The St. Louis Rams possess three of the first 39 picks in the 2012 NFL Draft, and that is important this year, in part, because the Rams do not currently have a vast amount of cap room available for the 2012 free agency period that begins in earnest on March 13.
Furthermore, Jay Glazer of Fox Sports is reporting that the 2012 salary cap is likely to mirror the 2011 salary cap almost perfectly:
@JayGlazer: Hearing that when the league sets the salary cap on Monday it'll be right around $120.6 million.
If that indeed ends up being the 2012 NFL salary cap number, it will only constitute a $225,000 dollar increase over last year's figure of $120.375 million.
Why is the cap basically remaining flat when it normally increases substantially?
According to Howard Balzer of 101sports.com, part of the new NFL collective bargaining agreement formed last summer determined that the cap number would essentially remain static for two years.
However, it is anticipated that there will be a significant boost in 2013.
Most teams, though, (including the Rams) will have a higher cap than the base number would indicate, due in part to teams being able to carry over cap dollars that they did not use in 2011.
All in all, Balzer projects that St. Louis will have $5.3 million in additional cap room over the final cap number and have about $12 to $13 million in cap room.
Turf Show Times reported recently that that Rams chief operating officer Kevin Demoff told them on February 17 that he expects to have approximately $10 million in cap space for the 2012 campaign, so it looks like a final cap room number in the "approximate" range of $10 to $12 million looks accurate.
Expect the Rams to clear some additional space before all is said and done, though.
According to Balzer in the above-linked article, St. Louis would save $4 million by cutting defensive tackle Fred Robbins and $2.8 million by releasing center Jason Brown.
I expect Robbins to be cut. Brown could go either way.
It has been reported the 2009 No. 2 pick Jason Smith faces a pay cut if he desires to remain in St. Louis, although Rams general manger Les Snead has indicated recently that they would like to have him back, according to this piece from stltoday.com.
If Robbins is axed and Smith takes a pay cut, that could push the Rams to well over $15 million in cap room.
Even that number, however, would be a relatively modest amount, so the Rams will have to make wise use of their free-agent dollars.
It is also not out of the question that some restructuring could be done to free up a little more room.
One theoretical option to additional space includes extending the contract of defensive end Chris Long (who is in the final year of his deal).
As it stands now, Long will count $18.3 million dollars against the 2012 cap. A new or extended deal for Long could add a few million in cap savings, too.
Whatever the eventual number is, the Rams do have at least some room to go after a few key players who could make a major impact in 2012 and beyond.
It is important to note that the Rams may not have the flexibility to pursue all of these guys, but of the following, I would like to see them target at least two or three of them.
The following slides detail the players alluded to above that I would like to see St. Louis pursue aggressively.
Even without Peyton Manning in 2011, while playing in a pedestrian offense, Garcon managed to pull down 70 catches and six touchdowns at 13.5 yards per reception.
I have been banging the drum for Garcon for months now, and I hope that Rams GM Les Snead pursues him intently.
Garcon may not be easy to pry away from the Colts, but he would give Bradford a legit No. 1 receiver to play catch with under the Arch.
Garcon has run a sub-4.4-second 40-yard dash and would bring the deep speed the Rams desperately need.
With a good running game expected to be in place under Fisher, the presence of Garcon at wide receiver would make it tougher for defensive coordinators to sneak safeties into or near the box, as they have done routinely in recent years.
Garcon is a smooth route runner with good hands, reminiscent of the similarly-sized Isaac Bruce, who obviously excelled here.
I like Garcon more than Chargers free agent Vincent Jackson because Garcon is nearly five years younger, would come cheaper and would carry far less baggage.
1. Brandon Lloyd (St. Louis)
2. Robert Meachem (New Orleans)
Cortland Finnegan will not come cheap, but upper-echelon cornerbacks are in high demand and can be incredibly important to implementing a top-tier defense.
Finnegan is an upper-echelon corner and after turning just 28, he should have several good seasons ahead of him.
It is important to note that Finnegan's best NFL season to date came in Tennessee under then-head coach Jeff Fisher and secondary coach Chuck Cecil, both of whom are now in the same roles with the Rams.
Although Finnegan has been linked to Tampa Bay and could be headed to the Bucs, he has not yet been signed, sealed or delivered.
Finnegan would bring toughness and consistent production to an unsettled defensive backfield that lost 10 cornerbacks to season-ending injuries in 2011 (including Ron Bartell, Bradley Fletcher and Jerome Murphy, their top three cornerbacks).
Finnegan would also help in the installation of the Fisher defense, after already knowing it well from their time together with the Titans.
Murphy is good to go and looks good—according to my report here—and could hold down the nickle spot in 2012.
Fletcher, who would be a likely starter, is coming off his second season-ending knee injury in three years and his return is not yet certain.
Bartell, like Murphy, is healthy (as reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch), and will likely return to the starting lineup, barring a cut.
Interestingly, a pursuit of Finnegan (or Brandon Carr of Kansas City) could theoretically signal the end for Bartell in the Gateway City.
Bartell, 30, is in the final year of his contract and is owed a hefty $6.2 million. I have always liked Bartell, but he showed some minor signs of slippage in 2010 and has battled lower-body issues in recent seasons.
1. Brandon Carr (Kansas City)
2. Tracy Porter (New Orleans)
The addition of Jason Jones, 25, would go a long way in shoring up an aging interior defensive line while solidifying a porous run defense.
Jones, a 2008 second-round pick, has produced 15.5 sacks in his first four seasons, playing mostly at defensive tackle during his first three campaigns.
Jones is probably the best defensive tackle available, especially when looking at 4-3 defensive teams like St. Louis.
Walter Football suggests a move to St. Louis and a full-time return to defensive tackle, where he is most effective.
Jones' ability to pressure the quarterback inside would be very helpful to Chris Long and Robert Quinn in 2012. Long, most notably, has missed a noticeable number of sacks in recent seasons due to an inconsistent pocket push from the DT spots.
1. Paul Soliai (Miami)
2. Pat Sims (Cincinnati)
Carl Nicks, right
Carl Nicks, 27, is regarded by many (such as Pete Prisco of CBS Sports) as the top offensive guard in the game.
The free-agent market is not nearly as strong at offensive tackle (another area of need for the Rams), so St. Louis may look to upgrade at guard via free agency.
Nicks is a monster in the run game and rarely allows a sack.
His presence could go a long way towards making the Rams' offensive line better in 2012 and beyond, paired with nasty guard Harvey Dahl, who signed with St. Louis last year out of Atlanta.
Nicks believes he is "pretty much gone (from New Orleans)", as reported by Pro Football Talk. Hopefully, he will land to St. Louis for a long-term stay.
1. Ben Grubbs (Baltimore)
2. Jacob Bell (St. Louis)—played very well under Fisher in Tennessee