NFL Free Agency: Predicting St. Louis Rams' Free-Agent Signings

Steven GerwelContributor IIIMarch 3, 2013

NFL Free Agency: Predicting St. Louis Rams' Free-Agent Signings

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    With free agency rapidly approaching, the St. Louis Rams are taking inventory to determine which veterans are worth the money. 

    With Steven Jackson and Danny Amendola hitting the open market, and safety Quintin Mikell likely to be cut, the Rams have several obvious needs that must be addressed promptly. 

    The Rams were initially tight on spending money with an estimated $10 million in cap space, but with the voided contract of Jackson ($7 million) and the potential cuts of Harvey Dahl ($4 million) and Mikell ($9 million), the Rams are in decent shape. 

    Additionally, the 2013 salary cap figure will be set at $123 million (according to ESPN), which is higher than expected and gives the Rams an additional $2 million of wiggle room. 

    This means the Rams can potentially enter the market with $32 million to spare. 

    The Rams will need a portion of that money to re-sign several of their mid-level players (Rob Turner, Brandon Gibson, William Hayes), while they'll also explore the possibility of retaining Jackson or Amendola (maybe even both). 

    On top of that, some of the funds will be reserved for their draft selections. 

    Based on the 2012 draft, here's how much the Rams' draft will cost in 2013 based on their picks: No. 16 (Quinton Coples, $1.6 million), No. 22 (Brandon Weeden, $1.46 million),  No. 46 (Mychal Kendricks, $808,080), No. 78 (Michael Egnew, $537,239), No. 110 (Ladarius Green, $502,788), No. 143 (Brandon Marshall, $390,000), No. 174 (Kieth Tandy, $510,600), No. 206 (LaVon Brazill $409,670). 

    Based on the 2012 numbers, St. Louis' 2013 draft will cost approximately $6.22 million, which is slightly higher than usual since they own two first-round picks. 

    In the end, we don't know exactly how much free money the team will have for free agency because we don't know which players will be retained. 

    But in this scenario, let's assume the Rams have just under $20 million to spend.  

    Read on for a look at players who fill a need in St. Louis and can hopefully come at a fair price.  

     

    Note: All salary cap numbers and player contract details are courtesy of Spotrac.com.

T Jake Long, Miami Dolphins

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    Yes, the Rams are looking for reasonably priced free agents and Jake Long is looking for top-tier money, but he's not going to get it. 

    Eventually, he'll be forced to settle for a sizable but affordable sum of money that St. Louis may be willing to pay out. 

    According to a Mike Sando article from ESPN, Rams vice president Kevin Demoff stated, "If you have $8 million to spend in free agency, you might be better off spending $7 million on one guy and $1 million on the other than buying two players at $4 million."

    So if you think the Rams are completely incapable of making a flashy move this offseason, think again. 

    If they do spend big on a player, it could very well be Jake Long. 

    In an NFL Network interview, Sports Illustrated contributor Peter King stated, "I think the Rams might go out and try to get a receiver very quickly or try to get a left tackle very quickly. I wouldn’t be surprised if maybe they were in play for Jake Long."

    It was clearly just speculation, but Long would certainly be a monumental upgrade to the offensive line. And with the help of Rodger Saffold, Scott Wells and possibly Harvey Dahl, the Rams would suddenly have one of the top lines in the NFL. 

    There's chatter that Long's shoulder injuries have lingered, causing the four-time Pro Bowler's performance to decline, but even so, it's hard to believe he wouldn't be a massive upgrade in St. Louis. Long missed four games in 2012 and two in 2011, but Saffold—the current left tackle—missed six games in 2012 and has been injured for 13 games in the past two seasons. 

    It's hard to complain about Long missing the occasional game when St. Louis' current blindside tackle can barely get his game total into double digits. 

    The Rams desperately need a game-changing receiver, but with elite blocking and plenty of time for Sam Bradford to make throws, the current receivers will look a lot better than they actually are. 

    The primary issue is money. 

    If Long is looking for a Joe Thomas deal worth $10 million per year, then there's absolutely no way the Rams will bite. 

    If he merely wants to leave Miami and play for a fair contract that reflects his slight decline, then this rumor might have some wheels. 

     

    Predicted Contract

    Five years, $41 million 

    2013: $8 million 

    2014: $7 million 

    2015: $7 million 

    2016: $6 million

    2017: $13 million 

    This contract would pay him well the first three years, just several million shy of "elite" money, which is fair considering he's far from being the best tackle in the game. 

    A sizable portion of the contract in back loaded into the final year, where the Rams would either cut him or sign him to a new deal. They would never pay the full $13 million in 2017. 

S William Moore, Atlanta Falcons

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    With the inevitable Quintin Mikell cut and the departure of Craig Dahl, the Rams are currently in the market for two starting safeties. 

    There's a solid chance that they'll attempt to re-sign Mikell to a friendlier deal that won't cost the team $9 million in 2013, but at 32 years of age, Mikell will only provide another year or two of production in an ideal scenario. 

    Unless they pick up a safety early in the draft (a strong possibility), the Rams have no long-term plan at the position whatsoever. 

