Long are virtually guaranteed 2014 roster positions. Each is an integral part of the Rams' offensive/defensive lines, and provide quality, veteran leadership.
Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Chris Williams, Brady Quinn, Kellen Clemens, Matt Giordano, and Will Witherspoon all become free agents this off season. Witherspoon, Quinn, and Giordano are not likely to be re-signed by the Rams. It's possible the Rams will re-sign Clemens, Dunbar, and Williams (as backups). If the three are re-signed, it would likely be at no more than the league veteran minimums, with extensive use of the Minimum Salary Benefits provisions in the CBA. The three could be re-signed for salary cap hits of $570,000 apiece.
Scott Wells, Harvey Dahl, and Cortland Finnegan will present difficult dilemmas for the Rams this off season. All three are on the downside of their careers, carry big 2014 salary cap hits, are between 30-33 years old, and have had trouble staying on the field due to injuries. Those factors, when combined, make them candidates for release, especially given the Rams' tight cap space situation. Their release could free up salary cap space for signing a couple of young free agents coming off rookie contracts. Conversely, releasing all three could potentially create depth problems for the interior offensive line and the secondary.
The Rams can also get younger next season by choosing to release/not re-sign younger players on the current roster. Rodger Saffold (26 in 2014), Darian Stewart (26 in 2014), and Shelley Smith (27 in 2014) are examples of players who are free agents this off season. Cody Davis (25 in 2014), Daren Bates (24 in 2014), and Mike Person (26 in 2014) are examples of younger players on the fringe of the roster, who could be released in favor of even younger players through the draft/UDFA process.
If the Rams end up being a younger team in 2014 than they are this season - as suggested by Jeff Fisher - will it affect their ability to contend for a playoff spot next season? How many of the older veterans will become roster casualties in the process? Notwithstanding the continuing youth movement, there is little doubt Les Snead and Jeff Fisher have a plan for this off season. One which they believe will make the Rams playoff contenders in 2014.