by Brian Umbaugh, @NFLRosters
The St. Louis Rams are that strange case of multiple personality disorder that doctors make a career trying to crack. Before the season started, pundits were curious if Sam Bradford could come back from a left knee ACL tear. Then August arrived, and Bradford tore the same ligament on the same knee. So who would play QB? Who would get the carries? Could any WR’s step up? The defense was supposed to be solid, but no one knew what to expect. The Rams were blown out 34-6 by Minnesota in Week 1, but they see-sawed their way to a 6-10 record, highlighted by their 79-0 two game stretch against Oakland and Washington. The season ended, and still no one knew what to make of it.
The same exact questions remain for 2015. Can Bradford be the guy? Who is running the ball? How many WR’s do they have to draft before one pans out? In a tough division, head coach Jeff Fisher will have his work cut out for him, especially considering the Rams are currently $1.1 million over the cap.
Sam Bradford, Shaun Hill (UFA), Austin Davis (RFA)
Although Bradford is less likely to run now, he can still pick apart a defense if given the time. Of course, so can many QB’s. Bradford, however, was rated as the #17 passing QB in 2012, his last full season. Does that merit a $13 million salary? Yes, actually it does, in today’s NFL. His annual salary ranks #16 right now in the scheme of NFL QB’s. Despite that, the Rams are having some cap issues and could use some of his salary to help sign others. If Bradford reduces some of his deal to include a lower base pay with incentives, he can still earn his money, but the Rams may be able to save $5-6 million. If not, he might be on another team soon.
Backing up Bradford has been great work. Heck, you could be backing up Drew Brees and get zero snaps. Neither of the incumbents are under contract, and neither are particularly good. However, Davis is only 25 years old, has starting experience, and can be re-signed more easily. As he was originally undrafted, I would tender him with a 2nd round value at $2 mil. The 35 year old Hill can move on. Plenty of thought should be given to drafting a QB this year.
Tre Mason, Benny Cunningham, Zac Stacy, Isaiah Pead, Trey Watts, Chase Reynolds (ERFA)
The entire stable of running backs has been average to below average since the Rams decided to part ways with Steven Jackson. Tre Mason, the most recent of the draft picks spent trying to get some production, offered some promise after taking over the top job at the midway point. He should be the starter in this run-first offense going into 2015. Former starter Zac Stacy did not impress, as he failed to break tackles and put the ball on the ground. Pead was very average until the point where he injured his knee last pre-season, and may end up being a cap casualty. Cunningham is a better pass catcher than runner. All in all, it seems like Mason is the guy, and the rest are sharing carries and fighting for roster spots. Watts and Reynolds are special teams guys. Reynolds should be re-signed, but these two probably won’t make it out of camp.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
WR: Brian Quick, Kenny Britt (UFA), Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Chris Givens, Emory Blake, Devon Wylie, Damian Williams
TE: Lance Kendricks (UFA), Jared Cook, Cory Harkey (RFA), Justice Cunningham, Alex Bayer, Mason Brodine, Brad Smelley
Kenny Britt showed a little bit of production in 2014 after two vanilla seasons. Even with the return of Brian Quick from injury, the Rams should sign him if possible. He was rated the 37th best WR in 2014, and the 37th best contract is around $4 mil per year. The team should try to find that cash somewhere. Tavon Austin has not performed, Stedman Bailey is still very raw, and Givens has not done much in the passing game. Bradford needs to have a decent #2, and Britt would qualify. At the bottom of the depth chart, Blake (son of former QB Jeff Blake) is a possession receiver, Wylie is an undersized burner, and Williams is slight but quick with some ball skills. I don’t think they need to draft more wideouts; the current ones just need to stay on the field and develop. A role-model type free agent veteran wouldn’t hurt, because Britt hasn’t been Mr. Dependable.
At tight end, the Rams could really use a tight end to stretch the field, but no one on the current roster is a high producer in the passing game. The run blocking is not very effective either, although Cook was above average in this regard. Regardless, there should be little debate that Cook is not worth the $8.3 million cap hit…if only his salary wasn’t mostly guaranteed. Kendricks should be shown the door, but Harkey should be re-signed as the TE/FB type. Cunningham, Bayer, and Brodine are blockers, and Smelley is similar to Harkey. None of them can stretch the field, so perhaps the draft would be a good place to find a pass catcher.
L to R: Jake Long, Greg Robinson, Scott Wells, Rodger Saffold, Joe Barksdale (UFA)
Top Backups: G Davin Joseph (UFA), T Brandon Washington (ERFA), C Tim Barnes (RFA), G/C Barrett Jones
St. Louis has a few different problems to deal with this offseason. First, who will be the starting five, and can the Rams afford them? Also, can the coaching staff fix the performance problems from 2014? Should the Rams try to be players in the free agent market, and how high of a priority is adding a draft choice or two to this line? Here’s what they should do.
