St. Louis Rams Free Agency: Tracking 2012 Signings, Targets and Rumors
The St. Louis Rams were presumably an upward trending team after going 7-9 and missing the playoffs by one game in 2010, but it turned out to be false hope.
Not only did the team's 2-14 record last season destroy morale, but it brought on the dreadful realization that the team did not make any significant improvements over the last three years under former head coach Steve Spagnuolo.
Now that Spagnuolo is out and Jeff Fisher is in, there's a slither of optimism among fans as the team moves forward.
Fisher and his crew will put in exhausting hours over the next several months as they attempt to bring in players capable of taking the Rams to the next level.
In the meantime, we can monitor their progress here as we track free agent signings and general roster activity. On top of that, we'll take an in-depth look at the team's salary cap situation, as well as the 2012 NFL Draft.
Tracking Free Agent Signings, Re-Signings and Roster Activity
April 6, 2012: Jason La Canfora of NFL.com is reporting the Rams have signed DE William Hayes.
April 2, 2012: ProFootballTalk is reporting that the Rams have signed LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar.
March 17, 2012:
Adam Schefter of ESPN is reporting that the Rams have signed DE Kendall Langford to a 4 year, $24 million dollar contract with $12 million dollars guaranteed.
March 16, 2012:
Adam Schefter of ESPN is reporting that C Scott Wells has agreed to terms with the Rams.
Rumors: At this point, Cortland Finnegan remains the only signing by the Rams. However, the Rams are currently showing interest in multiple players, including Mario Manningham (WR), Steve Smith (WR), Scott Wells (C), Jason Jones (DT), Shaun Hill (QB), Eric Winston (T) and Travell Wharton (T).
March 13, 2012:
Update: The Rams indeed inked Finnegan to a five-year deal for an astonishing $50 million. The Rams cut veteran cornerback Ron Bartell a day ago, which made this addition practically a necessity. Finnegan has started in 77 of his last 80 games, which provides consistency for a Rams team that sent 10 cornerbacks to injury reserve last season.
Report: Alex Marvez of FoxSports.com reports via his Twitter that the Rams have a deal in place that is reportedly worth about $10 million a season. Adam Schefter of ESPN Tweets that the deal is worth $50 million for five-years.
Rumor: ESPN's Adam Schefter Tweets that free agent cornerback Cortland Finnegan will visit the Rams.
Mar. 12, 2012: On the eve of free agency, the Rams released C Jason Brown, DT Fred Robbins, DT Justin Bannan, DE James Hall and CB Ron Bartell. All five players are veterans who were signed to multi-million dollar contracts, which clearly echos a desire for the team to get young and save salary cap space.
Feb. 6, 2012: The St. Louis Rams signed offensive lineman Jovan Olafioye of the BC Lions from the Canadian Football League (CFL). Olafioye was a CFL all-star and a candidate for the league's award for the top offensive lineman of the year.
Quarterback Sam Bradford was sacked 36 times in just 10 games, so the need for offensive line help is obvious enough. The Rams likely figured that Olafioye would provide hefty training camp competition, which is always healthy for a team lacking in talent.
Feb. 10, 2012: Offensive lineman Jovan Olafioye failed his physical and was cut by the St. Louis Rams. Olafioye is expected to return to the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League.
The Rams were expecting to find the next Cameron Wake (Miami Dolphins) or Brandon Browner (Seattle Seahawks), who were both CFL stars turned NFL Pro Bowlers, but the team will have to look elsewhere for cheap offensive line help.
Salary Cap Status
According to Spotrac, the St. Louis Rams are currently set to pay $74,434,973 in 2012 to all of the players who currently have active contracts.
However, they did not factor in the contracts of kicker Josh Brown ($2,700,000), defensive tackle Darell Scott ($565,000) and center Jason Brown ($5,000,000).
According to Howard Balzer of ESPN 101, Brown's cap figure in 2012 will be $7.2 million, after bonuses.
When adding in the three excluded players, the contract total is actually sitting at roughly $84,899,973, which leaves them with $40,100,027 in cap space before hitting the $125 million limit in 2012 (the limit is expected to increase $5 million over the 2011 total of $120 million).
Also, Spotrac failed to mention 19 other low-end players who are under minimal contracts in 2012, which accounts for $8,685,000 when adding up the amount of their 2012 salaries. These salaries can be found at ESPN 101.
However, many of the low-end players will not make the roster, which means they won't count against the cap.
Next, we must factor in the cost of the 2012 draft picks before we can determine the true cap space that the Rams will be sitting with upon entering free agency.
Here are the Rams' picks in the 2012 NFL Draft:
Round 1, Pick 2 (2)
Round 2, Pick 1 (33)
Round 3, Pick 2 (66)
Round 4, Pick 1 (96)
Round 6, Pick 1 (160)
Round 7, Pick 2 (192)
Here are the contract details of the players picked at approximately those same spots in the 2011 draft (According to Spotrac):
Von Miller (No. 2 overall): 4 yrs, $21 million ($3.8 million cap hit in 2011)
Ras-I Dowling (No. 33 overall): 4 yrs, $5,304,098 ($964,382 cap hit in 2011)
Dontay Moch (No. 66 overall): 4 yrs, $3 million ($549,750 cap hit in 2011)
Brandon Hogan (No. 98 overall): 4 yrs, $2,740,000 ($550,000 cap hit in 2011)
Nathan Enderle (No. 160 overall): 4yrs, $2,200,000 ($417,215 cap hit in 2011)
Brian Rolle (No. 193 overall): 4 yrs, $2,136,600 ($399,150 cap hit in 2011)
So, according to the 2011 numbers, the Rams' 2012 draft should cost them around $6,680,497. When subtracting that total from the original amount of cap space ($40,100,027), the Rams will be left with $33,419,530 entering free agency.
