Arguing about the dates aside, there should be enough progress in the NFL labor negotiations to signal that the end of the lockout is certain. When that does happen, the St. Louis Rams, whether they play the August 7 Hall of Fame Game or not, will have a long list of things to do prior to their season opener with the Philadelphia Eagles.
One of the first priorities will be making some decisions about their own free agents, who to keep and who to drop. Today, let's look at who the Rams don't need to worry about hanging on to once free agency opens.
Operating under the assumption that FA returns to the four-year rules, here's the list of free agents.
Unrestricted: WR Mark Clayton, RB Kenneth Darby, TE Daniel Fells*, DT Gary Gibson*, OT Adam Goldberg, S Michael Lewis, WR Laurent Robinson*, DT Clifton Ryan
Restricted: LB Chris Chamberlain*, OT Renardo Foster*, LB Larry Grant*, OG John Greco*, CB Justin King*, LB David Vobora*
Our drops after the jump.
RB Kenneth Darby - It's telling that Darby didn't receive an RFA tender before the lockout. As bad as the Rams need an answer behind Steven Jackson, they didn't think enough of Darby to hand out the cursory low-ball tender offer. It won't really matter once free agency returns to the four-year rules. One potential development since tags were handed out: the draft. We know that the Rams had several running backs pretty highly ranked in the 2011 NFL Draft, but for various reasons, they passed on them to draft another player. Darby averaged 4.95 YPC on 59 carries with the Rams in 2008 and 2009, but just 3.1 YPC last year, some of which has to do with the offensive line.
S Michael Lewis - Though the Rams need a safety, Lewis contributed little last year after coming over from the 49ers. What makes him so expendable with the Rams is that they already have a solid pair of in-the-box safeties with Craig Dahl and James Butler.
DT Clifton Ryan - I'm not sure I wouldn't keep him, but it's been a foregone conclusion for months that the Rams will let him walk. Notice that they gave Gibson and RFA tender but not Ryan. Ryan doesn't do much on the pass rush.
I said yesterday that all of the RFAs were worth keeping, even if they don't make the final squad. Vobora and Chamberlain seem to be the most secure of the bunch. Foster was serviceable filling in for Jason Smith last year, and will battle for a backup job. I think Greco would upgrade the offensive line, but they may prefer to find a backup interior OL who can play center too.