The Rams are just a few key players away from becoming a playoff contender in 2016. What should the Rams do in the offseason 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 offseason:
- They can re-sign and keep some (or all) of their eligible free agents.
- The team can release players under contract for 2016.
- The Rams can acquire players through the draft and UDFA process.
- They can sign free agent players from other teams or the waiver wire.
What would you, as armchair GM, do if you could only make one move using each of the four different strategies?
The Rams have a lengthy list of players eligible for Free Agency in March. A dozen of the eligible players are Unrestricted Free Agents. A half dozen of the eligible players are starters (Trumaine Johnson, Janoris Jenkins, Mark Barron, Case Keenum, Tim Barnes and Rodney McLeod).
The following 28 players are currently eligible for Free Agency on March 9, 2016. ERFA's (Exclusive Rights Free Agents) have two or less accrued years in the league. RFA's (Restricted Free Agents) have three accrued years in the league. UFA's (Unrestricted Free Agents) have 4 or more accrued years in the league. In each instance, their contracts will have been fulfilled at the end of the 2015 season. Each type of Free Agent is distinguished by varying levels of team control. Player contracts run concurrently with the league year. The Rams may re-sign any of the 28 players before the new league year begins on March 9, 2016.
Position Player FA Status QB Case Keenum RFA RB Benny Cunningham RFA RB Chase Reynolds RFA RB Malcolm Brown ERFA TE Cory Harkey UFA WR Brian Quick UFA WR Nick Toon ERFA WR Wes Welker UFA C Tim Barnes UFA OT Isaiah Battle ERFA OL Eric Kush ERFA OL Brian Folkerts ERFA K Greg Zuerlein UFA DT Nick Fairley UFA DT Doug Worthington ERFA DT Louis Trinca-Pasat ERFA DE Eugene Sims UFA DE William Hayes UFA DE Matt Longacre ERFA OLB Daren Bates RFA CB Janoris Jenkins UFA CB Trumaine Johnson UFA CB Eric Patterson ERFA CB Troy Hill ERFA SS Mark Barron UFA FS Rodney McLeod UFA FS Christian Bryant ERFA FS Cody Davis RFA
When I look at the entire list of pending Free Agents, six names stand out as players the Rams should make every effort to re-sign: Trumaine Johnson, Janoris Jenkins, Case Keenum, Mark Barron, Rodney McLeod and William Hayes. The most important to re-sign is Trumaine Johnson. Johnson was a model of consistency this past season and a true ball hawk. He gives up fewer big plays than Jenkins and hasn't hit his ceiling yet. I believe Jenkins will be offered a bigger deal than Johnson in the marketplace. Johnson, however, represents the better value at a critical, premium position.
Jared Cook is scheduled for an $8.3 million salary cap hit in 2016. He could become a salary cap casualty if the terms of his contract aren't renegotiated. The Rams could save $5.7 million against the salary cap in 2016 if they release him. Combined with Lance Kendricks' 2016 salary cap hit ($4.5M), the Rams have $12.8 million committed to the Tight End position for 2016. Way too many dollars allocated to a non-premium position. What makes matters worse is the fact that Cook's production and performances as a Ram (especially given his immense physical talent) have been no where near commensurate with his lofty salary cap hits since his signing in 2013.
Brian Quick becomes a Free Agent on March 9, 2016. Will the Rams attempt to re-sign him? Or will they acknowledge that he's a wasted 2nd round draft pick (a la Isaiah Pead the same year). Chris Givens was traded during the regular season for a 7th round draft pick. Stedman Bailey's future with the Rams may be in doubt after a second suspension for violation of the NFL substance abuse policy and a long recovery ahead as the victim of a shooting. The Rams probably won't re-sign Wes Welker, who wasn't a difference-maker in his short time with the team. The Rams' wide receiver corps could end up being a little thin heading into the 2016 season if they don't take action to bolster the unit.
Treadwell sits atop my WR board. Watching him in action reminds me of a couple of players (in some respects): Anquan Boldin and Dez Bryant. An injury in 2014 and lack of blazing speed might hold down Treadwell's draft stock enough to keep him outside the top-14 come draft day. Treadwell measures in at 6'2" - 220.
The Rams devoted plenty of draft capital to the offensive line in the 2015 NFL Draft. The one position they neglected to address in the process was center. Tim Barnes is eligible for Free Agency in 2016 and is no better than an average starter. Backup Demetrius Rhaney is an unknown quantity. The team needs to address the position this offseason. I'm a big fan of building through the draft, but smaller Free Agent acquisitions can make a world of difference in team building (William Hayes is an excellent example). If the Rams pursue only one Free Agent from another team this offseason, it should be Center Stefen Wisniewski.
Wisniewski is my kind of player. A battler in the trenches and a lunch bucket kinda' guy. Wiz is my Number 1 Free Agent target this offseason (as he was last offseason as well). Wisniewski is young (27 in March), accomplished, a veteran presence, played all 16 games in 2015 and will come relatively cheap (likely $3-4 million avg. per season). He signed a one-year inexpensive prove it deal with Jacksonville in 2015 and didn't disappoint.
"Wiz is a solid player. Nothing flashy about him there. He just comes to work and does his job."