And if you count the low-end players already under contract, who may not make the team at all, then the actual amount of spending money is roughly $24.7 million.
It seems like a sizable number, but they will not only use that remaining money for new free agents, but to re-sign their own free agents as well.
Here are some of the obstacles and headaches the Rams are dealing with in relation to the salary cap:
Former No. 2 overall pick Jason Smith signed a six-year deal in 2009 worth $61.77 million and will cost the team $10 million in 2012.
Smith has under-performed and has been frequently injured, so it's probably safe to say that the Rams are not willing to part with such a large amount of cash for his services.
According to Mike Florio of NBC Sports, Smith will generate merely a $1 million cap hit if he is cut by the team (which seems like the obvious move for the Rams given the circumstances).
The Rams will likely ask Smith to restructure his contract, which could save the Rams nearly an equal amount of money, but he'll ultimately be cut if he refuses.
Brown played up to his potential in 2009, but he was just average in 2010. In 2011, however, he was nothing short of awful, which has forced some to believe that he is yet another expensive offensive line bust for the Rams.
Brown is due $5 million in base salary in 2012, which is undoubtedly too much money for an underwhelming center. However, if Brown can increase his level of production to what it was in the past, then he's well worth the money.
That's the dilemma that the Rams are facing with Brown—is he completely used up, or can his career be revitalized under a competent coaching staff?
According to Howard Balzer, cutting Brown will only save the Rams $2.8 million in cap space, which is probably not enticing enough to deny Brown a shot at redemption.
Brandon Lloyd is clearly the Rams top offseason priority, but what are Lloyd's true intentions?
Will he follow Josh McDaniels to New England in order to stay in an offensive system that has brought him considerable success?
Does he want to remain in St. Louis, which will allow him to finally call a place "home" after playing for five different NFL teams in 10 years?
Or, perhaps he's just looking for the team that "wants" him the most, which is of course determined by which team offers the contract with the most zeros.
If the Rams can lockup the 30-year-old Lloyd to a reasonable deal, maybe four years at $20 or $25 million, then there's no doubt that he'll be back in a Rams uniform.
However, if Lloyd wants a contract that exceeds four years or $25 million, then there are younger and more alluring options for the Rams to consider, such as Dwayne Bowe or DeSean Jackson.
Unfortunately for Lloyd, there's no shortage of talented receivers in the 2012 free agency class, so he might not have the amount of leverage you'd expect.
Quarterback Sam Bradford will provide the third largest cap hit in 2012 at $9,648,332, behind only Quintin Mikell and Jason Smith, who will both be contributing a $10 million hit this year.
Had the rookie wage scale been in place just one year sooner, the Rams would be swallowing just a $5,005,695 hit (No. 1 overall pick Cam Newton's cap hit this year).
If Bradford rebounds and plays at a respectable level, then his 2012 cap hit is perfectly economical. It's comparable to Jay Cutler ($9.6 million), Joe Flacco ($8,190,000) and Matt Shaub ($8,316,667).
Don't expect the Rams to have the uncomfortable "restructure discussion" with Bradford anytime soon, but if Bradford is still struggling come midseason, then the conversation will be inevitable.
Team Needs and Weaknesses
When a team manages to win just two football games in an entire season, there's guaranteed to be more than just a few dismal spots throughout the roster.
As a testament to their lack of talent, the St. Louis Rams had zero players elected to the Pro Bowl in 2012. In fact, Steven Jackson and Quintin Mikell are the only players under contract who have been to a Pro Bowl at any point in their careers.
When discussing the Rams' needs, the clear answer is "all of the above." But let's get a little more specific...
Sam Bradford was sacked 36 times in only 10 games, which in inexcusable for a team that's attempting to groom their young quarterback into an elite NFL passer.
The three big question marks are Jason Smith, Jacob Bell and Jason Brown. All three are starting linemen who have been under-performing, while two of them (Smith, Brown) are still under contract for sizable amounts of money.
Bell is a free agent, so the Rams can cut him loose with no headaches. However, Smith is due $10 million in 2012 and Brown will make $5 million in base salary.
The Rams cannot allow all three players leave simultaneously, as there are no quality backups waiting to fill their shoes.
As a result, the Rams should take it one step at a time.
In 2012, they should focus on finding just one quality starer (either through the draft or free agency) and keep two of the "troubled" linemen for at least one more year.
They can also take chances on a few linemen who are late-round picks or undrafted free agents.
Brandon Lloyd is the Rams' top offseason priority. If they fail to re-sign Lloyd, then the Rams will enter 2012 with zero established receivers (other than slot receiver Danny Amendola).
Bradford needs to be surrounded with an arsenal of capable receivers if they want him to elevate his game, and so far the Rams have not delivered.
Even if they can re-sign Lloyd, they still need a solid No. 2 receiver, which is why they should strongly consider drafting Justin Blackmon (Oklahoma State) with their first-round pick.
When a team is last in the NFL in scoring with a laughable 12.1 points per game, it clearly means that they need all of the firepower they can afford.
Steven Jackson turned in another productive year out of the backfield with 1,145 rushing yards, despite missing basically the first three games with a quad injury.
However, the Rams still need a reliable backup capable of relieving Jackson, which has been an issue for many years.
Also, it would be ideal if the backup was not someone who's simply adequate, but rather someone capable of adding a new dimension to the offense.
