What We've Learned About St. Louis Rams After the Start of Free Agency
You can hear crickets chirping in Earth City, Missouri as the St. Louis Rams stand idly by and watch other teams gobble the big-name free agents.
The Rams have the necessary cap room to lock up a flashy player or two, but the front office is apparently unwilling to pull the trigger.
If you sort through the endless pages of Twitter chatter, it's clear that this strategy is not being embraced by the frantic fans. But Rams fans should know better than anyone that the winners of free agency are not necessarily the winners on Sundays.
For the Rams fans who are ready to back away from the ledge, this article contains some perspective that explains why St. Louis is resisting the urge to overspend.
Rodger Saffold Is Not Worth Elite Money
Rodger Saffold was St. Louis' only in-house free agent worthy of a hefty contract. And while Saffold is an excellent player when he's actually on the field, there was no way the Rams were ever going to consider matching the absurd contract offered by the Oakland Raiders.
According to Yahoo! Sports, Saffold was initially inked to a five-year deal worth $42.5 million. But hopefully Saffold didn't go on a major spending spree, because it didn't last long.
In a shocking turn of events, the deal was negated after a failed physical, and the Rams re-signed Saffold to a five-year deal, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.
Had the Oakland contract gone through, Saffold's contract would have tied Logan Mankins' average salary of $8.5 million, which would have made Saffold the second-highest-paid guard in all of football.
Even if Oakland had planned to use him at left tackle, the agreed upon $8.5 million per year would have put Saffold among the top 10 highest-paid left tackles in the league.
And we're talking about Saffold—a man who has missed 20 starts in the past three seasons and has earned the nickname "Mr. Glass" among the fans of St. Louis.
While the Rams are surely glad to have Saffold back, presumably at a more reasonable price that has yet to be announced, St. Louis did the right thing by initially letting him walk.
Saffold is a very good offensive lineman...when he's healthy. And his inability to stay healthy for more than a month at a time is the story of his career.
The Rams let better players than Saffold walk a year ago (Steven Jackson, Danny Amendola) and didn't lose a second of sleep over it. The situation would have been the same with Saffold had the deal with Oakland gone through.
There's Something We Don't Know About Alterraun Verner
The deal averages just $6.6 million per year on average, which is shockingly low considering the 25-year-old All-Pro was expected to come closer to $10 million per year on average, similar to the contract offered to Sam Shields of the Green Bay Packers ($9.75 million per year).
It's easy to understand the outrage among Rams fans, as the team certainly has the funds to match the Tampa Bay offer. But if you look at the situation logically, something doesn't fit...
Jeff Fisher drafted Verner, and Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams coached Verner last season in Tennessee. There's not a coaching staff in the entire NFL with more knowledge on Verner as a player.
If the Rams were unwilling to match such a modest price tag, there's clearly something Fisher and Williams know that we don't. Maybe he's not the corner we thought. After all, Tennessee was more than willing to let him walk.
Rams Going with Youth Movement on Interior Offensive Line
With the departure of Harvey Dahl, according to ESPN, and the willingness to let Saffold walk, the Rams are obviously determined to bring in more youth on the offensive line.
Had Saffold signed with Oakland, the team would have likely planned for Barrett Jones and Brandon Washington at guard, along with Tim Barnes at center.
That would have been a difficult lineup to sell to the fan base, so it's helpful that Saffold has returned, but at least it's clear that Rams are now unwilling to overpay for aging linemen.
The Rams hosted a visit for 30-year-old Davin Joseph of the Buccaneers, according to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, but the banged-up veteran is surely being considered as more of an insurance policy than a long-term starter.
The same can be said for Scott Wells, who remains on St. Louis' roster despite being pegged as a potential cap casualty. Wells will likely compete for the starting center job in training camp, but he's likely a mere backup plan at this point.
It appears that St. Louis prefers to have a young group on the interior offensive line—a group that can grow and mesh together over the next several years.
The team is weeding out the elderly starters and seems prepared to start a new era of youth up front.
Rams Understand That True Value in Free Agency Comes After the Feeding Frenzy
The Rams have made some big moves in free agency over the last two years, but in the end, the less flashy names have made the bigger impact on the field.
Since 2012, St. Louis has forked out major dough to Cortland Finnegan, Jake Long and Jared Cook. The Rams cut Finnegan, and Long is currently recovering from a serious knee injury. Cook is healthy and reasonably productive, but he struggled with consistency in 2013.
During that same time span, the team has also acquired lesser-known free agents, such as William Hayes and Jo-Lonn Dunbar. These lower-priced assets have had a greater impact on the field at a more team-friendly price.
It appears that St. Louis has learned its lesson and is resisting the urge to splurge on fan favorites. Instead, it appears the team will hunt down reasonably priced veterans in an attempt to get more bang for the buck.
This strategy does not exactly satisfy the masses, but it's a reasonable path to take.
After all, unless we're talking Drew Brees or Peyton Manning, teams are not built on flashy signings in free agency. The draft is where Rams will find the true building blocks. Free agency is merely a helpful tool that sometimes expedites the process.
Steven Gerwel is the longest-tenured Rams Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report and serves as the Rams' game-day correspondent. You can find more of Gerwel's work by visiting his writer profile or by following him on Twitter.
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