We've bounced around the St. Louis Rams lineup covering offensive tackle and defensive end. Today we move into the interior of the offensive line and analyze the guards and centers; the meat in the middle. These guys are the ones pushing defensive tackles around, holding a lane open, pulling to one side or the other, and just generally trying to maul the opposition. Who do we have in the middle?
Rodger Saffold - We looked at Saffold as part of the first FPP due to his playing tackle. As a guard, Saffold is pretty solid. It is due to his consistent play and versatility that he will probably command some decent money in free agency. If the Rams resign him, they will have to match or exceed what he is offered. His contract ranked well below the league average after his initial year in 2010. But then again, it's hard to put a value on a lineman that could play guard or tackle. Do you pay him as a starting guard or a starting tackle? Whose contract can you use as a benchmark? With the Rams sitting close to the salary cap, the team may see the benefit of letting Saffold go, and looking to the draft to find a replacement.
Harvey Dahl - Nothing says cap casualty like underwhelming play and a looming $ 2 million roster bonus. Unfortunately for the Rams, Dahl's reputation as a nasty trench guy has remained just that, a reputation. The Rams were wise when structuring Dahl's contract to lump all of that money on the tail end. This allowed the team to cut it's losses if Dahl started losing a step in later years. His release is almost a certainty, and the team will have to get younger at his position.
Chris Williams - A diamond in the rough, Chris Williams is not. He's more like a ruby in the rough; still valuable, but not as remarkable. Williams is the underrated swing guy behind Rodger Saffold. Many remember his rough go with the Chicago Bears, who picked him in the first round of the 2008 NFL draft. In 2013 you barely heard Williams name called, and usually for an offensive lineman, that's a good thing. Williams started every game in 2013. The Rams would do well to sign him to a team friendly deal, which would help with continuity. Williams is seen by some as the weak link on the offensive line.
Shelley Smith - Smith may not be offered a contract this year. Then again, he could stick around as a backup. There is a very good chance of Barrett Jones, as a full participant in off-season activities, beating out Smith. If Jones looks good, Smith could be saying goodbye to the Gateway City.
Brandon Washington - Washington was a non-factor on the Ram's offensive line in 2013. While young and raw, Washington has little chance of being retained if the Rams add offensive linemen in the draft.
Scott Wells - While the Rams had high expectations signing Scott Wells away from the Green Bay Packers, Wells hasn't lived up to them. He will likely be released due to age and being bit by the injury bug, not to mention his $ 5 million salary.
Tim Barnes - While Tim Barnes isn't a star center, but he has been serviceable for the Rams. After Scott Wells went down with a broken fibula in week 13, Barnes stepped in and immediately helped the running game. Barnes was part of a line that helped Zac Stacy to two back to back 100+ yard games. The Rams should resign Barnes, as they do not have another viable option at center in-house.
Barrett Jones - In 2012 Jones missed six assignments out of 731 snaps, allowing zero sacks, for Alabama. Jones spent almost all of last year recovering from a Lisfranc injury which occurred before he was even drafted. The Rams knew Jones would spend the season on the sidelines. Jones was a versatile lineman in college, starting at three positions. Jones isn't going anywhere, and could be the future at center. Listed at both guard and center, Jones will come into this season as a favorite to win a starting job. The best center in college football in 2012 won't have his foot holding him back in 2014.
Verdict: Fold. The Rams must acquire fresh meat along the interior of the line with Wells, Dahl, and Saffold possibly walking away. With a deep guard draft class, the Rams can find the right guys in rounds 3-7. Offensive line coach Paul Boudreau has to be pulling his hair out waiting for the Rams to cut, draft, or resign linemen. Just as in the conversation of offensive tackle, Jake Long and Roger Saffold are key to what happens in the interior.