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St. Louis Rams: 2015 Off Season Will Be A Challenge

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Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

OK, so a 6-10 record for the 2014 season is in the books. Throughout this assortment of few wins and lots of losses, Rams fans have seen lows and highs for their team. Head coach Jeff Fisher and team general manager Les Snead are in a place to both envied and dreaded right now. They've got a team filled with first round draft picks, and an impressive number of later round and undrafted finds. Their running back stable is solid, even if Zac Stacy departs via an off season deal - which could happen?

The Rams' defense is solid, with quite a few players on the outer edge of the NFL learning curve. This really could be a special group in 2015. Yet, to take the next step as a defense, what do the Rams have to do? I look at right outside linebacker as a place in need of a special player... Clemson's Vic Beasley? Sounds like a nice idea, but the most glaring needs for the Rams aren't on defense; they're on the other side of the ball...

The Rams offense is not without special players. They're much maligned wide receiver corp over the past couple years is actually solid, with decent depth. Kenny Britt was a pleasant surprise, so all he has to do is survive the off season without an off-field debacle... Easier said than done for the behavior challenged Britt, but it could happen? Stedman Bailey is solidly in the "great draft pick" column, but his college teammate Tavon Austin may wind up being no more than a punt return specialist in the long run. Chris Givens has slid down the depth chart, which I find odd? Givens has the tools, as he showed in 2013. But, for some reason, he was shoved aside in 2014. Brian Quick should return to 100% after major shoulder surgery. Trust me, since I'm an unwilling expert on all things "shoulder". After having virtually EVERYTHING ripped up in my right shoulder - and three surgeries to repair it - I can tell you Quick should mend nicely. The bottom line: unless the Rams have a shot at a Devon Funchess - a unique, broad skill set WR/TE guy I'd love the Rams to select -  after a trade down in the first round, I don't see them adding receiving weapons to the roster.

So you can see where I'm headed here, right? Yes, two glaring position needs are staring Fisher and Snead in the face, and there simply isn't enough draft day capital to solve them. Sam Bradford is key, and I truly hope he can stay healthy in 2015. If he doesn't - or doesn't look like he's going to be ready by opening day 2015 - the Rams have to be ready to do more than have a rolling back up quarterback audition each Sunday. So what do the Rams need to do? Draft a quarterback? Sign a big name free agent? (cough, cough, gag! - Cutler?) Even IF Bradford re-negotiates his contract at a lower salary, he's not going to be cheap by any means. OK, there's quite a difference between $16 million than say, $5 million, but we're talking big numbers any way you slice it; especially with all the players the Rams have edging toward new deals in the near future. There's a back end cost to having all these first round draft picks, and it comes due as their rookie deals come to an end. Since most of them are on the Rams defense, any player allowed to hit free agency in 2016 will be a step backward for St. Louis as they edge closer to turning a corner. It's a balancing act for Les Snead that I don't envy.

Another area for the Rams is their offensive line. In each of the past couple seasons, St. Louis has entered the year with solid offensive lines - ON PAPER only. Holes at right guard and center are glaring. Center Scott Wells is a terrific person, but he's at the end of his career. Davin Joseph was a free agent signing from Tampa Bay, and it's easy to see why the Bucs let him wander away. The odd thing is, I think Joseph has all the talent in the world to be a great guard, but he's lost his love for the game. I doubt he'll be back for the Rams in 2015...

It's the tackle position - both left and RIGHT - that have to be the all-in concern for Fisher and Snead. Greg Robinson - the 2nd overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft - experienced a whirlwind trial by fire during his rookie season. Tossed in as a guard in the off season, he struggled with the playbook and looked lost. Jake Long - another truly great guy - has wheels that just won't be turning for much longer at the NFL level. The guy's a walking advertisement for heath insurance add-ons. Robinson slid into Long's slot at left tackle, and had a so-so second half of the season. Shifting my gaze over to right tackle, Joe Barksdale is a quiet concern. He's a free agent in 2015, and he'll ask for some serious coin. But I don't think he will get it, let alone does he deserve it. He was fine against middle of the road talent. But when he faced a quality defensive end or tackle, he "had a tough day..." To me, he's the biggest question going forward for Les Snead. If you waste big money on Barksdale - who could be easily matched in performance by any number of guys in free agency, or on the Rams depth chart - St. Louis could wedge themselves into yet another year of offensive mediocrity. Right guard, right tackle and center are where the Rams need to focus, and line coach Paul Boudreau may very well find himself on the coaching hot seat.

Moving beyond players, the coaching staff will get a tough look by Fisher. I honestly think Fisher has seen enough of Brian Schottenheimer's offense. Reading between the lines of his post game press conference after the loss to the Seahawks, Fisher was visibly disgusted by the continued inability of the Rams' offense to score points, let alone move the ball. Besides the players I mentioned above, there has to be responsibility taken by coaches who haven't prepared their players to perform. One only has to look at how well the Arizona Cardinals' offensive line has done to begin asking why the Rams' unit can't get their act together. The Cardinals' line is make shift, yet they somehow have one of the better units in the NFL? If you don't think Fisher studies his NFC West foes for what the do right, you really don't know the Rams head coach. Division competitiveness is at the very forefront of his being...

So the Rams have the #10 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft? Until cuts and re-negotiations are made, the Rams have next to nothing to spend in free agency. They don't have many players headed to the free market in 2015, but they have a whole slew of them lined up to hit the salary cap hard in 2016-17. If you're Fisher and Snead, you know you need big help on the offensive line - whether new players or a coaching change - and limited draft day capital to use here. Do you go for a top tier rookie tackle or guard, and suffer through a learning curve yet again? Can you afford to have anything but a veteran offensive line if your future depends on keeping Sam Bradford healthy? How much do you spend - in free agency or draft day capital - on a quarterback to back up Bradford?

See what I mean? Fisher and Snead are about to earn every cent of their salaries this off season, and I wouldn't want to be in their shoes. The 2015 season will depend on virtually every move they make - or don't make - to a degree neither man has seen since they arrived in St. Louis...