Cadillac Williams was just adequate in 2011. He rushed for 91 yards against Philadelphia in the season-opener and he picked up 75 yards against a grueling Baltimore run defense.
However, Cadillac was hardly a game changer. The Rams certainly need a well-rounded back like him to carry the bulk of the carries in the event of an injury, but they also need a blazing third-down back capable of providing the offense with a home run threat.
Jerious Norwood was meant to be that guy in 2011, but injuries prevented him from providing any real value.
If the Rams have a shot at LaMichael James (Oregon) in the third-round, then he's likely someone capable of playing that role.
The Rams had the 31st ranked run defense in 2011 after surrendering 152.1 yards per game, which is primarily the result of poor play from the interior defensive line.
Fred Robbins will turn 35 years old next month and could even retire before the start of next season, while the 32-year-old Justin Bannan was ineffective and hardly deserving of his three-year $8 million contract.
Jeff Fisher is an advocate of solid line play, so expect the Rams to make a considerable investment towards a defensive tackle. Perhaps with a second-round pick or through free agency.
The Rams' substandard play against the run cannot be fully contributed to the defensive tackle position. The linebackers must take their share of the blame as well.
Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis continues to play at a Pro Bowl level (though it goes unrecognized by the voters), but he has little assistance on either side of him.
Veterans Brady Poppinga and Ben Leber were signed prior to last season and both were presumed to be capable starters at outside linebacker, but their expected contributions never came to fruition.
Both veterans were sluggish on the field and liabilities in pass protection.
Expect the Rams to go the opposite direction this season—rather than old and experienced, they'll stick with young and fast.
After the Rams saw an abnormal number of injuries at the cornerback position, it gave the impression that the team is severely lacking in the secondary, but that's not completely accurate.
The injuries created an illusion. In reality, Ron Bartell and Bradley Fletcher combine for a more than capable starting duo.
Even with the injuries, the Rams were still a top 10 pass defense (No. 7), with just 206.3 yards per game. Although, the Rams were frequently trailing early in games, which took away the opponent's motivation to go airborne.
However, even though the overall talent is not a concern at corner, there's still the question of health.
Signing a free agent such as Cortland Finnegan would be enough to answer that concern, as Finnegan has started in 77 of his last 80 regular season games.
Rams Free Agents in 2012
Here is a list of every Rams free agent according to STLtoday.com, with the contract statuses verified through Rotoworld:
Restricted Free Agents
DE C.J. Ah You
WR Danny Amendola
FB Brit Miller
These three players are free to sign with other teams, but those teams would then be forced to offer the Rams compensation in return. Amendola is likely the only player appealing enough to make a team cough up a pick, but his injury makes it somewhat unlikely.
Unrestricted Free Agents
TE Billy Bajema
OG Jacob Bell
S James Butler
LB Chris Chamberlain
WR Mark Clayton
QB Kellen Clemens
S Craig Dahl (Voidable Year)
QB A.J. Feeley
DT Gary Gibson
OL Adam Goldberg
CB Rod Hood
P Donnie Jones
LB Bryan Kehl
CB Justin King
OT Mark LeVoir
WR Brandon Lloyd Update: Adam Schefter of ESPN reports via his Twitter that the Patriots have reached an agreement with now former Rams WR Brandon Lloyd.
RB Jerious Norwood
LB Brady Poppinga
TE Stephen Spach
RB Cadillac Williams
C Tony Wragge
These players are free to sign anywhere with no strings attached. Safety Craig Dahl is under contract in 2012 for $1.2 million, but since 2012 is voidable the Rams will likely exercise that right, which makes Dahl a free agent.
Exclusive Right Free Agents
DT Jermelle Cudjo
WR Dominique Curry
S Darian Stewart
Exclusive rights free agents are players who have expired contracts, but have been in the league for less than three years (therefore disqualifying them from regular free agency). These players are not allowed to speak with other teams. If the Rams offer them a contract, then they must accept.
Estimating the Value of Every Rams Free Agent
Fortunately for the St. Louis Rams, they do not have a lot of premiere players entering free agency this year, which should allow them to retain key players.
Their top three free agents are Brandon Lloyd, Danny Amendola and Darian Stewart. All three are above average in comparison to the rest of the league, and all three provide a considerable amount of value to the team.
Amendola is a restricted free agent and since it's unlikely that any team will offer a draft pick for his services, the Rams will be able to effortlessly re-sign him.
Stewart is an exclusive rights free agent, meaning the contract that the Rams offer him is the only contract he's allowed to accept.
Lloyd is the only major obstacle in free agency. He led the NFL in receiving in 2010 (1,448 yards) and will surely attract interest from multiple teams, which means the Rams will have to come up with a lofty offer to keep him in St. Louis.
The other in-house free agents in this year's class can be retained for a minimal amount of cash.
Here is an estimated 2012 contract value for every Rams free agent, while following the league contract minimum applicable for each player (it varies by years of experience):
Restricted Free Agents
DE C.J. Ah You ($710,000 Estimated): Ah You is nothing more than a rotational player at defensive end. He is easily replaceable, which means he won't bring in much more than league minimum.
WR Danny Amendola ($2.5 Million Estimated): Amendola can be had for less considering his status as a restricted free agent, but as a valuable contributor on offense and special teams, it's probably wise to keep him happy with a somewhat generous contract.
FB Brit Miller ($710,000 Estimated): Miller will be entering his fourth season in the NFL, which entitles him to at least $615,000 in base salary. He'll get slightly more than the minimum since he's technically a starter, but it won't be much since fullbacks are basically novelties.