    But if the 27-year-old William Moore is locked down to a multi-year deal, the Rams will be in good shape. 

    Moore would complete a star-studded secondary that also features Cortland Finnegan and the electric Janoris Jenkins. 

    It would also give the Rams flexibility in the draft. Instead of being forced to select a safety, the presence of Moore would allow them to focus on other positions, knowing they can always move second-year player Trumaine Johnson up top. 

    The Rams truly value Mikell and his contributions to the run defense, but the younger and more effective Moore is a difficult alternative to ignore. 

    The young Rams defense shined in 2012, and the addition of a high-end safety such as Moore would bring them one step closer to possessing an elite unit. 

     

    Predicted Contract

    Four years, $32 million 

    2013: $6 million 

    2014: $10 million

    2015: $7 million

    2016: $9 million

    This contract begins with a low number in order to give the Rams some wiggle room in 2013, but Moore is well compensated in 2014. 

    The contract pays Moore like a top-tier safety in the final two years, but they always have the option of cutting him or restructuring the deal. 

RB Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons

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    This potential signing makes two assumptions; 1) St. Louis is incapable of retaining Steven Jackson, and 2) The Rams are willing to replace Jackson with an aging veteran rather than a youngster. 

    Jeff Fisher and his teams highly depend on the run game, so the Rams would likely prefer a younger replacement who can keep the run game intact for years to come. 

    Eddie Lacy of Alabama is a solid option with the No. 46 pick in Round 2, or they could grab Le'Veon Bell of Michigan State if they are unwilling to sacrifice a high pick. 

    But if St. Louis values a veteran presence to go along with second-year players Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson, then Turner would be an ideal candidate.

    Turner is 31 years old, but he didn't exceed 100 carries in a season until 2008, so he doesn't have the same mileage as a typical aging back. Also, he's a handful for defenses on the goal line, which is something the St. Louis offense could desperately use. 

    In 2012, Turner punched in 10 touchdowns in 222 carries, while he has 10 or more touchdowns in each of his last five seasons. 

    He led the NFC in rushing yards in 2011 (1,340) and managed to pick up 800 yards in 2012. 

    With Richardson and Pead on the roster, Turner would not have to carry the entire load. A solid 150 carries per season is all the Rams would ask of him. 

    If retaining Jackson is not an option, the Rams could do a lot worse than Turner. 

     

    Predicted Contract

    Two years, $2.2 million 

    2013: $1.2 million 

    2014: $1 million

    There's no way a 31-year-old back will pull in more than two million a year, so this is a best-case scenario for Turner, who will be paid like a part-time contributor on offense. 

    This deal pays just slightly more than the 2012 salaries of Ryan Grant ($700,001) and Cedric Benson ($825,000).

DT Desmond Bryant, Oakland Raiders

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    The St. Louis Rams signed Kendall Langford to a four-year deal worth $24 million in 2012 (according to Spotrac), but he underperformed after recording just two sacks and making only a minor impact on defense. As a result, they may be looking for more production from the middle of their defensive line, which is where Desmond Bryant can help. 

    The Rams tied Denver for an NFL-high 52 sacks in 2012 (according to ESPN), and that's a statistic they'll surely want to duplicate in the upcoming season. 

    With the presence of Bryant, combined with former first-round picks Michael Brockers, Chris Long and Robert Quinn, the Rams will have the manpower to lead the NFL in sacks for a second consecutive season. 

    Rams defensive line coach Mike Waufle previously coached in Oakland, so he's perfectly familiar with Bryant's production in recent years and will likely be lobbying for him. 

    In Oakland, Bryant has recorded nine sacks over the last two seasons, including a five-sack performance in 2011. 

    Normally, a rising performer like Bryant would attract a four- or five-year deal worth well over $20 million, but since he was recently arrested for "criminal mischief" (according to NBC Sports), perhaps the Rams can pull off a cheap, one-year "prove it" deal. 

    Since Bryant is a former Harvard student, it's likely he's not your typical troublemaker, which means some NFL team will be willing to overlook his arrest and sign him to a multi-year deal. 

    But if that team never emerges, then the Rams should step in and steal him away. 

     

    Predicted Contract

    One year, $2.9 million 

    2013: $2.9 million 

    Jason Jones received a similar one-year deal from Seattle in 2012, which was worth $4.5 million (according to Spotrac). 

    This is less than Bryant is worth, but with some lobbying from Waufle and a lack of interest from other teams, it's possible. Stranger things have certainly happened. 

The Remaining Cash

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    As mentioned in the introduction, the Rams are possibly looking at $32 million in cap space this offseason after several cuts. 

    The Rams will need to save just over $6.2 million for their draft picks, which brings the number down to an approximate $25 million. 

    The four signings mentioned in this scenario would combine for a $18.1 million cap hit in 2013, which leaves the Rams with $6.9 million. 

    That number can be increased a number of ways, including additional cuts and possibly restructuring James Laurinaitis' hefty contract, which will account for $12.4 million against the cap in 2013 (according to Spotrac). 

    The remaining money can be used to re-sign Danny Amendola, along with several other low-level free agents and undrafted rookies. 

    Simply put, the Rams have the resources to make some major improvements this offseason.