Five St. Louis Rams staring free agency in the face have a chance to be key contributors in 2014 and beyond, but they've got to get their new deals first.
With 1,673 passing yards, eight touchdowns and seven interceptions, Kellen Clemens has played himself into strong consideration for a new contract with the Rams. The 30-year-old averaged more yards per passing and rushing attempts than St. Louis' entrenched starter, Sam Bradford, this season.
If the Rams don't bring him back in the wake of Bradford's torn ACL, it means that they've signed—or drafted—someone with whom they feel more comfortable starting their season under center.
A handful of Clemens' teammates are facing similar employment uncertainty, with varying degrees of production to state their cases for remaining Rams.
There was a time when the Austin Davis vs. Kellen Clemens quarterback battle was actually a fair fight.
That was before Clemens posted a 110.6 passer rating on third down.
Both of the St. Louis Rams QBs are fresh off the final year of their respective contracts, and the two-year pro out of Southern Mississippi is six years younger than Clemens. However, with Sam Bradford recovering from a torn ACL, the Rams and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer should run with whom they know best as the leading candidate to start next season under center if No. 8 can't go.
Without a healthy Bradford, Davis could start 2014 as the No. 2 QB for St. Louis. But the Rams are just as likely to hand the clipboard to a rookie after May's draft.
The St. Louis Rams went 6-6 in 2013 with linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar in uniform after the 28-year-old served his four-game suspension to begin the year.
St. Louis' run defense welcomed his return; it allowed 4.6 yards per carry without him and improved to 3.4 yards per carry allowed once he arrived. Dunbar was a solid veteran presence for the linebacking corps, coming at a modest cap-hit value of $650,000 this season.
The fact that disturbs the assumption of his return isn't his age: It's that the Rams have already cut him once before just to save cap space when news broke of his suspension in the first place.
Then they got him back. That means 31 other teams didn't.
With just 39 total tackles in 12 games, Les Snead has some leverage to help him refrain from talking huge money with Dunbar. While a second high-round rookie to play opposite Alec Ogletree is not out of the question, the Rams can still stand to bring Dunbar back and use the pick elsewhere.
Ogletree can rack up the tackles. Dunbar will help the ascending defense next year, especially with improved safety play behind him.
In the wake of Jake Long's torn ACL, ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner believes that re-signing versatile offensive lineman Rodger Saffold should be "the single-most important offseason priority for the Rams." Like the Sam Bradford/Kellen Clemens situation, the latter is in a position to start in the former's stead early next season.
The question is, how do the Rams bring Saffold back?
He would certainly like to be paid as an offensive tackle, since he sees himself that way, but five of his nine 2013 starts were at right guard. The St. Louis Rams will use that fact to their advantage in contract negotiations.
Saffold will be back, but his contract is one of the more unpredictable situations this offseason.
Darian Stewart was on a one-year "prove it"-type deal with the St. Louis Rams for $1 million. He answered that with his third-career forced fumble, but seven of his 13 games played ended with two or fewer total tackles.
Meanwhile, the Rams safeties endured a poor season overall. It's time for St. Louis to invest elsewhere at the position. If Stewart will take a pay cut to be the team's third or fourth safety, that would be ideal.
Veltung didn't catch any passes, yet he appeared in every game that Austin missed. He totaled 61 yards on seven punt returns—not dynamic totals, but it shows that the Rams trusted him with the role over the likes of Isaiah Pead and Austin Pettis.
In limited work, he showed a reason for Jeff Fisher to keep him around if the Rams take six receivers into the season.
Follow Jamal on Twitter: Follow @JCollierD