It's not impossible, but the St. Louis Rams don't currently have the best shot at making the playoffs as a fourth-place team in their own division. The good news is that, at 4-6, they have the best record of any team bringing up the rear.
The bad news is that it probably means they'll just have a middle-of-the-road draft pick to show for it.
With just 12 pending free agents on the roster, Les Snead's roster overhaul will finally provide some continuity for the NFL's youngest team. Still, there are areas of uncertainty. St. Louis does not have a lot of cap room—four guys will each take between $10-$18 million off the cap next season—but it does still have two first-round draft picks to spend.
St. Louis has played very well up front in 2013, but five of the 12 pending Rams free agents are offensive linemen. That includes three guys that have started at least one game for St. Louis this year: Chris Williams (10 starts), Shelley Smith (one) and Rodger Saffold (three).
Right tackle Joe Barksdale has started eight games, and Saffold has been moved inside to guard, so St. Louis will want to add another tackle that it trusts—especially if the latter walks in free agency.
Jeff Fisher has a track record of all but ignoring offensive linemen in the first round of the draft. If the Rams acquire another starter up front this offseason, he will probably come via free agency.
Harvey Dahl, 32, will be in his contract year. He already took a $1.25 million pay cut for 2013. Scott Wells, also 32, has a deal that runs through 2015. The Rams don't owe guaranteed money to either, giving them fiscal flexibility; the duo is currently scheduled to count for $10.5 million against the cap next season.
Look for fourth-round rookie Barrett Jones to log some playing time in 2014 on the interior.
The Rams' current starter, Kellen Clemens, is playing for a new deal. His predecessor, Sam Bradford, still has two years left after 2013 on his. For the first time, though, St. Louis will be in the driver's seat when it comes to re-signing negotiations.
While the 26-year-old QB was having a career year (1,687 yards, 14 touchdowns and four interceptions in seven games) before going down with a torn ACL, the potential for dead money on his contract dropped from an uncuttable $23.3 million to a much more manageable $7.2 million.
Fisher's attachment to Bradford is no secret, so it's more likely that Bradford is extended than cut. Don't expect him to start 2014 with the same deal he had at the beginning of this year; he'll count $17.61 million against the cap otherwise.
That's $290,000 less than Aaron Rodgers.
Part of the reason why St. Louis has allowed four individual 140-yard rushers this season is absolutely horrendous safety play in run support. Rookie T.J. McDonald has missed most of the year with a broken leg, but his spot seems secure for next season. He was what the Rams hoped he would be: a disruptive, fourth-linebacker type of DB.
Heading into last offseason, though, safety was universally marked as one of the Rams' most glaring needs. This year, after McDonald's departure, we've seen why: They're 22nd in rushing defense, despite having a talented front seven.
Like offensive linemen, however, Fisher tends not to draft safeties in the first round. Michael Griffin (2007, 19th overall) was the lone exception, and he turned out to be an All-Pro. St. Louis could really use a future All-Pro on the back end but may not go out of its way to get one early in the NFL draft.
Cortland Finnegan hasn't been the shutdown cornerback that St. Louis thought it was getting when it inked him to a deal that paid him eight figures annually. He'll count for $29 million over the next three seasons. The Rams aren't going to let him go—he's still a helpful tutor for the younger guys—but they'll have to find value elsewhere on the roster if he won't erect a "Finnegan's Isle," of sorts, for receivers to lose themselves.
Fortunately, all of the Rams' other corners are still under contract through at least next season. Perhaps St. Louis keeps using Finnegan as a slot corner next year, while Trumaine Johnson and Janoris Jenkins man the outside.
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