This is a busy time of the year for the Rams front office, as they start evaluating college players for the draft, and begin assessing roster needs. Valuing eligible free agents, both their own and from other teams comes into play too. Then there's managing salary cap compliance before March 11, so it's a busy time indeed.
Fast forward to March 10. The Rams' front office has informed you of a once in a lifetime opportunity. The chance to be GM for a day. The day - March 11. The beginning of the new league year, and the first day of the free agency signing period.
For cap purposes, the Rams have just released Harvey Dahl and Scott Wells. They are in the midst of trying to re-negotiate Cortland Finnegan's contract, with the knowledge his 3 million roster bonus is due in the first days of the new league year. The Rams will be forced to release him if they cannot quickly come to terms on his contract. Despite numerous attempts at reaching an agreement, Rodger Saffold has decided to test the free agent waters. As of March 10, the Rams have not re-signed any of their own pending free agents. One of the Rams' primary free agent targets - S Jairus Byrd - has been re-signed by the Buffalo Bills.
There are two different streams of thought within the Rams organization heading into free agency. The hiring of Gregg Williams has put a renewed focus on the defensive side of the football. Gregg Williams will coach a defense that only blitzed 143 times the entire 2013 season - 10th lowest in the league. You can bet that will change. Williams' defenses, in three years with New Orleans, blitzed an average of 285 times per season. Additionally, the Rams are concerned about the state of their offensive line. Wells and Dahl have been released. Saffold, Chris Williams, Tim Barnes, and Shelley Smith are all pending free agents. The Rams can likely re-sign many of them if they so desired. Still, there is much uncertainty on March 10.
The Rams have presented you with a number of scenarios for the opening of free agency on March 11. You get to decide which scenario you will pursue and accomplish in your day as GM. The difficult part? You can only pick one from six presented to you:
- Sign DT Linval Joseph - New York Giants
- Sign CB Alterraun Verner - Tennessee Titans
- Sign S T.J. Ward - Cleveland Browns
- Re-sign Rodger Saffold
- Sign C Alex Mack - Cleveland Browns
- Sign both G Jon Asamoah - Kansas City Chiefs, and S Malcolm Jenkins - New Orleans Saints
Joseph was selected in the 2nd round of the 2010 draft. He's 6'4" - 323, and will turn 26 in October, 2014. Joseph is a staunch run defender, who is capable of pressuring the QB from the interior of the defensive line. He accounted for 59 combined tackles, 3 sacks, and 1 forced fumble in 2013. Signing Joseph would augment the Rams' defensive tackle position, providing quality rotational depth alongside Kendall Langford and Michael Brockers. The line as a whole would benefit greatly from his presence.
Verner was chosen in the 4th round of the 2010 draft (Jeff Fisher's last with Tennessee). He's 5'10" - 187, and will turn 26 in December. Verner had an excellent 2013 campaign, with 5 interceptions, 57 combined tackles, and 2 fumble recoveries. Verner was selected to the 2013 Pro Bowl, and named 2nd team All-Pro. He is proficient against the run, has fine ball skills, and is excellent in press coverage. His signing would allow the Rams to part with Cortland Finnegan. Verner would be a fine addition to a Gregg Williams-led defense, and excelled under him in Tennessee last season (Williams was a senior defensive assistant coach).
Ward was selected in the 2nd round of the 2010 draft. He's 5'10" - 200, and will turn 28 in December. Ward had an excellent 2013 season, with 123 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, 1 forced fumble, and 10 passes defended. He was selected to the 2013 Pro Bowl, and earned 2nd team All-Pro honors. Ward was asked to do a lot in the Browns' defensive schemes. Run defense, deep coverage, blitzing. He excelled at all three. For those who follow PFF grades, he ranked 3rd overall in 2013 at free safety. Signing Ward would remedy a long-standing hole in the Rams' defense. Ward is also a defender who would absolutely thrive in a Gregg Williams defense.
