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LA Rams’ Upcoming Free Agent Classes Show Tough Decisions Await

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The Rams’ expiring contracts suggest some very difficult personnel decisions are coming.

Los Angeles Rams CB Trumaine Johnson
Los Angeles Rams CB Trumaine Johnson
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

In piecing together the Los Angeles Rams’ 2017 NFL Draft class as it stands through ten weeks of the 2016 regular season, I thought it might be useful to pair that with an early look at the two upcoming free agent classes.

As the Rams sent their first-round draft pick due to the trade with the Tennessee Titans for the #1 overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft used to select Cal QB Jared Goff, they’ve got limited means of replacing any immediate outgoing free agents let alone upgrading the existing talent.

That being said, here’s the Rams’ 2017 free agent class in order of expiring contract year salary:

2017 LA Rams Free Agents

Player POS Type
Player POS Type
Stedman Bailey WR UFA
Kenny Britt WR UFA
Benny Cunningham RB UFA
Trumaine Johnson CB UFA
Case Keenum QB UFA
T.J. McDonald S UFA
Brian Quick WR UFA
Chase Reynolds RB UFA
Cam Thomas DE UFA
Greg Zuerlein K UFA
Dominique Easley DL RFA
Ethan Westbrooks DL RFA
Matt Longacre DE ERFA
Louis Trinca-Pasat DT ERFA

Tons of starting talent there to deal with. Should the Rams lose a significant amount of that, they’re going to have to find even more ways of promoting from within than they did from 2015 to this year especially with a bottom- (or middle-)heavy draft class next offseason.

There’s a real risk of a near complete failure of 2016’s “Priority A” of re-signing the 2015 St. Louis Rams secondary, a term coined by recently disappeared General Manager Les Snead. Of the five major members from that group, only S Mark Barron was locked into a long-term deal. CB Janoris Jenkins joined the New York Giants. S Rodney McLeod is now a Philadelphia Eagle. CB Trumaine Johnson was clamped with the franchise tag to kick the contract can to 2017, but both he and S T.J. McDonald, one of the least expensive starters on the team this year, are free agents come March 9, 2017.

Are any of the others crucial? Kenny Britt is having a resurgence at WR, but how much of that is due to his on-field chemistry with QB Case Keenum? Once the Rams turn toward Jared Goff, do Britt and fellow WR Brian Quick make way for new talents to grow into the NFL with the Rams’ franchise QB?

And just how vital are RB Benny Cunningham and K Greg Zuerlein?

All of that sets up perhaps the more important 2018 free agent class again in order of expiring contract year salary:

Player POS Type
Greg Robinson OT UFA
Tim Barnes C UFA
Aaron Donald DT UFA
Alec Ogletree LB UFA
Cody Davis S UFA
Lamarcus Joyner CB UFA
Jake McQuaide LS UFA
Tre Mason RB UFA
E.J. Gaines CB UFA
Demetrius Rhaney C UFA
Darrell Williams OT RFA
Bradley Marquez WR RFA
Troy Hill CB RFA
Malcolm Brown RB RFA
Zach Laskey FB ERFA

So we still have a season and a half on these, clearly time needed for more evaluation and roster grooming. Depending on how the 2016 and 2017 NFL Draft classes develop through next season, some of these decisions could look much different than they do today.

That being said, consider that Rams C Tim Barnes will get paid more than DT Aaron Donald next year. That’s the difference between free agent value and draft value. Jake McQuaide vs. E.J. Gaines is another juicy example.

While this group is perhaps too far off to make any decisions aside from re-signing Donald for $Whatever,You,Want, his looming contract deadline is the huge marker for the personnel long-term future. Should the Rams pursue a contract extension with Donald in the next nine months, that will affect both the 2018 class and the upcoming free agent class.

Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher has had five years and the benefit of the 2012 NFL Draft trade deals that netted him two extra first- and second-round picks each. His decisions, like these players’ contracts, are expiring. Unable to guide the team to consistent winning football means those decisions are coming due.

And it’s going to cost the Rams a significant amount of money just to keep playing Fisherball.