Unrestricted Free Agents
TE Billy Bajema ($825,000 Estimated): Bajema offers no help whatsoever in the receiving game and his blocking skills were suspect in 2011. If any team is even willing to sign him, then it will be for the $825,000 minimum.
OG Jacob Bell ($825,000 Estimated): Bell signed a six-year deal for $36 million in 2008, but his contract was restructured in 2011 to a one-year deal for the minimum $810,000. Since Bell did not improve in any way, he'll presumably get another one-year deal for league minimum.
S James Butler ($825,000 Estimated): Since Butler will be nothing more than a backup (a questionable one at that), he'll get stuck with a single-year deal for a minimal amount of money.
LB Chris Chamberlain ($950,000 Estimated): Chamberlain is a backup linebacker who will possibly start a handful of games in the event of an injury. However, he's a valuable special teams player, which increases his value slightly.
WR Mark Clayton ($1.2 Million Estimated): Clayton is still not fully recovered from his 2010 knee injury, so he won't get a lengthy contract. However, if he returns to football in good health, then he'll have a chance to make an impact. That's why his one-year deal will be worth slightly more than others.
QB Kellen Clemens ($1.8 Million Estimated): Clemens has started only 12 games in his seven-year career. Since he has virtually no shot at starting for any team, and since he has limited game experience, he'll make for a cheap backup.
S Craig Dahl (Voidable Year, $1.2 Million due in 2012): Dahl is technically still under contract for $1.2 million in 2012, but since it's a voidable year the Rams have the option of cutting him loose for no cost. If he returns, he'll get paid the $1.2 million that he's owed, but that's highly unlikely.
QB A.J. Feeley ($1.9 Million Estimated): Feeley signed a two-year deal for $6 million in 2010, but only because there was a remote chance that he'd be the team's Week 1 starter. This time around, Feeley will take a considerable pay cut for whichever team signs him.
DT Gary Gibson ($880,000 Estimated): Gibson offers little value on defense, but he'll see a considerable amount of rotational playing time if he's retained, which is why he'll get paid just slightly more than the $825,000 minimum.
OL Adam Goldberg ($1.1 Million Estimated): Ideally, Goldberg is not a starting offensive lineman, so he won't be paid like one. However, he has started 44 out of his last 64 games, so he is capable of stepping in as an injury replacement, which slightly increases his value.
CB Rod Hood ($825,000 Estimated): Rod Hood was signed by the Rams after they experienced a swarm of injuries at cornerback, but he received very little playing time and offered limited value. There are still questions regarding his health stemming from a knee injury in 2010, so he'll get nothing more than the league minimum in 2012.
P Donnie Jones ($900,000 Estimated): As an eight-year veteran, Jones will command over $825,000 in base salary. Jones has been on of the more overlooked players on the team in recent years, but surely they can find a young punter capable of doing the job for half the price.
LB Bryan Kehl ($700,000 Estimated): Kehl was a solid backup for the Rams, but he was never able to lock himself in as a starter. As a result, he won't earn much more that the league minimum.
CB Justin King ($700,000 Estimated): King had a notoriously bad game against Baltimore, allowing three touchdowns in the first-quarter alone. However, the experience he gained after being forced into a starting role for 12 games makes him slightly more valuable than other backups.
OT Mark LeVoir ($900,000 Estimated): Mark LeVoir is a capable backup, but it's unlikely that he'll see multiple years in a contract. Expect a one-year deal near league minimum.
WR Brandon Lloyd ($7.8 Million Estimated)
Update: Adam Schefter of ESPN reports via his Twitter that the Patriots have reached an agreement with now former Rams WR Brandon Lloyd.
RB Jerious Norwood ($825,000 Estimated): Norwood has missed 27 of his last 48 possible games due to multiple injuries and has only scored one touchdown since 2008. Questions regarding his health will ensure a one-year deal, while his lack of production will guarantee the minimum contract.
LB Brady Poppinga ($825,000 Estimated): Poppinga started 12 games for the Rams last season, but his questionable run defense made it clear that he's not an NFL starter. Anything beyond a one-year minimum deal would be overpaying.
TE Stephen Spach ($825,000 Estimated): Spach will be entering his eighth NFL season and has yet to catch a single touchdown pass or exceed 50 yards in a season. It's clear that he's strictly a special teams players, which will earn him low-end deal.
RB Cadillac Williams ($990,000 Estimated): Cadillac will get a significant amount of carries and could possibly start for a team in the event of an injury, but his history with injuries and inconsistent performance will limit his contract to just one year.
C Tony Wragge ($925,000 Estimated): If the Rams were to cut Jason Brown and re-sign Wragge, then it's very likely that Wragge would be the starting center. If that's the case, then he'll earn a little above his head. But if he's kept as a backup, then he'll earn closer to league minimum.
Exclusive Right Free Agents
DT Jermelle Cudjo ($550,000 Estimated): As an exclusive rights free agent, Cudjo will be forced to sign whatever contract the Rams offer. Luckily for Cudjo, he's only worth league minimum, so he's not losing any money on the deal.
WR Dominique Curry ($550,000 Estimated): Curry will be forced to sign his contract as an exclusive right free agent. As the team's best player on special teams, he'll be significantly underpaid.
S Darian Stewart ($550,000 Estimated): As a starting safety for the Rams, Stewart will deserve far more than what's offered. But if he stays on track then he'll be in for a major payday soon enough.
Determining Who Stays and Who Goes
The St. Louis Rams will undergo a considerable amount of work during free agency. Not only will they examine which players are solid contributors, but with a new coaching staff they must also figure out which players fit into the new schemes on offense and defense.