Saffold may hold the key to the Rams' entire off season. All indications are he will test the free agent market in March. He proved to be a mauler at guard, with All-Pro potential. Saffold also provides insurance across the line, with his proven versatility. The only concern regarding Saffold is his durability. Re-signing Saffold would immediately resolve at least one of the issues/uncertainties surrounding the offensive line this off season.
Alex Mack was selected in the 1st round of the 2009 draft. He's 6'4" - 311, and will turn 29 in November. Mack is a two-time Pro Bowler, and was named 2nd team All-Pro in 2013. In this free agent class, he's the highest ranked interior lineman.
From Pro Football Focus:
"Mack has been a consistent force in the middle of the Browns offensive line throughout his career. In that time he has never finished a season with a grade lower than +8.7, ranking among the Top 10 centers in that regard every year. That included finishing 2013 as our fourth-highest graded player at the position, excelling both in pass protection and as a run blocker."
The Rams have released Scott Wells in this scenario. Barrett Jones is an unknown quantity at this time, and may be best suited as a super-utility offensive lineman, capable of providing quality snaps at all 5 line positions. He also could be considered for a starting guard position. Tim Barnes will likely be re-signed, and did an ok job subbing for the injured Wells in 2013. Mack would be a serious upgrade for the Rams' interior line.
Each of the players listed above could easily command contracts in the range of $5-9 million per season. Asamoah should fall into a lower range, although he will deservedly get a substantial raise over the $1.32 million he made last season. Asamoah was selected in the 3rd round of the 2010 draft. He's 6'4" - 305, and will be 26 years old in July. A fine run blocker - and solid in pass protection - Asamoah would plug in comfortably at right guard, with a contract similar in size to Harvey Dahl's. Rant Sports NFL analyzed the pros and cons of Asamoah re-signing with Kansas City, in a January 22 article (link). Bleacher Report breaks down the reasons why Asamoah is considered one of the NFL's most underrated guards (link). Asamoah was benched in favor of Geoff Schwartz half-way through the 2013 season. Asamoah was solid in his time as a starter. Schwartz has proven to be the better player, with a dominant second half of the season.
Jenkins was selected in the 1st round of the 2009 draft. He's 6'0" - 204, and turns 27 in December. Among this years free agent crop at free safety, he's not as highly touted as Ward, Byrd, or Donte Whitner. Jenkins has never quite lived up to the expectations of a 1st round pick, although he has shown flashes at times. His best seasons were during the tenure of Gregg Williams as DC in New Orleans (2009-2011). Under Williams, Jenkins was a 2nd team All-Pro selection in 2010. Although not a huge difference-maker, he's a solid, above average free safety who might again thrive with Williams at the helm. In 2013, Jenkins accounted for 94 combined tackles, 7 passes defended, and 1 interception.
Back in the real world, will the Rams be able to create enough salary cap space to sign one or more of the aforementioned players? Releasing Harvey Dahl and Scott Wells would create $8.5 million in cap space. Restructuring/releasing Cortland Finnegan could create anywhere from $4-7 million in cap space. A minor, friendly restructure of James Laurinaitis' contract - converting base salary to a prorated bonus - could add another $4 million to the total. The Rams need approximately $9-10 million in cap space: for the net cost of signing the rookie class, league adjustments, paying the practice squad, and other operating contingencies throughout the year. Re-signing 3-4 players (ex. Tim Barnes, Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Kellen Clemens) would likely cost $3.5 million. The Rams would be left with somewhere in the neighborhood of $6 million for free agent signings. Free agents contracts can be structured in a manner similar to last years' - Jared Cook and Jake Long - resulting in lowered cap hits for the first year of the contract(s). Bottom line...it's doable.
The Rams have enjoyed only moderate success with their free agent signings under the Jeff Fisher/Les Snead regime. A strong argument could be made for some of the Rams' best signings being among their cheapest, namely Jo-Lonn Dunbar and William Hayes. Free agent signings can be just as big a crap shoot as the NFL draft, only far more expensive.
Hope you enjoyed your day as the Rams' GM! Some tough decisions to make. Please vote in the poll, and share your thoughts in the comments section regarding which scenario you selected and why.