With the offseason rolling around, “hard decision” time has come upon NFL circles.
Teams are going to have to make some tough decisions on players. The Los Angeles Rams have a laundry list of their own decision when it comes to free agents. That group of decisions itself will set the parameters for this offseason.
Who do they keep? Who do they commit to long term? Where does the money come from?
Where am I headed with this? Well, it’s time to make one of those tough decisions, and it has to do with ILB Mark Barron.
Let me preface by saying this: I believe that Mark Barron is the superior player to ILB Alec Ogletree overall. I really do. I think he’s more athletic, a better tackler, more willing to stick his nose in between gaps, and is superior in coverage. The issue at hand is that the Rams handed Ogletree a massive contract extension in October, essentially choosing to keep Ogletree as the long-term ILB over Barron. Ogletree was headed into his last season under contract. An extension seemed to be in order the whole time, but top-3 inside linebacker money and double the guaranteed money of Seattle Seahawks ILB Bobby Wagner? That tells you something.
So why should we consider Barron for release? Well, the Rams have two undersized ILBs without a mammoth nose tackle to keep them clean. They could elect to keep both and try to find a true run-stuffing NT, but is it worth it? Barron is currently the fourth-highest paid ILB in football, coming in after Carolina Panthers MLB Luke Kuechly, Wagner, and Ogletree. Are Tree and Barron worthy of being in that company? I don’t believe so.
In 2016 prior to hitting free agency, Barron was handed a five-year, $45m deal with $20m guaranteed. The structure of the deal allows the Rams to let go of Barron with minimal penalty:
Cap Hit: $10m
Dead Cap: $3m
Cap Hit: $9m
Dead Cap: $2m
Cap Hit: $9m
Dead Cap: $1m
Barron is a fine player, but is his production and skill set worth that price tag?
In terms of average per year (APY), here are some other LB’s league-wide who make less, and are at least comparable in my opinion to both Ogletree ($10.5m APY) and Barron ($9m APY):
- New England Patriots MLB Dont’a Hightower $8.75m APY
- Denver Broncos ILB Brandon Marshall $8m APY
- Chicago Bears ILB Danny Trevathan $7m APY
- Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee $7m APY
- Seattle Seahawks OLB K.J. Wright $6.75m APY
- Carolina Panthers OLB Thomas Davis $6.75m APY
- Chicago Bears ILB Jerrell Freeman $4m APY
- Tennessee Titans ILB Wesley Woodyard $3.5m APY
- Philadelphia Eagles OLB Nigel Bradham $3.5m APY
- Washington Linebacker Employers ILB Zach Brown $2.3m APY
- Oakland Raiders MLB NaVorro Bowman $2m APY
- Washington ILB Mason Foster $1.25m APY
What does this list tell us? It tells us that the Barron and Ogletree contracts are bad for value. How does Zach Brown go from an amazing 2016 season with the Buffalo Bills (149 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 INT, 2 FF, a pro bowl berth, and an all-pro berth) to settling for a one-year deal in Washington for $2.3m? How does one of the leagues best LB’s in Bradham sign a 2-year $7m dollar deal in Philly? That’s good value.
The inside linebacking positions doesn’t generally get a ton of money. When compared to other position groups like the offensive line, edge rusher or quarterback, the ILB market is sort of like the RB market.
So is it worth it to be at the top of that market for guys like Ogletree and Barron?
How are the Rams stuck paying two average ILB’s top-4 money at a position which the NFL tells us isn’t worth it? Had they been pro bowl type ILB’s who change the game, sure. You could contend the contracts would be fine. But for a team who has a laundry list of free agents coming up, and a league filled with cheap-er linebackers producing just as much if not better, how can the Rams justify paying both Barron and Ogletree elite money?
The bottom line is that they can’t.
And the first step to fixing that would be releasing Mark Barron.