With the NFL regular season now at the 3/4 mark, the off-season is fast approaching. This will be a difficult and important off-season for the St. Louis Rams. They're just a few key players away from becoming a playoff contender in 2015. What should the Rams do in the off-season to set themselves up for a playoff run next year?
The Rams can avail themselves of four different strategies to re-shape their roster this coming off-season:
- They can re-sign and keep some (or all) of their eligible free agents.
- The team can release players under contract for 2015.
- The Rams can acquire players through the draft and UDFA process.
- They can sign free agent players from other teams or the waiver wire.
In addition to the players on the practice squad (who are free to sign with another team at any time), the following 14 players are eligible for free agency in 2015:
Position Player FA Status C Tim Barnes RFA G Davin Joseph UFA RT Joe Barksdale UFA OL Brandon Washington ERFA OL Mike Person UFA WR Kenny Britt UFA TE Lance Kendricks UFA TE Cory Harkey ERFA RB Chase Reynolds ERFA QB Shaun Hill UFA QB Austin Davis RFA LB Will Herring UFA DT Alex Carrington UFA S Rodney McLeod RFA
Joe Barksdale heads the list of Rams players eligible for free agency in 2015. Rodney McLeod, Kenny Britt, and Lance Kendricks are all players that could be brought back by the Rams. Barksdale is an integral part of the Rams' offensive line. Every effort should be made to re-sign him. Upgrading, adding depth to, and stabilizing the offensive line should be the Rams' primary considerations this off-season (with QB running a close second). Losing Barksdale could potentially leave the Rams with two gaping holes on the offensive line, and would have a negative impact on the units' continuity.
The Rams were able to get a head start on their off-season by signing P John Hekker to a 6-year extension:
Rams signed Pro-Bowl P Johnny Hekker to 6-year, $18 million extension, including $9 million guaranteed, highest guarantee given to a P or K.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 5, 2014
Barksdale's Contract: 4 years/$16 million - $7 million guaranteed ($3 million signing bonus + $4 million 2015 base salary).
Wells is nearing the end of his NFL career. He's 33 years old (34 in January), his skills are declining, and injuries have taken their toll on his body. To make matters worse, an unusual illness suffered before training camp shortened his preparation time for the 2014 regular season. Wells has been banged-up at times this season, although he has yet to miss an entire game. Releasing Wells after the season will allow the Rams to benefit from $3.75 million in salary cap savings.
OT - Brandon Scherff - Iowa
In last years draft, the Rams considered doubling-down on the offensive line in the first round, by trading up to select Zack Martin if he fell to Number 17. Scherff will draw favorable comparisons to Martin, and will be selected in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Moving from guard to left tackle as a junior, Scherff has the size, athleticism, strength, grit, and versatility the Rams covet in an offensive lineman. Scherff would begin his career at LG for the Rams, and provide quality depth at both tackle positions.
C - Stefen Wisniewski - Oakland Raiders
Under Jeff Fisher and Les Snead, the Rams have achieved mixed results with their free agent signings. Some of their better signings have been lower-priced players like William Hayes and Joe Barksdale. I've touted G Mike Iupati for quite some time now, as a player the Rams should consider signing in the off-season. He may be too rich for the Rams' blood. Iupati will likely command in the area of $8 million per year in free agency.
Wisniewski represents a lower-cost alternative for upgrading the Rams' offensive line. Tim Barnes becomes a free agent after the season, and Scott Wells is a prime candidate for release. In the absence of Wells and Barnes, Barrett Jones and Demetrius Rhaney would be the only centers under contract for 2015. Jones, Rhaney, and Barnes have very little in the way of in-game experience. They're unknown quantities at this point in their careers.
If the Rams are to venture into the free agent market, it must be for a player who is young, fits the Rams' offensive schemes, is accomplished, and has no significant injury history. Wisniewski fits all of the criteria.
Wisniewski was selected by the Oakland Raiders with the Number 48 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. He's been a steady, dependable performer throughout his NFL career. Wisniewski is durable, missing only 3 games in 60 career contests as a starter. He's also versatile, having begun his NFL career at left guard. Wisniewski turns 26 in March.
Wisniewski's Contract: 4 Years/$16 million - $7 million guaranteed ($3 million signing bonus + $4 million 2015 base salary).
All four of the transactions outlined herein are related to the Rams' offensive line. For illustrative purposes, I limited myself to the one most important transaction in each category. The Rams will likely have a number of transactions in each category this coming off-season.
Here's what the Rams' 2015 starting offensive line looks like after the four above-mentioned transactions:
- CE - Stefen Wisniewski
- RG - Rodger Saffold
- LG - Brandon Scherff
- RT - Joe Barksdale
- LT - Greg Robinson
One of the more notable features in the composition of this offensive line is the promise of continuity. If the Rams were to exercise Greg Robinson's 5'th-year option, the entire line would be under contract through 2018.
If you were the Rams GM, which one player would YOU select in each category? Who would you keep, release, draft, and sign?