5 Big Moves Rams Could Make in 2013 NFL Free Agency
The St. Louis Rams are surely feeling the pressure to improve this offseason by any means necessary.
The fans merely wanted to see considerable improvements in Jeff Fisher's first season as head coach, and since the team finished with a resoundingly successful 7-8-1 record (compared to 2-14 in 2011), the city is hungry for more and eager for a playoff appearance a year from now.
Anything less will be viewed as a disappointment, which is why general manager Les Snead and Fisher will put in countless hours of hard work this offseason in an effort to further fortify their talented but flawed roster.
Like most of the premiere franchises capable sustaining success year after year (New England, Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Baltimore), the Rams will primarily rely on the draft for reinforcements, rather than flashy, cap-killing free agents.
But even though the draft is the most important rebuilding tool, there's always room for a free agent or two, as long as the acquisitions are made in a smart, cap-friendly way.
And besides, there are some clear advantages to free agency.
In the draft, the proper technique is to select the most talented player available, regardless of roster needs, whereas free agency allows a team to immediately address a position in desperate need of an upgrade.
So while St. Louis won't get carried away with a free-agent shopping spree, there will be some key signings this March.
But which players are currently being eye-balled by Fisher and Snead?
Read on to review five high-end names that may be entering the market this year. Each player fills a need for the Rams and will significantly upgrade the roster.
WR Dwayne Bowe (Kansas City Chiefs)
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The Rams have been in the market for a big, athletic receiver for years now, but they always fall short in addressing that need.
After a lengthy search that has gone on for at least five years, is there a long-term answer just 250 miles down I-70?
The Kansas City Chiefs—the Rams' interstate preseason rivals—drafted the 6'2" and 221-pound Dwayne Bowe out of LSU in 2007, and he's been a weapon ever since.
Bowe burst onto the scene as a rookie with 995 yards and five touchdowns, while he has at least 1,000 yards in three of his six seasons—including a dominate 2010 performance that ended with 1,162 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Bowe shows great physicality and can fight for the ball, while he'd provide the Rams with a dangerous red-zone threat (something they've been missing for years).
Also, it's fair to conclude that Bowe hasn't even reached his true potential.
Bowe has suffered at the hands of some awful Kansas City quarterbacks, which has prevented him from truly taking his game to the next level.
If Bowe teams up with a quarterback as talented as Sam Bradford, there's no telling what kind of destruction he can impose on secondaries.
The downside is his price tag.
It's a hefty chunk of cash, but can you really put a price tag on finally elevating the offense to the next level?
TE Jared Cook (Tennessee Titans)
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If the Rams cannot find a dominate receiver to line up outside this offseason, then a freakish tight end capable of imposing his will in the red zone would be a nice consolation prize.
The 6'5" and 248-pound Jared Cook has gradually developed into one of the more dangerous pass-catching tight ends in the NFL, but the lack of a stable quarterback situation in Tennessee has prevented him from reaching the gaudy statistics of a Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham.
Jeff Fisher is the one who drafted Cook in 2009, so he knows this better than anybody.
Fisher also knows that teaming Cook up with Bradford would allow both players to reach their full potential, which would be a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators.
The Rams drafted Lance Kendricks in the second round two years ago, and he has been making steady progress, but he lacks Cook's elite athleticism and red-zone presence.
Kendricks is a solid role player and is great for depth, but Cook would immediately improve their intermediate passing game and provide some red-zone muscle.
Based on the Marcedes Lewis (five years, $35 million) and Zach Miller (five years, $34 million) contracts from two years ago (according to Sportrac), Cook will probably be looking to secure approximately $7 million per year.
S William Moore (Atlanta Falcons)
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William Moore has developed into one of the better safeties in the NFC and is the keystone in Atlanta's secondary.
The 27-year-old Moore is still in his prime and has provided consistent playmaking ability with 11 interceptions over the last three seasons.
Also, given Atlanta's desperate cap situation, there's no guarantee that the Falcons will be able to retain him this offseason.
According to ESPN, Atlanta is currently sitting at $113 million, which is just a hair short of the anticipated $120 million salary cap for 2013.
The Falcons need to find a way to retain tackle Sam Baker and cornerback Brent Grimes, while they also need to be mindful of Matt Ryan, who is set to enter free agency a year from now (according to Spotrac).
The franchise tag for the safety position is estimated at a modest $6.7 million for 2013 (according to NFL.com), so that's always an option for Atlanta, but don't be surprised if this tight money situation forces the Falcons to depart with a valued player.
If Moore is that player, the Rams need to jump at the opportunity.
Craig Dahl has been a disaster in the secondary and is a free agent, while the Rams may be forced to cut Quintin Mikell if he refuses to restructure his contract, as he's set to make $9 million in 2013 (according to Spotrac).
If things don't go right in the negotiations with Mikell, the Rams could be in need of not one, but two safeties.
With that in mind, they'll be reviewing every possible option, and Moore is not only a feasible pickup, but he's also an upgrade over anyone currently on the roster.
Not to mention, Moore's playing days at the University of Missouri make him a hometown favorite.
DT Desmond Bryant (Oakland Raiders)
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The Rams used the 14th pick of the draft on Michael Brockers last year, while they also signed Kendall Langford to a four-year deal worth $24 million (according to Spotrac).
So why on Earth would the Rams be shopping for more defensive tackles?
For one, Langford was somewhat of a disappointment during his first season in St. Louis, so there's still plenty of room for improvement.
Additionally, Fisher is a defensive junkie and won't be able to help himself, especially when it comes to a low-key player such as Desmond Bryant, who will likely come at a reasonable price.
Bryant has quietly been a strong contributor for the Oakland defense, but the Raiders can't hide their best kept secret from Mike Waufle.
Waufle—the defensive-line coach for St. Louis—was Bryant's defensive-line coach in Oakland during the 2010 and 2011 seasons, so he knows firsthand what kind of potential and production Bryant brings to the table.
Whether Bryant is brought in as a starter or as the No. 3 tackle, he would make a great offseason addition.
G Andy Levitre (Buffalo Bills)
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There's some speculation that the Rams will use either one or both of their 2013 first-round picks on an offensive lineman.
Considering Fisher has never used a first-round pick on an offensive lineman in his 17 years as a head coach, that notion is laughable at best.
Remember how desperate the Rams were for offensive-line help a year ago? Last year's need far exceeded their current need, yet they didn't draft a lineman until Rok Watkins in the fifth round.
Instead, they grabbed low-end free agents (Rob Turner, Barry Richardson) and signed center Scott Wells, who was really their only major offensive-line upgrade last year.
This year, we'll likely see something similar.
It's still possible that they'll draft a first-round lineman if they feel he's the best player, but most likely they'll make one legitimate upgrade in free agency and take care of the rest with modest pickups and low draft picks.
For their one legitimate upgrade, it would be wise for them to consider Andy Levitre out of Buffalo.
The Rams' short-yardage run game was embarrassing at times this season, but Levitre is a powerful run blocker and will immediately help the offense improve on 3rd-and-1 situations.
The 26-year-old is just entering his prime and has started all 64 games in his career, which is a huge plus for a Rams team that has experienced numerous offensive-line injuries in recent years.
And with Levitre, Wells and Harvey Dahl handling the middle, the Rams will instantly have one of the best interior lines in the NFC.