With a big decision about Isaac Bruce and his $5 million cap hit in 2008 looming, we have to at least consider the possibility that Bruce may not be catching passes for the Rams anymore. Bruce has been the face of this team since most of us were waiting for a St. Louis football team to root for. It's tough to think about the Rams without him.
Sentimentality doesn't do much to help a team overcome a 3 win season, not that Bruce deserves any of the blame for that. The Rams have a significant amount of money tied up in Holt ($9.2 million against the cap) and Bennett ($4.5 million against the cap) next season. Keeping another $5 million invested in the WR corps just doesn't make much sense anymore, not with a Linehan-led team that will continue to make Steven Jackson the centerpiece of the offense. (Cutting Bennett isn't an option since the Rams would still owe him upwards of $6 million.) Bennett would take over Bruce's starting job, becoming the Rams' #2 WR. It is reasonable to assume that a hamstring injury and the sorry state of the Rams offense made his 2007 season a low point and he should have a better season next year. That's another topic for another time.
The Rams would then be in the market for a third wide receiver. Who might that be? There are essentially two options: 1) get a high potential kid in the draft, ideally somewhere in the 3rd or 4th rounds, after using the previous picks to bolster positions (like OL and DE) that require immediate attention, or 2) find a low-cost, high-upside free agent WR. The downside of drafting a replacement WR, particularly in the middle rounds, is the development time involved. A draftee likely wouldn't be much of a factor in 2008.
A quick note about internal candidates: I don't think anyone's optimistic about Marques Hagans future as a Ram, and with those hands, his future in the NFL is questionable. Dane Looker's a fine holder for the kicker and a nice component to have on the roster, but he's not top three WR material. Local player done good Brandon Williams has yet to catch a pass in three NFL seasons. As a return man though, he's been a real find for the Rams. Why again are we paying Dante Hall $1.9 million next season?
We'll save WR prospects in the draft for another day. Right now, let's take a quick look at some of the lower cost, higher potential WR3 candidates.
Javon Walker wants out of Denver, just two seasons after wanting out of Green Bay. The talent's there to be certain. The attitude on the other hand needs some work. He's also expensive, which puts the Rams right back where they were with Bruce's 2008 contract.
Houston Texans WR Andre Davis had something of a coming out party this season filling in for the injured Andre Johnson. Davis had 33 catches for 583 yards and 3 TDs for a born again Texans team. He's also a good return man, putting up 968 yards and 3 TDs on 32 returns this season. After making "just" $855K in 2007, he'll earn a little more scratch as teams pursue the free agent as a 3rd WR/return man. This will be his 7th season in the NFL.
2008 will be Devery Henderson's fourth season in the NFL. He's fast and athletic, but stands just 5' 11". Linehan's on the record as preferring some size in a wide out. Henderson failed to live up to the expectations he set for himself in 2006, but the Saints struggled to score points all season. His 2007 might give him a reasonable price tag. He had an $868K cap value last season. This could be a decent pick up for the Rams, for the right price, giving them a top notch #3 WR who could play as a #2 some as well.
Panthers WR Drew Carter is a good route runner, like Bruce, and played well as the #2 WR behind Steve Smith in Carolina's disappointing, injury-marked season. Carolina fans were still somewhat critical of Carter, pointing to an inability to get open and some ill-timed dropped balls.
Those are just a few names available via the free agent route, if the Rams chose to replace Bruce. Let's ponder the options with Bruce, and the FA market versus the draft as a means to replace him.