With the draft and free agency essentially over as teams head to the rest of OTA’s and training camp, there is a surprising amount of talent available in the free agent market.
ESPN NFL Insider Bill Barnwell took a stab at finding new homes for the these players and unsurprisingly linked an EDGE player to the Los Angeles Rams.
Robert Ayers, defensive end
Arguably the best edge defender left in free agency, Ayers has been a useful two-way defender over the past several years, albeit while missing four games in each of the past four seasons. A Broncos first-round pick in 2009, he averaged a credible six sacks per season from 2013 to ‘16, only to see that total fall to two sacks last season. A closer look suggests that that drop-off was unlucky. In 2016, Ayers generated seven sacks on 19 quarterback knockdowns. Last season, Ayers knocked opposing passers down 16 times, but those hits generated only two sacks. Edge rushers usually turn about 45 percent of their knockdowns into sacks, so typically, Ayers would have come away with seven sacks for his efforts.
At worst, Ayers should be a useful reserve defensive end in a league in which the Eagles just rode their defensive line rotation into the Super Bowl. Half of the league could use a player like that. The Saints have former Broncos defensive coordinator Dennis Allen running things and drafted Marcus Davenport to play across from Cameron Jordan, but they could use depth at the position with Alex Okafor returning from a torn Achilles. The Chargers might have the league’s best one-two punch on the edge with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, but there’s precious little behind their two stars if one of them gets hurt. Ayers would be a high-quality reserve.
If anyone needs help on the edge, though, it’s a Rams team that’s in win-now mode and bereft of talent at defensive end after trading away Robert Quinn. Ayers probably wouldn’t be an every-down player in Los Angeles, but he could easily give the Rams 500 valuable snaps at a position of need for less than the $4.3 million the Rams currently have available on their cap.
New home: Los Angeles Rams
In addition to the help on the EDGE, Barnwell gave the Rams an offensive player to help ease the load off of Todd Gurley in DeMarco Murray.
DeMarco Murray, running back
After a return to form in 2016, Murray fell off a cliff in Mike Mularkey’s exotic smashmouth scheme last season. The Oklahoma product was dramatically outplayed by Derrick Henry and became a bit of a cause celebre for Titans fans, who weren’t particularly upset when Tennessee cut Murray during the offseason and replaced him with Dion Lewis.
Murray probably shouldn’t be a team’s primary back, but he still offers enough as a pass-protector and occasional receiver to justify a roster spot as a team’s RB2. He famously prefers to get the ball from a quarterback under center, so ideally, we would be able to find him a team that operates from center in need of a reserve halfback.
I’m trying to limit teams to one addition here, but I’ll make an exception and throw out the Rams as a natural home for Murray. Los Angeles ran the ball 388 times from under center last season, which ranked second in the league behind the Saints. Todd Gurley is obviously going to get the bulk of those carries, but if Gurley gets hurt, Los Angeles’ primary backup is Malcolm Brown, who has averaged 3.6 yards per carry without showing much as a receiver at this level. Murray might not be needed for more than 60 carries if Gurley stays healthy, but he would be a much-needed insurance policy for a back with a history of knee issues.
New home: Los Angeles Rams
While these additions make sense, the Rams don’t have much cap flexibility and should probably focus their efforts on paying that man, Aaron Donald.