St. Louis Rams' Blueprint for Winning Free Agency
As free agency nears, the St. Louis Rams are focused on upgrading their talent and entering 2013 with a playoff-caliber team.
Last offseason, coming off of a 2-14 disaster season, there was no simple answer for the Rams moving forward.
This season, simplicity is a luxury Jeff Fisher and Les Snead can enjoy, because there should be only one goal this spring—pump up the offense.
But it's not as easy as finding a few weapons and calling it a day.
On the contrary, the Rams appear to be in absolute disarray on offense. With the top three statistical weapons—Steven Jackson, Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson—apparently out the door, the brain trust has a lot of ground to cover.
Despite the overall team improvement in 2012, the Rams ranked just 23rd in the NFL on offense with 329.0 yards per game, while they ranked 25th in total points (299).
For a team that was already offensively challenged to begin with, losing three weapons is far from ideal.
There are some defensive needs, such as safety, but outside of the quarterback, the Rams could use help at every single offensive position.
And considering four out the top five 2013 salaries belong to defensive players, as well as seven of the top 10 salaries, the Rams already have an astonishing percentage of their resources focused on defense.
They need to even things out by searching for offensive help in free agency, as well as the draft.
Read on to find out what the Rams can do to cure their offensive woes and take the next step in 2013.
Step 1: Fill the New Holes
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As mentioned in the introduction, the Rams are in real danger of losing their top three weapons—Steven Jackson, Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson.
Sure, Gibson led the team in receiving yards (691) and touchdowns (five), but let's not kid ourselves—Gibson was only in that position to succeed because Amendola missed five games and Chris Givens didn't break out until midseason.
So while he finished with the best numbers, he was the third-best receiver at best.
There's no pressure to replace Gibson. Austin Pettis and Brian Quick will be expected to fill his shoes with ease.
As for Jackson and Amendola, their shoes are harder to fill.
Jackson is a beastly runner who racked up over 1,000 yards for his eighth consecutive year. He has the size to take the bulk of the carries and is a leader on the team.
The undersized youngsters Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson do not appear to be every-down backs, which puts the Rams in the market for a workhorse.
Here are some potential options in free agency:
Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons
The 31-year-old Michael Turner is another aging back whose best years are behind him, but since he didn't break 100 carries in a season until 2008, he doesn't have the typical wear and tear of a elderly back.
Jackson has 2,395 career carries, while Turner is sitting with a modest total of 1,639.
He's far from a long-term answer, but he can take 50.0 percent of the carries over the next two years until the Rams find a younger replacement.
Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh Steelers
Here's an option that has yet to be mentioned for the Rams.
Rashard Mendenhall struggled to see the field in 2012 as he recovered from an ACL injury, but when healthy, he fits the exact mold of what St. Louis is looking for.
While Mendenhall was unproductive in 2012, it's foolish to think a knee injury will keep the 25-year-old back irrelevant forever.
Let's not forget that 2012 MVP Adrian Peterson was able to bounce back quite remarkably from a similar injury.
His injury will keep his price tag low, but if he's healthy, he'll provide the Rams with an absolute bargain.
Should St. Louis Fork Danny the Dough?
As for Amendola, his style of play is bit unique, and the market seldom has an influx of elite slot receivers.
But his talent isn't the only thing the Rams would be paying for in Amendola, it's also his uncanny level of comfort with quarterback Sam Bradford.
These two players need each other, and it's difficult to imagine a scenario where either player reaches their full potential in 2013 if there's a breakup.
For this reason, the smartest thing for St. Louis to do is re-sign him.
Health problems or not, he's Bradford's top target, and the offense will struggle to improve without his playmaking abilities.
Amendola has become one of the biggest sports stars in St. Louis, and his work ethic would be sorely missed in the locker room.
For the sake of the offense, the Rams need to hammer out a deal that's comfortable for both sides. Surely that's not unfeasible.
Step 2: Add New Weapons
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If the Rams can obtain a somewhat viable replacement for Jackson and ink Amendola to a new deal, it would make the fans ecstatic.
And while that would certainly be an accomplishment, it really only brings them back to square one.
So, following "Step 1," the Rams must find another game-changing talent to bulk up the offense.
It doesn't necessarily have to be a skill position player, but they need to find someone who's a monumental upgrade to the roster.
Here are some possible options:
T Jake Long, Miami Dolphins
Hopefully, for St. Louis' sake, Jake Long's shoulder issues will drive his asking price below the $11 million per year he'd prefer (according to NFL.com).
If the Rams can seal the deal for a reasonable four-year deal worth around $35 million, it would be an absolute steal.
Long would obviously start on the blind side and make life comfortable for Bradford, while Rodger Saffold would move to the right side, giving St. Louis a dominate pair of tackles.
If Long does happen to miss a few games due to injury, the Rams can rest assured that Saffold is a starting-caliber left tackle and can fill in.
With the addition of Long, and perhaps a high draft pick on a left guard, the Rams would suddenly be fielding their best offensive line since the Greatest Show on Turf days.
TE Jared Cook, Tennessee Titans
Jared Cook is after No. 1 wide receiver money, but perhaps his old coach and mentor can talk some sense into him.
Cook would immediately be the best offensive weapon on the roster and would provide the Rams with the red-zone threat they've been lacking for a decade.
Cook has 1,282 receiving yards and seven touchdowns over the last two seasons, including a 759-yard performance in 2011. These numbers are stunning considering how underutilized he is in Tennessee.
If Cook is on the opening day roster, Bradford will be one happy man.
Step 3: Profit
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Finally, now that the Rams retained their most important free agent in "Step 1" and added one or two additional weapons in "Step 2," we can compare the 2013 offense to last year's unit.
For starters, Bradford is entering the season in the same offensive system for the first time in his career, which means he's widely expected to produce his best season yet.
At his disposal, he has the tried-and-true Amendola (at least in this scenario), as well as a rising star in Chris Givens.
Hopefully, the Rams can add a devastating weapon to the offense, such as Jared Cook, but they can always turn to the draft if his demands are too outrageous.
As for his body guards, former Pro Bowler Scott Wells will be handing him the snaps, while Jake Long and Rodger Saffold can secure the corners.
Harvey Dahl provides an intimidating presence at right guard, and perhaps Chance Warmack or Jonathan Cooper will slide on draft day and give the Rams a long-term answer at left guard.
As for the run game, fans will just have to trust Fisher. His backs have been moving the chains since the '90s, and he'll develop a competent run game one way or another.
In the end, the Rams can improve on offense in 2013 as long as they make the right moves and remain dedicated to that goal.
Fisher may have to hold back his natural inclination to go all defense, but if he can accomplish that, the Rams will have an improved unit in 2013.