Former head coach Steve Spagnuolo signed many of the low-end players due to his familiarity with them. However, Fisher does not have the same level of comfort with a number of these players.
As a result, we'll see many backups and under-performing starters get the ax. Fisher will bring in his own players to fill out the roster.
Although, we'll likely see them retain the majority of key starters and up-and-comers.
So here is the predicted outcome of every free agent, along with other roster predictions (contract restructures):
DE C.J. Ah You (Will Not Be Re-Signed)
C.J. Ah You is a rotational player at best who has accumulated very little playing time during his three years in St. Louis. Fisher will has no desire to finish projects started by Spagnuolo. There's a chance that the Rams will pass on Ah You and he'll then follow Spagnuolo to New Orleans.
WR Danny Amendola (Re-Signed: Three Years, $6.1 Million)
Danny Amendola led the league in all-purpose yards in 2010 (2,364) and is a reliable first-down option coming out of the slot. There was a night and day difference with him out of the lineup in 2011. As a result, the Rams will give him some recognition and pay him slightly more than what they could get away with.
2012 Cap Hit: $2.3 Million
FB Brit Miller (Re-Signed: One Year, $625,000)
Brit Miller is apparently enthusiastic about the hiring of Fisher. Fortunately for Miller, the feeling may be mutual considering Fisher is known to put an emphasis on the run game. At the very least, Miller will get a fair shot in training camp.
2012 Cap Hit: $625,000
TE Billy Bajema (Will Not Be Re-Signed)
Unfortunately for Billy Bajema, there's nothing alluring about a tight end that provides no threat in the passing game and struggles to pick up blocks.
OG Jacob Bell (Re-Signed: One Year, $825,000)
Jacob Bell has under-performed from the very second he put on a Rams jersey. But luckily for Bell, the Rams can't cut loose all of their linemen in one year. Also, it doesn't hurt that he played four years of solid football under Fisher in Tennessee.
2012 Cap Hit: $825,000
S James Butler (Will Not Be Re-Signed)
James Butler was a starting safety for the Super Bowl champion New York Giants in 2007, but he was unable to make an impact in St. Louis. Butler was signed due to his comfort in Spagnuolo's defense, but now that Spagnuolo is gone there's no reason to retain him. Also, the Rams already have two starting-caliber safeties on the roster (Quintin Mikell, Darian Stewart).
LB Chris Chamberlain (Re-Signed: Two Years, $1.4 Million)
The Rams will turn to the draft and free agency in an attempt to find a pair of starting outside linebackers. Yet even though Chris Chamberlain will never be a full-time starter on defense, he's a capable special teams player. He led the Rams in special teams tackles in both 2008 and 2009, so the Rams will attempt to bring him back with a two-year deal.
2012 Cap Hit: $850,000
WR Mark Clayton (Will Not Be Re-Signed)
Mark Clayton had 300 yards and two touchdown in only five games to start the 2010 season, but his year was cut short after a season-ending knee injury. He attempted a comeback in 2011, but he still was not fully recovered and appeared in only two games. The Rams are looking for reliability at the receiver position, which means Clayton will not get another shot in 2012.
QB Kellen Clemens (Re-Signed: Three Years, $3.8 Million)
Kellen Clemens has five years of experience in Brian Schottenheimer's offense from his time in New York. Now that Schottenheimer in the Rams' new offensive coordinator, it seems like the perfect match. The Rams will likely offer Clemens a multi-year deal that will make him the team's long-term backup behind Sam Bradford.
2012 Cap Hit: $1.4 Million
S Craig Dahl (Voidable Year, Rams Will Turn Down His Final Year)
Craig Dahl is due $1.2 million in 2012 if the Rams opt to keep him. The price is far too steep for a third-string safety, which means the Rams will void his contract. Dahl will hit free agency this spring.
QB A.J. Feeley (Will Not Be Re-Signed)
A.J. Feeley is 34 years old and is a less attractive backup than the younger Clemens (28 years old). Feeley was signed in 2010 due to his familiarity with Pat Shurmur's West-Coast Offense, but he no longer adds that value now that the Rams are transitioning into Schottenheimer's system. Feeley is no longer a viable option as Bradford's backup.
DT Gary Gibson (Will Not Be Re-Signed)
The Rams already have Justin Bannan and Fred Robbins under contract, and they'll be looking to add additional talent at defensive tackle through the draft and free agency. This leaves little room for Gibson, who is a rotational player at best.
OL Adam Goldberg (Will Not Be Re-Signed)
Adam Goldberg provides some value as a backup due to his ability to play multiple positions on the offensive line. However, the ability to play multiple positions doesn't help if he can't play at an acceptable level. Goldberg frequently struggles when thrown into action, so the Rams will look for a younger option.
CB Rod Hood (Will Not Be Re-Signed)
Rod Hood was signed mid-season as a drastic measure after the Rams were bombarded with injuries at cornerback. Hood saw very little playing time and has yet to fully recover from a knee injury he obtained before the start of the 2010 season. It's worth noting that Hood played six games under Fisher in 2009 with the Titans, but that will not be enough to earn him another shot in 2012.
P Donnie Jones (Will Not Be Re-Signed)
The Rams are looking to save money in 2012, which does not happen by paying a punter nearly a million a year. Donnie Jones averaged an impressive 50.0 yards per punt in 2008, but that averaged regressed to just 44.3 last season. Look for the Rams to sign a young punter for half the price.
LB Bryan Kehl (Will Not Be Re-Signed)
Byan Kehl is yet another player who was only signed due to his knowledge of Spagnuolo's system. Kehl played the entire 2008 and 2009 seasons with the New York Giants before being acquired by St. Louis midway though the 2010 season. Look for Fisher to dump Kehl and sign a linebacker familiar with his own system.
