They may not be the New England Patriots or Dallas Cowboys, but the St. Louis Rams spent more guaranteed money on undrafted free agents shortly after the NFL draft than 29 other teams. St. Louis was among the league’s biggest spenders in that department last season, too, ensuring that Les Snead’s roster overhaul spanned all levels of the depth chart.
That worked out pretty well in 2012.
The Rams’ rookie free-agent haul included quarterback Austin Davis, punter Johnny Hekker, defensive tackle Matthew Conrath and defensive backs Quinton Pointer, Rodney McLeod and Matt Daniels.
St. Louis was the NFL’s youngest team last season. Then it said goodbye to several of its veterans.
Led by Mario Haggan and Quintin Mikell, the average age of the 15 departed players is 28.2 years. They only brought in three more free agents in 2013 with an average age of 27.
They’re getting younger.
Danny Amendola, Justin Cole, Craig Dahl, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Gibson, Haggan, Wayne Hunter, Steven Jackson, Trevor Laws, Rocky McIntosh, Mikell, Matthew Mulligan, Barry Richardson, Steve Smith and Robert Turner suited up for the Rams in 2012, but are no longer scheduled to do so. Jake Long, Jared Cook and Zach Potter are the new guys.
The resulting 12-spot differential can’t be filled with just drafted rookies. St. Louis had seven picks in the 2013 draft.
Since the Rams are up against the cap, more high-priced veterans are out of the question without some contract restructures or cuts. While there’s always some talent that goes undrafted, this issue necessitated that St. Louis find what it could after Mr. Irrelevant’s name was called.
Offensive tackle Braden Brown, safety Cody Davis, linebackers Jonathan Stewart and Phillip Steward and running back Benny Cunningham all got at least $15,000 in guarantees. With the possible exception of Cunningham, all of them play positions in which St. Louis still needs numbers.
That—more than their higher-than-normal, but, ultimately, relatively modest guaranteed salary figures—should aid them in their quest for a roster spot.
How many of those guys make the roster remains to be seen. A hyper-experienced veteran might kick the Rams’ average age up half a tick and gobble up a roster spot. But the NFL is no stranger to elite production from guys who were overlooked in the draft.
Even St. Louis has invested some starts in undrafted players like Darian Stewart (13), Jo-Lonn Dunbar (16) and Harvey Dahl (30). At least two of them figure to be starters in 2013.
Maybe a couple of the aforementioned guys will take a similar leap. It may not happen this season, but it doesn't have to for this undrafted free-agent class to provide adequate return on the Rams' investment.