We're just six months removed from the St. Louis Rams' 53-man roster released ahead of the 2015 season. Now after day one, how are things shaping up going into the 2016 NFL Draft with six months between us and the next 53-man roster?
(Players listed alphabetically only considered locks or close to it by yours truly)
2015: Nick Foles, Case Keenum, Sean Mannion
2016: Nick Foles, Case Keenum, Sean Mannion
The big news was that Keenum was tendered as an RFA at a first-round level today all but ensuring he'll be around for training camp...and I guess beyond. Foles was extended prior to his first season with the Rams last August. Mannion is heading into his second NFL season after being selected in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft (and taking just seven snaps thereafter).
So while we expect change and for fair reason, it's a bit hard to see how the Rams' braintrust is going to make this work having built up a clear plan a year ago...and having no changes therein thus far.
2015: Benny Cunningham, Todd Gurley, Tre Mason, Isaiah Pead, Chase Reynolds
2016: Benny Cunningham, Todd Gurley, Tre Mason
The Rams have some flexibility here. Gurley is a franchise back perhaps more reliable than any other in the league long-term. Mason, who is likely to face a suspension for a recent arrest on possession of marijuana and various traffic misdemeanors, is the probable backup nonetheless. Cunningham received a low-tier RFA tender today indicative of how unattached the current front office is to Benny but also indicative of the fact that they're not willing to move on without any other depth options. Reynolds, somewhat surprisingly was not tendered todayleaving him swimming in open FA waters. Pead was let go back in September.
With Gurley at the top, I'm not sure the Rams need to go five-wide to open the season. Last year Gurley was recovering from an ACL injury in his final season at Georgia. Mason himself couldn't go in week one as he was still recovering from a preseason injury. So to open the season, the Rams were pressed into Cunningham as the starter with the depth needed behind him. That's likely not to be the case this year. Even with Mason likely to face discipline to open the year, the Rams are likely to have a Gurley-Cunningham combo to open things with a fourth TBD name at the back, perhaps second-year Ram Malcolm Brown.
That might offer extra roster space elsewhere.
2015: Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Kenny Britt, Chris Givens, Bradley Marquez, Brian Quick
2016: Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Kenny Britt, Bradley Marquez, Brian Quick
I wavered on Bailey, but let's list him here for the time being.
The option here today was Brian Quick who was brought back on a one-year deal to reignite his career...or not. Austin, Britt and Marquez are locks while Bailey is reportedly on track to inspiringly return to NFL football after suffering injury from a shooting . The bigger concern is that Bailey has been suspended twice in his three-year NFL career. While Rams fans often eyed Janoris Jenkins for potential discipline transgressions, he kept himself clean in position to cash in in free agency today (and did he ever). Bailey, on the other hand, is carrying actual, real, sincere, not NFL Draft BS red flags at this point.
Obviously, fans are clamoring for more talent in the vein of what we had hoped Quick would blossom into.
The draft is on its way and with it, more answers.
2015: Jared Cook, Cory Harkey, Lance Kendricks
2016: Cory Harkey?, Lance Kendricks
Cook left along with DE Chris Long and MLB James Laurinaitis while Harkey is a free agent, though as a role specialist he's got a bit of a shallow market. Worth noting that Kendricks was upped on a four-year deal last Marchleaving him the sole long-term centerpiece here.
More to come? Certainly.
2015: Tim Barnes, Jamon Brown, Andrew Donnal, Rob Havenstein, Garrett Reynolds, Demetrius Rhaney, Greg Robinson, Rodger Saffold, Cody Wichmann, Darrell Williams
2016: Tim Barnes, Jamon Brown, Andrew Donnal, Rob Havenstein, Garrett Reynolds, Demetrius Rhaney, Greg Robinson, Rodger Saffold, Cody Wichmann
With the re-signing of Barnes on a two-year deal...hard to believe that nearly this entire group is coming back, but yeah.
2015: Michael Brockers, Aaron Donald, Nick Fairley, William Hayes, Chris Long, Robert Quinn, Eugene Sims, Ethan Westbrooks
2016: Michael Brockers, Aaron Donald, William Hayes, Robert Quinn, Ethan Westbrooks
Fairley played through his one-year deal and there's no certainty he'll be back for a second run. Hayes, pretty thankfully, signed a three-year scrib to return to the Rams today. Long, as mentioned, was ousted with Cook and Laurinaitis in mid-February. Sims is still in the air.
It's hard to be worried about this group in general. Looking around the rest of the roster, it's hard to spend any further thought here.
So let's not.
2015: Akeem Ayers, Daren Bates, Bryce Hager, James Laurinaitis, Cameron Lynch, Alec Ogletree
2016: Akeem Ayers, Bryce Hager, Cameron Lynch, Alec Ogletree
I think this one's probably the least comfortable because (a) MLB James Laurinaitis is no longer Rams MLB James Laurinaitis and (b) its Alec Ogletree of all people sliding into the MLB slot.
The big question here is whether or not to slide Mark Barron down into this group or leave him up with the safeties. It's more cosmetic than anything, but in any case, it's an Ogletree-Barron duo with some options alongside them, options that perhaps have yet to be determined.
2016: E.J. Gaines, Trumaine Johnson, Lamarcus Joyner, Marcus Roberson
The obvious news here was that Janoris rode #ClampSeason all the way to #checmate. The Rams had already tagged Tru, so at least one of the two top CBs was assured to return. The real question regards E.J. Gaines return after missing all of 2015. If he can return to his unexpectedly impressive rookie form in 2014, it gives the Rams a three-wide starting rotation with acceptable rotational depth in Roberson. That might be a long bet, but it might be one to make to avoid spending yet another high pick on cornerbacks.
2015: Maurice Alexander, Mark Barron, Cody Davis, T.J. McDonald, Rodney McLeod
2016: Maurice Alexander, Mark Barron, Cody Davis, T.J. McDonald
Like the CB spot, the big news here was the deterioration of "Priority A" in the loss of S Rodney McLeod, though story S1B (that's safety story 1B for you nomenclature nerds) was the re-signing of Barron on a whopping five-year deal...though today should underscore how serious the "five-year" part of that is. The real concern is that McDonald is heading into a contract year and, should Alexander not develop into a full-season safety option, the Rams could be without a full-time full-safety in a season with McLeod now gone.
2016: Johnny Hekker, Jake McQuaide...
I've long extolled the virtues of one Gregory Zuerlein. I've also pointed to his roller coaster career as the most indecipherable one on the Rams' roster. GZ owns perhaps the best leg in the NFL. He also had the worst season of his NFL's four thus far.
The problem is that the kicker's spot is so volatile and yet so immediately impactful. There is no right answer unless it works out. And there is no wrong answer unless it fails...miserably. Legatron has skirted by in between thanks to his teams' mediocrity. Should the Rams near the upper boundaries of that mediocrity or (gasp!) function successfully beyond the opening first third of the season, the kicker position for the Rams may well find more heft than it has carried in a decade.
I don't know whether to be comfortable with that or to be more worried and furthermore, I don't know if GZ makes that better or worse.
In any case, there's plenty of room for free agency and the draft to upset things. And clearly there's room for replacement upgrades.
But what takes the Rams over the seven-win mark, and does it begin in free agency in 2016?