CB Justin King (Will Not Be Re-Signed)
The Rams could do much worse than Justin King for their No. 4 or No. 5 cornerback, but with Bradley Fletcher, Ron Bartell and Jerome Murphy all returning from injury in 2012, King has just a slim chance at making the roster.
OT Mark LeVoir (Re-Signed: One Year, $890,000)
The Rams will surely build depth with younger talent, but they'll likely keep one veteran tackle as an insurance policy. LeVoir is a better option than Goldberg and his seven years of experience will allow him to step in immediately if there's an injury.
2012 Cap Hit: $890,000
WR Brandon Lloyd
Update: Adam Schefter of ESPN reports via his Twitter that the Patriots have reached an agreement with now former Rams WR Brandon Lloyd.
RB Jerious Norwood (Will Not Be Re-Signed)
Jerious Norwood was a disappointment in 2011 after appearing in only nine games and carrying the ball just 24 times all season. It's clear that injuries are still a concern for Norwood, who has appeared in all 16 games just once in his six-year career.
LB Brady Poppinga (Will Not Be Re-Signed)
The Rams will likely be looking to upgrade their starting outside linebackers, meaning Brady Poppinga will only have a shot as a backup. However, rather than keeping him as a backup, the Rams will look for younger and faster players for a fraction of the price.
TE Stephen Spach (Will Not Be Re-Signed)
Spagnuolo was familiar with Stephen Spach from their time together with the Eagles in 2005, which is likely the only reason he was signed by the Rams in 2011. Fisher has no attachment to Spach and will look elsewhere for help at tight end.
RB Cadillac Williams (Will Not Be Re-Signed)
Cadillac Williams will look for the best offer available, but it's not going to come from the Rams. Cadillac was inconsistent in 2011 and provided an unreliable safety net behind Jackson. The Rams will find a younger and equally productive option for half the price.
C Tony Wragge (Will Not Be Re-Signed)
After much consideration, the Rams will likely decide to keep center Jason Brown. Brown still has a shot at reviving his career, regardless of his uninspiring 2011 season. If the Rams do in fact keep Brown, then they'll surely drop Wragge. A veteran like Wragge will command more money than the Rams are willing to commit to the position.
DT Jermelle Cudjo (Will Not Be Re-Signed)
Fisher puts an emphasis on solid defensive line play, which is why he'll hand pick his own players (even the backups). Jermelle Cudjo can be had for cheap due to his status as an exclusive right free agent, but Fisher will likely consider other options.
WR Dominique Curry (Re-Signed: Three Years, $1.6 Million)
Dominique Curry was an undrafted free agent in 2010, but he has quickly established himself as a capable special teams player. The Rams will likely bring him back near at league minimum.
2012 Cap Hit: $560,000
S Darian Stewart (Re-Signed: Three Years, $1.6 Million)
Darian Stewart in an exclusive rights free agent, which means the Rams will bring him back for nearly nothing. Stewart was undrafted in 2010, but he started 13 games for the Rams in 2011. Despite being an overlooked prospect, Stewart has already established himself as one of the better players on defense. The Rams will certainly retain him in 2011.
2012 Cap Hit: $560,000
Total Cost of Re-Signing In-House Free Agents: $15,510,000
Other Roster Moves:
OT Jason Smith (Restructured Contract)
Jason Smith was the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2009 and signed a six-year deal worth $61.775 million. Smith has greatly under-performed and has been crippled with injuries, so there's not a chance that the Rams will pay him the $10 million that he's due in 2012.
2012 Cap Hit: $2.1 Million
2012 Cap Savings: $7.9 Million
Predicting Available Cap Space After Re-Signings
So, now that the estimated cost of re-signing the in-house free agents has been established, let's revisit the St. Louis Rams' salary cap situation.
The Rams have $84,899,973 locked up in their primary contracts, but that number is increased by $8,685,000 for the 19 low-end players technically under contract. Not all of the low-end players will make the roster, and players who are cut don't count against the cap.
However, we'll assume that all the low-end players are retained, just to be safe. That now brings the total to $93,584,973 in contracts, leaving Rams with $31,415,027 in cap space before hitting the estimated $125 million cap limit in 2012.
Add in the estimated $6,680,497 it will cost to sign the draft picks, as well as the $15,510,000 it will presumably take to sign the in-house free agents, and the Rams are down to just $9,224,530 to spend on outside free agents.
That seems like a dangerously low number, but the restructured Jason Smith contract helps immensely.
Smith is due $10 million in 2012, but if his contract renegotiation lowers his earnings to just $2.9 million this season, then it adds $7.1 million to the total.
After Smith is taken care of, the Rams have a healthy $16,324,530 in invest in free agency.
Biggest Needs Following Re-Signings
Re-signing a number of the in-house free agents will not particularly reduce the number holes throughout the St. Louis Rams' roster.
The re-signings bring back a handful of key players (Danny Amendola, Brandon Lloyd), while the rest of the signings basically cover the bare necessities.
However, after the Rams take care of their own free agents, we'll have a better idea of where they're willing to spend money.
For example, after re-signing Lloyd and Amendola, it's probably safe to say that they won't be in the DeSean Jackson or Dwyane Bowe sweepstakes.
Here are some of the remaining needs after taking care of the in-house free agents:
Defensive tackle will still be a glaring weakness, regardless of who's retained from the roster.
Not only will finding a capable tackle save the team from depending on a 35-year-old Fred Robbins, but it will also improve the entire defense.
