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Rams Cap Room - Thinking Cap Room, that is

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Sorry about the silence 'round here lately. I had to be in Nebraska at conference without internet access for the last three days...it was as bad as it sounds.

Back to our Rams though. I'm going to leave the poll inquiring about fans' draft preferences up for a little while longer. There's a real debate to had here about how to improve the Rams for 2008 and the longer term versus the players available via draft and free agency.

One thing that's going to effect the way teams operate in the free agent market is the fact that the cap has gone up to $109 million leaving teams lots of $$ to sign new and retain their own free agents. The available talent in free agency doesn't match up well against the money available to teams, which is to say that there aren't too many of the top flight guys eligible for free agency. Teams will have the payroll flexibility this season to sign the key guys that they want to keep.

As far as the Rams are concerned, this presents a couple of issues. We've all been counting on free agency to fill one of our big needs on the defensive front, but the number of marquis free agents available will be few and far between and a number of those guys will be courted heavily by their current teams. I doubt it creates a situation where there's no talent available that could step right in and help the Rams run defense problems in 2008, but it does make this route of improvement a little less of a sure thing.

All of this, since the free agent frenzy starts March 1, certainly effects the Rams approach in this years draft. One of the arguments against drafting a young blue chip DT (now the favored position per our poll at right) goes that there's no such thing as a sure thing DT avaiable at the 13th spot and even if  there was, it can take a couple of years for that player to develop and really make a difference. And  that's why, per my own reading of the tea leaves, so many Rams fans favor signing a free agent DT or DE to fill out our needs on defense. And so we're back to the question of who's available. A vicious cycle indeed.

The Rams have $22.9 million in cap room, which means we shouldn't have many issues when it comes to being a player in the free agent market. With that kind of money available I'm now starting to wonder if the Rams shouldn't try and persuade WR Kevin Curtis to stick around. For Curtis, that probably means another season of being the third guy, behind an Isaac Bruce whose long in the tooth but still has skeells; however, it just doesn't seem like Curtis would be keen on that accoring to context clues bouncing around in the press this season. As a talented WR just getting into the prime of his career, why would he stick around when he can be a #1 WR elsewhere with a #1 WR salary? I love Bruuuuuuuuuuce, but the Rams should scale back his role and make Curtis a legit #2 behind Torry Holt.

Of course, they could also draft a WR, even in the later rounds, with the intention of grooming him for the #1 and/or #2 role in two or three years.

With or without Curtis, the Rams will have to make a big dollar offer to get the best available free agents to upgrade the defense, as well as turn to the draft for players who can make some kind of impact - stuff the run now and learn the pass rush over time -  right away.

Looking at the various mock draft boards on the web, this one posits an as yet undiscussed player for the Rams' first round pick, Nebraska DE Adam Carriker.  In his last two seasons with the Huskers, Carriker has been named to the AP's All Big-12 First Team. Per HuskerIllustrated, Carriker will go down as "one of the better defensive ends in school history." Not bad for a school that gave us former Rams DE Grant Wistrom.

In the second round of the smae mock draft, the author predicts the Rams will/should pick Michigan LB David Harris. Harris is reportedly a premier run stuffer, and you'll recall that, along with DT Alan Branch (available to the Rams only by trading up for a higher first round pick), gave Michgan one of the best run defenses in college football. It sounds as though in the immediate future Harris would be on the field for running downs, while developing his pass rush/playmaking game.

The popular internet mock draft site, Football's Future, has both Carriker and Harris as early second round picks.

Lots of factors besides team needs will govern the Rams player acquisition strategies this season, and it's a real test for a new head coach and his player development staff. We'll be able to start judging come March. In the meantime, get and keep your thinking caps on Rams fans.