With the dust settling on the official opening week of the 2015 free agency period, it is time for many team to reassess their roster. Many will hang up the cleats on the free agent front, shifting their attention to the upcoming Draft. Others will put down their "big game" rifles and start sifting through the remains of the low-contract and/or flagged free agent pool, filling in their depth charts. Others still are firmly on the free agent hunt, keeping an eye on large and small game, alike, with plenty of voids to fill on their roster.
The St. Louis Rams are likely a mixture of the final two categories, with somewhat limited cap space remaining for too many "larger" acquisitions, but with plenty of vacancies still needed to be filled by someone prior to the start of the NFL Draft. Taking that into consideration, we thought we would scan the horizon, creating an inventory of likely, or at least possible, free agents the Rams might have their eye on in the upcoming week.
Joe Barksdale, OT (St. Louis Rams)
The first name that should pop into everyone's mind is Joe Barksdale. There have been endless reports that the Rams are interested in bringing back their starting right tackle from the past two years. In fact, as many have speculated, had it not been for his wedding this weekend, Barksdale would have already inked a deal to stay with the Rams for the next three to four years. Surprisingly, the price tag on right tackles has been pretty respectable, capped off by Bryan Bugala taking somewhat of a "hometown discount" to stay in Green Bay. Barksdale will likely not fetch anything in the $6,750,000 per year range, but could very well hit somewhere in the $4,000,000 to $5,500,000 per season mark, depending on his agents' acumen. With Kenny Britt in tow, this is the most likely next move for the Rams in free agency.
Stefen Wisniewski, C (Oakland Raiders)
Much like last offseason, the Raiders did the most Raiders thing they could do: Let their own high-caliber free agent walk, then sign another free agent player, at the same position, to an extravagant contract. This year, the lucky winner was former Kansas City center, Rodney Hudson, inking a five-year, $44,500,000 deal, averaging roughly $8,900,000 per season through 2019. Luckily, there is only one Raider franchise in the NFL, meaning that the contract for Wisniewski will likely fall back into the "normal range" for top-tier centers.
Stefen Wisniewski update: He's still in Seattle, but told visit to St. Louis is "very possible."— Jim Thomas (@jthom1) March 13, 2015
The Seattle Seahawks, and likely a handful more, are interested in acquiring Wisniewski's services for 2015. The Rams may have too little in the bank to make a competitive offer, with Top 5 centers averaging over $8,400,000 per year. Although it is certainly not out of the realm of possibility, it might be time to assume Jeff Fisher and Les Snead will be throwing their eggs in the Barrett Jones basket. Either that or, hopefully, take a run at someone in the Draft, like Florida State center/offensive tackle, Cameron Erving.
Justin Blalock, OG (Atlanta Falcons)
As Turf Show Times highlighted earlier in the week, Justin Blalock has finished his visit with the Detroit Lions and is expected to visit with the Rams at some point in the near future. Most would consider Blalock to be somewhat of a stopgap starter for the Rams, ala Harvey Dahl, having turned 31 years old back in December. The former Les Snead scoutee has been a consistently average-to-above average starter for the Falcons since being drafted by the team back in 2007. Having already milked the vaunted "second contract," many expect Blalock to come at a discounted price in free agency. The second tier of left guards in the league (i.e. outside the Top 10) make anywhere between $3,000,000 to $4,000,000 annually. That would certainly be "doable" for the Rams, particularly for a guard with fuel left in the tank.
Rob Sims, OG (Detroit Lions)
Much like Blalock, Sims in an aging interior offensive lineman who might be serviceable as a stopgap starter and veteran leader on the Rams now-youthful front line. Unlike Blalock, Sims is almost guaranteed to be in the sub-$3,000,000 range on his next contract, having just completed a similarly structured deal with the Lions. Sims is long-removed from his more dominant days in Seattle, particularly in the run blocking department, where he ranked 56th overall out of 78 eligible guards, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription needed). However, to be fair, that was still higher than either Davin Joseph or Rodger Saffold in 2014.
If Greg Robinson is going to take a step forward in the upcoming year, he is going to need to be paired with a competent veteran anchoring his right side. Presumably, Sims is still good enough to compliment St. Louis' former No.2 overall pick, especially shifting from the pass-happy, up-tempo Lions to the run-heavy, methodical Rams. Anything is better than another year of Davin Joseph, right?
There are obviously several other "low key" free agents that the Rams might consider. Former Houston Texans' center, Chris Myers, immediately comes to mind, but is likely best suited in a zone-blocking scheme, similar to the one Gary Kubiak employed during his tenure. Ex-Patriot Dan Connolly might be an option, having experience at both guard spots; but, he was been less-than-stellar for New England over the last two season.
Following the Rams deal with Kenny Britt, there is likely only room for a handful of semi-major moves in free agency. With Joe Barksdale likely filling one of those spots, it will be up to the St. Louis brass to find another, preferably low-cost, veteran to hold down one of the interior line positions in 2015. Either that, or pray that a handful of rookies manning the interior can keep Nick Foles upright next year...