Cost-Effective Moves St. Louis Rams Can Make This Offseason
Fans typically hope their favorite team can lure in a game-changing free agent, but blockbuster names are only obtained by teams willing to carry the burden of a major contract—which can financially cripple a team's future, especially if the superstar doesn't pan out.
For the Rams, the odds of them taking on such a contract in free agency is slim at best.
The Rams lost a sizable amount of cap room after extending DE Chris Long and LB James Laurinaitis to new contracts in 2012. Long signed a five-year deal worth $60.3 million and Laurinaitis was locked up for six years at $42.1 million (according to Spotrac.com).
And with WR Danny Amendola and RB Steven Jackson set to enter free agency, the Rams still have work to do as far as securing their core players.
Even so, the outlook is far from bleak.
Vice president Kevin Demoff and general manager Les Snead will tweak the roster, make some cuts and possibly rework some contracts in order to create breathing room.
Additionally, they'll spend wisely in free agency—they'll search for young players in their prime who can make an impact on the field without a huge price tag.
Read on to get a glance at some possible offseason moves that make financial sense.
RB Mike Goodson, Oakland Raiders
If the Rams fail to retain Steven Jackson this offseason, they'll likely be forced into taking on a running back by committee approach.
If that's the case, they'll need to add some bulk, as Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead are both under 200 pounds.
The 210-pound Mike Goodson is not a monster in size, but he has the necessary thickness to run the ball in short-yardage situations without breaking in half.
Goodson carried the ball 35 times in 2012 and averaged over six yards a carry. And at just 25 years old, he will likely improve as time goes on.
RB Ryan Torain, New York Giants
If the Rams lose Steven Jackson and need to add bulk at running back, the 220-pound Ryan Torain could certainly assist.
Unlike Goodson, Torain is better built to be an every-down back and his run style offers a nice contrast to speedsters Richardson and Pead.
Losing Jackson would certainly slow down the Rams, but adding a player like Torain could ease the transition and provide production until the Rams find a long-term replacement for Jackson.
TE Delanie Walker, San Francisco 49ers
The 28-year-old Delanie Walker has been stuck behind Vernon Davis for his entire career, which has resulted in modest production.
Walker finished 2012 with a career high 344 yards and three touchdowns, so he is finally beginning to bust out of his shell in San Francisco.
Walker is far from a game changer, but he can push Lance Kendricks for playing time if the Rams fail to grab someone like Zach Ertz in the draft.
G Louis Vasquez, San Diego Chargers
If St. Louis is looking for a young, long-term solution at guard that won't cost a high draft pick or an insane contract, then Louis Vasquez could be an option.
Vasquez has traditionally played on the right side, but his excellent pass blocking could make him an appealing option next to tackle Rodger Saffold on the blind side.
Matt Miller of Bleacher Report put Vasquez at No. 17 when ranking all 32 right guards in the NFL following 2011. He has the potential to be in the top 10 at his position, and Rams offensive line coach Paul Boudreau could possibly provide the push he needs.
Vasquez has only missed two games in the last two seasons. He had 14 starts in 2011 and started all 16 games in 2012.
He won't be dirt cheap, but certainly a more affordable alternative to Andy Levitre of the Buffalo Bills.
DT Jason Jones, Seattle Seahawks
The Rams were fiercely pursuing Jason Jones in free agency a year ago but had to settle with Kendall Langford after Jones signed a one-year deal with Seattle.
As it turns out, the Rams will still have a chance to get their guy after all.
Jones appeared in 12 games with zero starts before a December knee injury ended his 2012 season.
But before going down with injury, Jones was a valuable role player in Seattle and improved their pass rush with three sacks on the season.
This isn't exactly a low-key signing, but it's a solid move that would upgrade the St. Louis defensive line without emptying the bank.
Jones signed a one-year deal for $4.5 million in 2012 (according to Spotrac), and should be available for about half that price since he was somewhat of a disappointment for Seattle.
DE Dave Ball, Tennessee Titans
Like most head coaches, Jeff Fisher frequently pursues players he has experience with, which could put Dave Ball on his radar.
Ball played under Fisher from 2008 to 2010 in Tennessee and he recorded 11.5 sacks during that time.
Ball just turned 32 this month, so he's not exactly the youthful player that the Rams prefer to pursue, but he's a very low-key signing that could have a real impact.
If the Rams cannot re-sign William Hayes, Ball will help them maintain solid depth at defensive end.
DT Desmond Bryant, Oakland Raiders
The Rams did a lot of building at defensive tackle last year with the additions of Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford, but it's not impossible to have too many talented big men.
Rams defensive line coach Mike Waufle coached Desmond Bryant in Oakland and understands that Bryant is a young (27 years) asset who improves every year.
A rising commodity like Bryant will require a bit of a financial commitment, but it's still a relatively cheap move that could greatly improve the defense up front.
QB Sam Bradford
Sam Bradford—the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2010—entered the NFL just one year before the rookie wage scale came into effect, which means Bradford owns the most pricey rookie contract in NFL history.
Bradford signed a six-year deal for $78 million and will count for $12.5 million against the salary cap in 2013 (according to Spotrac).
Quarterbacks such as Tony Romo ($17.2 million), Michael Vick ($16.9 million) and Carson Palmer ($16.8 million) will carry significantly higher cap hits in 2013 without offering superior production to Bradford, so it's hard to call Bradford overpaid when looking at the big picture.
However, Bradford's mega contract has handcuffed the team and will prevent them from making certain moves.
Bradford certainly has no obligation to take a pay cut, but it would be worth a conversation.
If the Rams can save money with a restructured contract, that money can be used to attract better receivers and blockers, which will elevate Bradford's play (and increase his overall value in the long run).
RB Steven Jackson
In 2008, Steven Jackson signed a six-year contract worth $44.8 million (according to Spotrac), but the final year of the contract (2013) was optional, and both sides have agreed to void that year (according to CBS Sports).
The Rams decided to let Jackson explore free agency, where the market will determine his actual value. St. Louis will then decide if Jackson's perceived value is worth matching and act accordingly.
Jackson will turn 30 years old in August and therefore will not attract a giant contract, which means the Rams should be able to retain him for a reasonable price.
If the Rams cannot keep Jackson, they will need to find a replacement, as the Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead combo is simply not good enough to carry the entire run game.
Rather than spending money or a draft pick on a new running back, the best option is to retain Jackson, who is the heart and soul of the offense.
Jackson had his eighth consecutive 1,000-yard season in 2012 and still has a lot to offer.
Considering the market will drop his price tag considerably, he is most valuable and cost-effective option at running back for the 2013 season.
S Quintin Mikell
Quintin Mikell is due $10 million in 2013 (according to Spotrac), which means he will be released without hesitation.
Mikell was the only bright spot at safety this season thanks to his superb tackling and killer instincts against the run, but his pass coverage was questionable at times.
Also, Mikell will turn 33 in September, which only makes his departure more likely.
On the downside, if Mikell leaves, the Rams will have a need for not one, but two starting safeties this offseason.
In order to avoid that dilemma, the Rams will look to cut Mikell and re-sign him at a discounted price.
This move is inevitable for the Rams this offseason. Hopefully, Mikell accepts reality and is willing to return at a reasonable price.