The owners meetings traditionally signal a shift in focus for NFL GMs. The high profile Free Agents have long since been signed while big boards and pre-draft visits begin to dominate the discussion. That doesn't mean that there aren't free agents out there still worth the Rams attention.
One of those free agents is former 49er Michael Crabtree. He entered the league with substantial hype after a prolific career in Texas Tech's high flying offense, eclipsing 3,000 yards and 40 TDs in only two seasons on campus. While he has largely failed to deliver on that hype, he has still been a productive WR in the NFL.
1) Crabtree is a Proven Commodity
When referring to WRs, the term potential carries a lot of weight with Rams fans. Theoretically, the Rams have every role filled within their receiving corps. But potential doesn't mean jack unless you capitalize on it. As mentioned earlier, Crabtree hasn't realized all of his potential, but has easily has a better body of work than any WR currently on the Rams roster.
Crabtree has shown the ability to produce with Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick as his QBs. Pairing a motivated Crabtree with new franchise QB Nick Foles could pay dividends for Frank Cignetti and the Rams offense.
2) Cost Efficiency
The first thing I ask myself when talented players are on the market at this time of year is: Why? Does he have character concerns? Is he asking for too much compensation? Does he have an injury history?
With Crabtree, it's a little bit of everything. He's gone on record as saying that he's willing to wait for the right situation and his holdout as a rookie only reinforces that stance. He also has an extensive injury history highlighted by lower leg injuries. And while he's shed some of the diva label, some of that remains as well.
The largest part of his underwhelming market is due to lack of production last two years and injury history. The injuries will always be a concern, but when considering that he's had a struggling Colin Kaepernick as his QB in recent years, his 700 yards last year isn't as big of a negative as it seems.
The best part of this situation is that his cost is falling each day he is on the market. He would be a very low risk, high reward signing that the Rams have shown that they're willing to make. Some worked (Kenny Britt) others haven't (Alex Carrington). A prove-it deal makes a lot of sense for both parties.
3) Insurance for Quick
Brian Quick was balling out with Austin Davis early last year. Paired with a more competent QB, I have no doubt that he is a #1 WR. Man crush aside, Quick's shoulder injury was significant and that poses legitimate concerns. According to Coach Fisher, he's "Making progress. It was a very, very difficult early rehab process. It was an extensive, extensive injury." That, coming from the man who never spoke ill of Sam Bradford's ACLs, is concerning.
For the record, I believe that Quick will make a full recovery. But, if for some reason he is unable to return to form, Crabtree could be an intriguing insurance policy. He may not have the upside of Quick at this stage in his career, but he could easily come in and post numbers similar to what Kenny Britt did last year.
Simply put, competition makes everyone better. Adding Crabtree places another experienced veteran on the roster. He could share his experience with the Rams young core of WRs and expedite their development. Much like the aforementioned Quick thrived under the tutelage of Kenny Britt early last year, Crabtree could flip a similar switch in our other young WRs.
5) Help Foles
When Foles was most successful, he had 2 things at his disposal: a dominant run game and an abundance of weapons. Jeff Fisher has always been a proponent of a strong running game so that box is already checked. As mentioned earier, the Rams WR group has the potential to be great. Adding Crabtree would put another weapon at Foles' disposal.
To be clear, Offensive Line is the Rams top priority. I'm not suggesting that signing Crabtree take precedence over that. But Fisher and Snead have shown that they're willing to wait the market out and reinforce other areas of the roster. The signing of Akeem Ayers and Nick Fairley made that abundantly clear. Crabtree would be within that same genre of signing. It's not needed per-se, but it would definitely help with the development of our young WRs and potentially our offense as a whole.
When taking everything into consideration, I think that Crabtree could be an asset to the Rams next season on a modest 'Prove-it' contract. Particularly when you consider that Britt can be let loose next year without any dead money and Quick is entering the last year of his rookie contract. If Crabtree is added to that pair, the Rams would have 3 WRs capable of starting without a huge cap hit for any of them.
Fisher could let the 3 battle it out over the course of the season and sign the two that best fit the Rams long term plans to extensions.