With the combine wrapping up and the free agent season shifting into high gear this week, it's time to think coherently about the Rams' offseason plans. We've had a lot of good discussion here around this topic, and fan forums and message boards are atwitter with posts offering opinions and expressing a wish list.
Today, I want to take a first stab at distilling these things, along with a healthy dose of reality, into what I'm sure will be the first of many proposals for the Rams offseason. These improvement plans feature more "if/then" scenarios than the word problem section on the SAT (the what?), so keep in mind that any strategy we propose as fans as well as any strategy proposed at any level is going to change as reality imparts its inevitable limitations. That said, my thinking in putting this out there is to use it as a starting point for a more complete discussion which is what makes the offseason so damn entertaining.
Step 1 - The Free Agent Market
Obviously, defense is our biggest need, and with aging but solid state of the Rams offense, the window to win is still open if only the defense, specifically the run defense, moves up a notch to adequate. Many of us have looked to the free agent market for instant solutions, but that route has several obstacles. This year's free agent market is thinner than Karen Carpenter, and LOTS of teams have cap space and need to upgrade. This means that more than likely teams will get into bidding wars for the few top tier guys available.
The Rams can do two things here, jump into the bidding for a guys like Hollis Thomas (too late as of today) or Terdell Sands or look for bargains that can contribute but may not represent a one size fits all solution. The advantage to signing a big name free agent means that the Rams have someone who can (ideally) step right into the role they need him to play, i.e. stuffing the run. Linehan's got a whole new crew and a whole new way of looking at things, and word on the street is that the Rams will play it smart on the free agent market and not throw dollars into bidding wars. Besides, free agents don't always pan out either, LaRoi Glover anyone?
They can also take a page out of Walt Jocketty's book and look for more reasonable solutions on the free agent market. Last week we talked a little about a guy like Seattle's DT Craig Terrill. He's not a marquee free agent, and in fact he's nothing more than a solid guy for the rotation who works his ass off and is a good run stopper. By taking this route, the Rams could fill several team needs, such as backup help to replace Timmerman on the O-line.
Step 1.5 - Resigning Players
Priority number one for resigning Rams free agents to be, is to lock up P Matt Turk. His lofty and light balls saved the Rams bacon more than once when they got into a jam on 4th downs. Resigning Kevin Curtis would be nice, but Curtis can go and be a top two WR somewhere else and get the money to go with it. Signing him would tie up lots of Rams cash in a #3 WR, a damn good one but a #3 nonetheless.
Step 2 - The Draft
This is where it gets a little confusing, as any activity in the free agent market is likely to shape the Rams' approach come April. There are two routes to pursue here. First, the Rams can draft a WR in the first round to replace Curtis and be an understudy to Bruce and Holt, waiting in the wings for the first of that mighty duo to leave for the gilded palace of retirement. Over the next few rounds, the Rams would then draft defensive talent, an end to complement Little, a tackle to join the rotation and eventually replace Kennedy or Glover, a linebacker, and maybe even take a chance on a d-back. Drafting some depth for the O-line, some high-reward type guys in the later rounds, would also be advisable.
The second approach is to start the draft with defense in mind. There's some real talent available that could instantly step in and have an impact for the Rams. The question with this option hinges on which position to draft in the first round, a DT like Okoye, a stud end like Quentin Moses, or a blue chip LB like Patrick Willis. Regardless of which position is taken first, the other two positions will then be taken in over the next two or three rounds, with a sleeper WR who can be a #3 and a fast kick return man this season, someone like Yamon Figurs.
Whichever route the Rams take in free agency and the draft, the key thing to remember here is that the Rams can become serious contenders with the right picks and signings.
This weekend TST will be monitoring the free agent frenzy that opens up Friday afternoon, and we'll be keeping an eye on things as they progress. Following that, we'll get into some deeper draft coverage leading up to the big event this April. One thing here we really want to do is to give a thorough look to all the potential talent available to the Rams. Next week, we'll have a look at the offensive line.