First, who are the best five? Long and Robinson are the best tackles, but Barksdale is also good. Saffold is the best guard, with Barrett Jones being the next best bet on potential. Tim Barnes has probably taken over as the best center despite limited snaps, due to Wells’ 2014 decline. Using this info, we can count Wells as a cap casualty to save $3.8 mil. Barksdale should be re-signed to man the RT spot. Joseph has been miserable for two years and can head out, but the other backups need new deals. Washington is exclusive and easy, and Barnes and Person can be inexpensively extended. Can the team afford to keep Jake Long? They should at least try, right? He’s their best lineman. With or without him, they have an acceptable line for 2015 without free agents. However, the draft might be a good place to find an interior lineman to develop.
DE: Chris Long, Robert Quinn, William Hayes, Eugene Sims, Ethan Westbrooks
DT: Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers, Kendall Langford, Alex Carrington (UFA), Doug Worthington
St. Louis ranks #1 (by about $17 million) in cap dollars used on the D-Line. Starters Quinn and Donald had great years, the latter especially. Their linemates Brockers and Long did not have great years…the latter especially. Long spent much of the season on IR-DR, and was terrible when he played. In fact, backup Hayes has had better ratings than Long every year since Hayes joined the team. He doesn’t get the same pass rush as Long, but it still might be a decent idea to cut Chris Long to save $7.5 mil. This should not be necessary, but if they want to be players in free agency, they may need to do it.
Is it necessary to spend nearly $16 million on your backup linemen? Probably not. Eugene Sims has not done well for a few years and can be cut for $2.9 mil, although cutting both Long and Sims would require the Rams to restock in the draft or free agency. Langford has also rated below average and can be replaced with a cheaper option to save $6 mil. Carrington has not produced much over the last two years, but he has some pass rush ability and can be re-signed cheaply for depth. Former Redskin Worthington and UDFA Westbrooks have had limited snaps in their careers and will look to fit at the end of the roster.
OLB: Alec Ogletree, Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Will Herring (UFA), Korey Toomer, Marshall McFadden
ILB: James Laurinaitis, Daren Bates
It was not a good year for the linebacking crew. Ogletree, the only player even slightly above average against the run or as a pass rusher, was the worst pass defender. Laurinaitis, the best in pass coverage, was the worst run defender and pass rusher. Dunbar had a good season in 2012, but he has disappeared since. This unit could use upgrading, especially on the outside. However, the team has other needs.
Herring is a decent special teams player and should be re-signed for LB depth. Toomer is athletic, but hasn’t produced much yet. Bates is a converted safety, so he’s got speed and potential, if he can reduce his learning curve a little. St. Louis needs to add some bodies here.
CB: E.J. Gaines, Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson, Lamarcus Joyner, Brandon McGee, Marcus Roberson
S: T.J. McDonald, Rodney McLeod (RFA), Mark Barron, Cody Davis, Mo Alexander, Christian Bryant
The backfield is the antithesis of the line; no one here makes more than $2.4 mil, and the team traded for that contract. At corner, Gaines was the best player despite being a 6th round pick in April. The other five corners all had similarly average production, doing well enough against the run, but luke-warm in coverage. Johnson has had positive years before and should probably be starting ahead of Jenkins. The others are young and still developing. Next offseason, the story will be a little more fleshed out.
At safety, the unit improved a bit over 2013, but it still lacks a playmaker. SS McDonald stops the run and FS McLeod defends the pass, as expected from their positions. McLeod is only 24 and shows promise, so he should be extended a 2nd round tender. Barron was added midseason and is on the last year of his contract. Although he’s very inconsistent from game to game, he performed well enough, with balanced run and pass defensive skills. Cody Davis was a combine monster in 2013, but has only seen 16 snaps in the NFL. Alexander has size and athleticism but is still learning the position after a transition from LB. Bryant will be trying to hang around, but he doesn’t seem to have the size or speed to do so.
Kicker Greg “The Leg” Zeuerlein (he hates that, but…) is a middle of the pack type on kickoffs and field goals. Leg strength is there, as evident in the length of his kickoffs. Not as accurate as others on the 30-39 yard attempts, but he can be sent out from anywhere on the field to try a long one. He’s signed for one more year, and has a little competition from futures guy Michael Palardy to keep him sharp. Punter Johnny Hekker is the best overall punter in the NFL. What does that mean in practical terms? #1 in net yards per punt. #3 in hang time, so he’s #4 in fair catches and #4 in return pct. He’s been a real boon for the special teams unit. One of the few punters of those with top ten contracts to deserve it.
Initial cap deficit: $1.1 million
Re-sign: McLeod ($2 mil tender), Herring ($870K), Carrington ($745K), Person ($745K), B. Washington ($585K tender), Barnes ($660K), Barksdale ($2 mil), Harkey ($585K), A. Davis ($2 mil), C. Reynolds ($660K), Britt ($4 mil)
Let walk: S. Hill, Joseph, Kendricks
Best cap cuts to clear up room, if desired: Bradford reduction ($5-6 mil possible), Langford ($6 mil), Wells ($3.8 mil), Sims ($2.9 mil), Pead ($941K)
With a net $2.7 million needed to sign draftees, these moves are projected to leave approximately $3.4 million in cap space for external free agents and extensions.
Biggest Team Needs: QB, G/C, TE, DT
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Other team analysis reports and depth charts can be found in the archive.