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Rams free agency: To splash or not to splash

Two schools of though on the St. Louis Rams reported interest in free agent WR Sidney Rice, who the Seahawks eventually signed to a rich contract. Really, it's the same debate we have about free agency every year when it comes to the Rams, every bloody year. In one camp, you have those that support the cautious approach. On the other side of the isle, angry partisans upset with a conservative approach to free agency. 

It's hard to look at a roster within $20 million of the cap and call a team cheap. The Rams took a big risk, one that many didn't want them to, when they drafted Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford with the first overall pick. Bradford missed his final season at OU with a shoulder injury that many wondered if he'd recover from. Obviously, he did. And the Rams spent oodles of money handing out what was once de rigueur for first-pick QB contracts. They could have waited; they could have found a stop gap. They didn't, and you'll be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't see Bradford as one of the NFL's best quarterbacks over the next decade. 

They also spent money in prior drafts and free agency fixing an offensive line that ended plenty of careers. The old regime brought in Jacob Bell, though Devaney was the VP of Personnel at the time. In 2009, the added the best center available in free agency, Jason Brown. Have either of those players lived up to their pricey contracts? Not really, but they have given the Rams two solid blockers up front. Offensive tackles were added via the draft. Jason Smith needs to establish his first-round worthiness this year, but Rodger Saffold was an absolute steal. 

Spagnuolo and Devaney acted fast to upgrade the defense, signing Quintin Mikell to a very nice contract, probably even overpaying to some extent. Value, however, is in the eye of the beholder, ultimately, and they put a premium on what Mikell can do for the backbone of this defense.  

This isn't a "cheap" front office. 

But I do understand the frustration. Free agency represents a natural extension of the competition on the playing field, combined with the excitement and anticipation of discovering the new. It lacks eloquence to say it this way, but it sucks to see a division rival bag a big time playermaker like Sidney Rice, even though many of us were/are reconciled to the group of offensive players the Rams do have. 

In previous years, I've been against the Rams making sexy, expensive adds in free agency. The Rams prior to 2011 were a rebuilding team. They still are rebuilding to some extent, making up for years of damage to the roster from neglected drafts and sexy free agent moves like Drew Bennett

"Not quite there" is the best way to describe the Rams in 2011, but this is a much different team than 2010. Expectations are real this year, tough schedule or not, anything less than the NFC West promises to rile a fan base anxious to see winning football in St. Louis again.

It's also a chance for the Rams to put themselves even further ahead of their division rivals, who are spending big this week. Having Bradford automatically puts the Rams a step ahead of the rest of the division all with QB questions, but it's not enough to race out to a commanding lead by any means. 

The Rams can still separate themselves from the rest of the division; in fact, they should be favored to do just that. Adding a player like Sidney Rice would put the Rams far above their division rivals. The same can be said for Brandon Mebane, though defensive tackles lack the star power of wide receivers. If ever there was a time to add a name brand in free agency, heightened expectations and three other teams in the division that clearly see it up for grabs make this the year to do so.