James Laurinaitis is already playing at an extremely high level, and that will only be enhanced if he has a run-stuffing tackle in front of him.
Also, the improved pass rush will take some weight off an injury prone secondary, which brings us to our next point...
The Rams are incapable of maintaining consistency in the secondary: Ron Bartell has missed 17 out of his last 48 games; Bradley Fletcher has missed 11 of his last 48 games; and Jerome Murphy has missed 18 of 32 career games.
Those three are the team's top corners. There may be talent amongst them, but their talent is useless if they're constantly on the sidelines.
The Rams need someone capable of starting 16 games in a season, or else they'll continue to get beat up in the secondary.
The Rams will likely drop free agent Billy Bajema, while Michael Hoomanawanui has yet to stay healthy for more than eight games in a season after two years in the NFL.
With Bajema gone and Hoomanawanui irrelevant due to health concerns, that leaves 2011 second-round pick Lance Kendricks as the only real option at tight end.
Kendricks struggled as a rookie, but showed some promise as a receiver with 28 catches for 352 yards.
However, Kendricks is not renowned for his blocking abilities, which means the Rams could use a more well-rounded tight end capable of opening run lanes.
The Rams ranked 31st in run defense (152.1 yards per game), but most of the damage came on the outside due to inconsistent play from their outside linebackers.
The Rams can find a new defensive tackle to help Laurinaitis clog up the middle, but the run defense won't improve significantly until the team gets some speed on the outside.
If the Rams theoretically retain both Jason Smith and Jason Brown, then the coaches will give them at least one year to correct their level of performance.
As a result, the Rams will not go crazy by drafting and signing multiple linemen. However, expect them to search for at least one new starter on the line.
The Rams will be much improved at receiver if they can retain both Lloyd and Amendola.
However, the Rams will want to surround Bradford with as many capable weapons as possible, which is why Justin Blackmon will remain a possibility in the draft.
Also, Lloyd is 30 years old, which means the Rams will need their top receiver of the future as soon as possible.
Potential Free Agent Signings for the Rams
As mentioned earlier, we're predicting that the St. Louis Rams will be have approximately $16,324,530 to invest towards outside free agents. The number takes into consideration the low-end contracts, as well as the cost of their draft picks.
It's not an impressive number to work with, which means the team will refrain from going crazy with new signings. However, it's enough money to allow for a couple of key signings.
Here are some outside free agents the Rams may consider:
Update: Alex Marvez of FoxSports.com reports via his Twitter that the Rams have a deal in place that is reportedly worth about $10 million a season. Adam Schefter of ESPN Tweets that the deal is worth $50 million for five-years.
Update: WR Steve Johnson has been re-signed by the Buffalo Bills and WR Dwayne Bowe has been given the franchise tag by the Chiefs.
There's a chance the Rams will be unable to re-sign Brandon Lloyd, which will obviously result in a void at the position. Drafting Justin Blackmon would help, but they need experience at the position more than pure ability.
If Lloyd is not retained, look for the Rams to show some interest in Stevie Johnson (Buffalo Bills) or Dwayne Bowe (Kansas City Chiefs).
Both are young—Johnson is 25 years old while Bowe is 27—and have multiple successful seasons on their resumes.
It's an extremely weak free agency class for the defensive tackle position, but there are still a few options available.
It would be nice to see the Rams ambitiously pursue Calais Campbell (Arizona Cardinals), who is only 25 years old and already turning into one of the better defensive tackles in the NFL.
However, the Cardinals will almost certainly use their franchise tag to retain Campbell.
More realistically, however, is Jason Jones (Tennessee Titans). The 25-year-old Jones played three seasons under Jeff Fisher in Tennessee, but has regressed under the current leadership after being moved to defensive end.
Reuniting Fisher and Jones in St. Louis could be beneficial for both sides.
Update: Alex Marvez of FoxSports.com reports via his Twitter that the Rams have a deal in place that is reportedly worth about $10 million a season.
Cornerback is not a major need for the Rams if the starters can just remain healthy for 16 games, but that's a lot to ask.
A low-end cornerback signing would not make a major splash in the team's structure, but signing Cortland Finnegan (Tennessee Titans) would certainly shake up the roster while greatly improving the defense.
Finnegan played five of his six NFL seasons under Fisher, which means the connection is there. He won't be cheap, but he's a potential free agent who's on every Rams fan's mind.
The Rams still have faith in former second-round draft pick Lance Kendricks, which means they won't be in hot pursuit of Jermichael Finley of the Packers.
However, the offense needs firepower immediately, so there might not be enough patience to ignore someone like John Carlson (Seattle Seahawks) in free agency.
Carlson is a capable receiver who had 574 yards and seven touchdowns in 2009, but missing the entire 2011 season with a shoulder injury should drive down his price tag.
Projecting Contract Value of Potential Free Agent Signings
The St. Louis Rams will only have a limited amount of cap space this season, which means they'll have to get the absolute most out of each signing.
Expect them to search for high-value players who are reasonably priced, as opposed to finding the top free agent at a particular position and dumping semi-trucks full of money on top of him.
The current regime might be willing to make an exception in the name of getting the Rams back on track as quickly as possible, but they'll generally look for mid-level guys who offer solid value.
Let's take a look at the projected contract values of the free agents mentioned in the previous slide. Obviously they are not looking to sign all of these players, but here's what we can expect if these guys are brought in:
WR Stevie Johnson: Update: Steve Johnson has re-signed with the Buffalo Bills.
WR Dwayne Bowe: Update: Dwayne Bowe has been given the Kansas City Chiefs' franchise tag.
