The Rams' offensive line has been one of the bigger disappointments of the 2014 season, as observed in my mid-season report card. The Rams face a difficult off-season, with many issues to resolve, and tough personnel decisions to make. Right at the top of the list of concerns is the offensive line, a unit that's ageing, prone to injury, and under-performing. The following ten steps begin the process of fixing the offensive line, by making it younger, more talented, and cost-effective.
Step One - Additions For Training Camp - (End Of The Season)
The Rams sign Steven Baker and Travis Bond from the practice squad to Reserve/Futures contracts. C Demetrius Rhaney is taken off of Injured Reserve, and heads to training camp on his original rookie contract. Nothing wrong with having a bit of competition in training camp.
Step Two - Release Jake Long - (March)
The Rams will gain $8 million in salary cap space if they release Long after the season ends. Ongoing injury concerns - and the presence of Greg Robinson at LT - make his release an attractive option for the Rams.
Step Three - Release Scott Wells - (March)
Wells will be 34 years old in January. His skills are eroding, plus he's injury-prone. Releasing Wells would allow the Rams $3.75 million in salary cap relief.
Step Four - Re-Sign Joe Barksdale - (March)
Barksdale is eligible for free agency in 2015. He's durable, consistent, effective, and turns 27 in January. Continuity on the offensive line is an important consideration for the Rams in re-signing Barksdale.
Contract: 4 years/$16 million. $6.5 million guaranteed ($3 million signing bonus, $3.5 million 2015 base salary).
Step Five - Re-sign eligible free agents Mike Person, Tim Barnes, and Brandon Washington - (March)
The Rams will not tender RFA Tim Barnes. Barnes, Washington, and Person are all re-signed by the Rams at league minimums. Their ages (all three are 26), versatility, and familiarity with the Rams' offensive schemes, are significant factors in all three being brought back to the team. The remaining eligible free agent, Davin Joseph, will not be re-signed by the Rams.
Step Six - Sign Free Agent Guard Mike Iupati - San Francisco - (March)
Iupati will be the top free agent offensive lineman available in 2015. He's 27, accomplished (2-time Pro Bowler and 1-time All-Pro), and is durable (5 games missed in 73 contests). If the Rams are to venture into the free agent market, it must be for a player who is young, fits the Rams' offensive scheme, is accomplished, and has no significant injury history. Iupati fits all of the criteria.
Contract: 5 years/$43 million. $18 million fully guaranteed ($6 million signing bonus, $7 million 2015 base salary, $5 million of 2016 base salary).
Step Seven - Trade Down In The First Round Of The 2015 NFL Draft - (April 30)
The Rams trade down in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft, acquiring an additional second round pick in the process. This trade allows the Rams the flexibility to select an OLB and QB in the first two rounds, while still having the ability to address the offensive line in the second and third rounds.
Step Eight - Select A Guard In The Second Round Of The Draft - (May 1)
The Rams select one starter-quality guard from among Vadal Alexander (LSU), A.J. Cann (South Carolina), and Josue Matias (Florida St.). Alexander and Matias are versatile, having experience at both guard and tackle. The selection adds much-needed youthful depth.
Step Nine - Select A Center In The Third Round Of The Draft - (May 1)
The Rams select Oregon C Hroniss Grasu in the third round of the draft. Grasu is a four-year starter with the Ducks, will enter the NFL with loads of experience, and has the ability to challenge for a starting role in his rookie season.
Step Ten - Turn Them Over To Paul Boudreau - (Mid-May)
Once all the player moves are made, it's up to offensive line coach Paul Boudreau to turn all of this young talent into a powerful, cohesive unit.
The accompanying chart presents the projected 2015 offensive line depth chart, following execution of the ten step approach:
C Barrett Jones Hroniss Grasu Tim Barnes RG Rodger Saffold Vadal Alexander LG Mike Iupati Brandon Washington RT Joe Barksdale LT Greg Robinson Mike Person
After all the roster moves, the Rams essentially replace Wells (age 33), Long (29), and Joseph (30) with Iupati (27), Alexander (21), and Grasu (24). In the process, the offensive line becomes significantly younger. The average age of the Rams' entire offensive line in this scenario: 24.8 years.
The estimated cost of adding Mike Iupati - plus re-signing Barksdale, Person, Barnes, and Washington - is $14.75 million for 2015. The cost is mitigated by the $11.75 million in salary cap charges saved in 2015 by the release of Wells and Long.
In this scenario, the depth at offensive tackle has not been addressed directly. The focus is on the interior line. The Rams would, however, have a number of versatile offensive linemen capable of filling in at tackle: Barrett Jones, Vadal Alexander, Mike Person, Rodger Saffold, and Brandon Washington.
The problems with the Rams' offensive line weren't created overnight. They likely won't be fixed overnight either. The ten step approach is only the beginning. Irrespective, you have to start somewhere...