When I think of Free Agency and the Rams, the ghosts of Jake Long, Jared Cook, Scott Wells and Cortland Finnegan pervade my consciousness. All were high-priced Free Agent signings who failed to produce results commensurate with their big-ticket contracts.
The Rams - under Jeff Fisher and Les Snead - have learned from their mistakes early on in their tenure. They've eschewed spending huge dollars on high-priced Free Agents over the past couple of years. I believe the Rams will continue that trend this year when Free Agency (and the new league year) opens at 4pm ET, Wednesday, March 9.
The Rams have a monumental task ahead of them (just in attempting to re-sign their own Free Agents) without venturing into the Free Agent marketplace. Pending any last minute deals (or tendering of ERFA's and RFA's) before Wednesday afternoon, the Rams have 27 players eligible for Free Agency.
And make no mistake, re-signing their own Free Agents should be the Rams' first order of business and their priority throughout the Free Agency signing period. As noted in yesterday's complete salary cap update (Free Agency Edition), the Rams have $36.7 million in actual salary cap space once all additional financial obligations for 2016 are taken into consideration. It may just be enough...
The following 27 Rams players are currently eligible for Free Agency on March 9. ERFA's (Exclusive Rights Free Agents) have two or less accrued years in the league (the Rams have total control over these players). 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. Each type of Free Agent designation is accompanied by a certain level of team control. Included in the chart is an estimate of what each player can expect to earn (average per year) in their next contract.
Position Player FA Status Avg. Per Year QB Case Keenum RFA 3,635,000 RB Benny Cunningham RFA 1,670,000 RB Chase Reynolds RFA 1,000,000 RB Malcolm Brown ERFA 450,000 TE Cory Harkey UFA 2,000,000 WR Brian Quick UFA 1,400,000 WR Wes Welker UFA 800,000 WR Nick Toon ERFA 600,000 C Tim Barnes UFA 800,000 OT Isaiah Battle ERFA 525,000 OL Eric Kush ERFA 675,000 OL Brian Folkerts RFA 700,000 K Greg Zuerlein UFA 2,750,000 DT Nick Fairley UFA 4,750,000 DT Doug Worthington ERFA 600,000 DT Louis Trinca-Pasat ERFA 525,000 DE Eugene Sims UFA 2,000,000 DE William Hayes UFA 6,000,000 DE Matt Longacre ERFA 525,000 OLB Daren Bates RFA 850,000 CB Janoris Jenkins UFA 10,000,000 CB Eric Patterson ERFA 525,000 CB Troy Hill ERFA 525,000 SS Mark Barron UFA 4,500,000 FS Rodney McLeod UFA 3,635,000 FS Christian Bryant ERFA 525,000 FS Cody Davis RFA 875,000 27 Players Projected Total 52,840,000
The Rams will likely tender all 10 of their Exclusive Rights Free Agents at the league minimums. These players have little choice but to sign the tenders, or be out of football for 2016. I've already included their tenders in all of my salary cap calculations.
The Rams also have 6 Restricted Free Agents. Although they may re-sign all 6 at some point, I expect the Rams will only tender QB Case Keenum (1st Round) and RB Benny Cunningham (2nd Round) at this time. The restricted free agent tender values were announced more than a week ago:
2016 restricted free agent tender values:— Field Yates (@FieldYates) March 3, 2016
1st round: $3.635M
2nd round: $2.553M
Original round: $1.671M
The Rams aren't expected to be big players in this years Free Agent market. They do, however, have more than a few holes to fill on the roster. Holes that can't be addressed solely through the draft or by re-signing their own Free Agents (especially on the offensive side of the football). There are, however, numerous moderately-priced pending Free Agents likely to hit the market that could have an impact on the Rams' roster if signed.
The accompanying chart presents ten pending Free Agents the Rams should show interest in during the Free Agency signing period:
Position Player Current Team QB Chase Daniel Kansas City C Stefen Wisniewski Jacksonville WR Marvin Jones Cincinnati WR Reuben Randle NY Giants WR Jermaine Kearse Seattle TE Ladarius Green San Diego DL Jaye Howard Kansas City DE Akiem Hicks New England OLB Nigel Bradham Buffalo SS George Iloka Cincinnati
Of the ten listed Free Agents, the following three may make the most sense for the Rams:
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 and Garrett Reynolds are excellent examples). 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 $3.5-4.5 million avg. per season). He signed a one-year inexpensive prove it deal with Jacksonville in 2015 and didn't disappoint.
From Jacksonville Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson:
"Wiz is a solid player. Nothing flashy about him there. He just comes to work and does his job."
Brian Quick becomes a Free Agent today. Will the Rams attempt to re-sign him? Chris Givens was traded for a 7th round draft pick during the 2015 regular season. 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. Wes Welker was not a difference maker in his short stint with the Rams. The Rams' wide receiver corps could end up being a little thin heading into the 2016 season.
Kearse quietly had himself a decent 2015 season with the Seattle Seahawks. He played in all 16 games and caught 49 passes for 685 yards and 5 touchdowns. Kearse won't strike fear into the hearts of opposing secondary's; nonetheless, he's a solid Number 2 wideout with size (6'1"-209) and speed. It looks like the Seahawks are sticking to their team-building formula of paying huge dollars for their core players and filling in the rest of their roster as economically as possible. Kearse just doesn't fit into the formula.
Kearse's career numbers aren't going to send the Rams faithful into rapture. But he's a very consistent player who can make all the catches. When targeted by Russell Wilson in 2015, Kearse ranked in the top five in DVOA and passer rating metrics. He only dropped one of his 68 targets from Russell Wilson all year.
With Jared Cook a recent salary cap casualty (and Cory Harkey a pending Free Agent), the Rams suddenly find themselves a little thin at the tight end position. With a thin, average crop of tight ends in this years draft, the Rams may look to Free Agency for answers at the position.
Green has had the misfortune of being behind future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates on the depth chart for his entire career. Unfortunately, it's not allowed him to realize his tantalizing potential. Green's a physical specimen, 6'6"-240 with more speed than most of the wide receivers in this years draft class. His athleticism and run blocking abilities make Green a good fit for the Rams' offense.
Despite having limited targets, Green still had his best season as a pro in 2015, catching 37 passes for 429 yards and 4 touchdowns. With the routes the Rams like their tight ends to run, Green's open field and after-the-catch abilities (6.1 YAC in 2015) would be welcomed by the Rams offense. He truly has the potential to be everything Jared Cook wasn't and is a definite upgrade at the position.