DT Jason Jones (Four Years, $12.1 Million)
Jason Jones is at an ideal age for a free agent (25 years old), but he has been slightly inconsistent throughout his four seasons in the NFL. Also, at 276 pounds he is undersized for a defensive tackle.
Jones should be able to put on some weight, but he's still not looking at a major payday.
The Rams signed Justin Bannan last year to a three-year deal for $8.5 million. Jones will cost more than Bannan, but not by much.
CB Cortland Finnegan Update: Alex Marvez of FoxSports.com reports via his Twitter that the Rams have a deal in place that is reportedly worth about $10 million a season. Adam Schefter of ESPN Tweets that the deal is worth $50 million for five-years.
TE John Carlson (Three Years, $8.3 Million)
During his rookie year in 2008, John Carlson had 627 yards and five touchdown. He followed that up with 574 yards and seven touchdowns in 2009.
However, Carlson had just 318 yards and one touchdown in 2010 and he missed the 2011 season completely due to injury.
At 6'5", Carlson makes for a dangerous end-zone threat. However, his drop in production will cost him.
Analyzing the Rams' Draft Strategy
After reading the following, you may come to the conclusion that this strategy completely disregards defense in an arguably reckless and irresponsible fashion.
Truthfully, that's absolutely correct. But unfortunately, that's what the St. Louis Rams desperately need at this point.
If the defense had held opponents to just 15.0 points per game on average (making them the third-best point prevention defense in the NFL), the Rams still would have lost 12 games last season.
Again, if the Rams had the third-best defense in the NFL in average points allowed per game, the Rams would have only won an additional two games.
On top of that, if the Rams increased their point production to just 20.0 points per game by adding 7.1 points to each of their final scores (making them a mediocre 24th ranked offense), they would have won an additional five games last season, resulting in a much improved 7-9 record.
Sure, there are other factors to consider, but it's still an incredible testament to how pitiful the Rams' offense was last season.
They finished last in scoring (12.1 points per game) and scored only 18 touchdown all season (last in the NFL), which is why the draft needs to focus solely on that side of the ball.
The strategy is simple—go all offense in the first three rounds.
Even if the Rams trade with Cleveland to get out of the No. 2 overall spot (picking up their No. 4 and No. 22 picks), they should still dedicate the additional pick to offense.
Here is how that could play out:
Round 1, Pick 4: Justin Blackmon, WR (Oklahoma State)
Round 1, Pick 22: Jonathan Martin, T (Stanford)
Round 2, Pick 33: Peter Konz, C (Wisconsin)
Round 3, Pick 66: LaMichael James, RB (Oregon)
Such a strategy could drastically improve the offense right out of the gate.
As indicated earlier—a drastic improvement on defense would have resulted in only two additional wins last season, while a just slight upgrade on offense would have theoretically added five wins.
The point of the game is to outscore your opponent. As a result, the Rams defense can improve by leaps and bounds, but the current offense is clearly not capable of maintaining leads (or even claiming leads in the first place).
With so much invested in quarterback Sam Bradford, both financially and personnel-wise, the success of the team is intimately dependent on the personal success of Bradford.
Bradford was drafted No. 1 overall in 2010 because he was thought of as a potentially elite passer. Putting an emphasis on defense would be abandoning that idea out of a sudden desire to be the Baltimore Ravens rather than the Saints, Patriots, Packers or any other team with an elite quarterback.
Bradford was drafted over Ndamukong Suh because the team wanted to win Super Bowls, just like other teams with franchise quarterbacks. To flip-flop and turn the focus on defense would be detrimental to the development of Bradford, therefore being detrimental to the future.
That's not to say that the Rams should completely ignore defense.
If they have an eye on a pair of outside linebackers who are projected to go in the fourth-round or later, then they should consider it. Same with defensive tackle.
However, it's obvious enough that offense was the reason for losing 14 games in 2011, not defense. Without question, the Rams need to dedicate their premiere picks to that side of the ball.
Draft Prospects on the Rams' Radar
The St. Louis Rams will be looking to significantly upgrade their offense this offseason.
Not only do they need weapons for Sam Bradford, but they also need to improve an offensive line that allowed 55 total sacks last season.
There's no question that the Rams need to focus on offense more than anything. However, they also need to find a defensive tackle at some point, as well as an outside linebacker.
The Rams were the only team in the NFL to score less than 200 points (193), which clearly suggests a lack of firepower.
Wide receiver Justin Blackmon (Oklahoma State) is the obvious choice for the Rams' top pick of the draft, but Michael Floyd (Notre Dame) and Alshon Jeffery (South Carolina) both have a chance to slip into the second-round if the Rams want to go a different route with their top pick.
If the Rams decide to beef up their line with the top pick, then offensive tackle Matt Kalil (USC) figures to the be the best lineman in the draft. Tackle Mike Adams (Ohio State), guard Cordy Glenn (Georgia) and center Peter Konz (Wisconsin) are all viable second-round options (if they slip that far).
Also, if running backs Chris Polk (Washington) or LaMichael James (Oregon) slip to the Rams in the third-round, there's a good chance they'll jump all over that opportunity.
It's unlikely that the Rams will use their No. 2 overall pick on a defensive player. If they trade down to No. 4 overall with Cleveland, then cornerback Morris Claiborne (LSU) and defensive tackle Michael Brockers (LSU) are the only players even remotely worthy of the pick.
Defensive tackles Jerel Worthy (Michigan State) and Brandon Thompson (Clemson) are both reasonable second-round options who fill a very big need.
If the Rams want to find a starting outside linebacker in the second-round, then Zach Brown (North Carolina) makes the most sense at No. 33 overall.