The legal tampering period for 2017 NFL Free Agency opens up at 12pm ET today. So...in about an hour.
With it comes the first opportunity to Los Angels Rams General Manager Les Snead to begin building out a new personnel base for first-year Rams Head Coach Sean McVay. Along with that opportunity is the first era of post-Jeff Fisher roster cuts. The potential cap casualties offer some pretty significant savings if the Rams want to shore up some extra cash beyond the $20m-ish range they’re in as of now.
Here’s some of the major issues to track as we head toward the opening of free agency in full on Thursday at 4pm ET:
Damp tampering clamps roster on-ramp
The rumors are about to come hot and heavy over the next 52 hours. Those rumors are more important than just the individual names and teams that get connected. It’s more about roster needs, market evaluation and the initial execution of plans for how teams are going to set up for 2017.
Given that this is the first McVay-Snead (McSnead? SncVay? Sean Snead?) outing in full, it will also be the first chance for us to see how they’re going to start building out this roster to support franchise QB Jared Goff, 2015 Offensive Rookie of the Year Todd Gurley...and anyone else in their future plans.
Thin out wide
There might not be a more glaring roster need than at wide receiver.
WR Kenny Britt, the Rams’ first 1,000-yard receiver since Torry Holt in 2007, is hitting the market and will have a new employer in 2018. 2012 NFL Draft second-round pick Brian Quick is likely joining him in the market.
That leaves a quartet of Tavon Austin, who received a hefty contract extension last year, 2016 NFL Draft selections Pharoh Cooper and Mike Thomas, and 2015 UDFA Bradley Marquez atop the position depth chart.
The Rams are quite publicly shopping this market, and with two of McVay’s former offensive disciples from the Washington Football Team available in DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, there’s some very easy linkage to be had. How much business is about to go down once tampering opens is yet to be seen.
Could the Rams perhaps be in play for a different FA WR?
The Rams’ offensive line in 2016 offered weekly sympathy instructions for Goff. Week after week, he was under barrage from opposing pass rush units. Gurley, for his part, wasn’t offered much in the run game.
Quite clearly, the Rams have to begin moving on from the failed line constructions of the Jeff Fisher era and that perhaps starts with looking for a replacement for Greg Robinson at left tackle. The #2 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft has been...whatever. Fill in your own adjective. He hasn’t been good.
While the wisest course of action is to draft a long-term replacement, the Rams are without a first-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft and have roster holes popping up all over the place. It may be best to find someone to plug in at the position for a year or two and hold off drafting a successor for now. Rodger Saffold remains an option as well, but with his injury history and starting role that may not be preferred either. Slide him over to left tackle and now you have a three-man interior line that may all need upgrades.
The offensive line free agent market is deep. Fit and age will trump everything else, though it’s yet to be determined publicly or by coaching staff-front office precedent how the current administration would prefer to address the various offensive line slots.
The Rams have tagged Trumaine Johnson for a second year in a row. S T.J. McDonald could be the third member of a 2015 secondary to exit in free agency, a secondary the re-signing of which Snead called “Priority A” last year.
Priority A failed. Perhaps Priority B, crafting a new secondary, will go better. With a deep, deep cornerback class and solid safety options in the 2017 NFL Draft, free agency might not be the avenue to begin working on Priority B.
There’s always the opportunity for the unforeseen in free agency. Last year, it was CB Coty Sensabaugh. That didn’t work out well. Two years ago, it was a wave of trading for Nick Foles and Case Keenum to replace outgoing Sam Bradford at quarterback while grabbing DT Nick Fairley, OLB Akeem Ayers and OL Garrett Reynolds. Overall, the moves weren’t bad; the results just never surfaced as the offensive system decayed into Fisherball with draft picks not developing (see: Robinson, Greg; Austin, Tavon).
Beyond the obvious needs at WR, OL and across the secondary, could the Rams be in for any surprise additions? Depth is always going to require actual talent. Mike Glennon is looking at hitting a huge payday as a backup FA signing...
Where could the Rams surprise with a mid-/low-tier addition?
Stay tuned to TST as we’ll have in-depth coverage of everything going on in free agency this year as always.