NFL Free Agency: A Realistic Option for Each of the St. Louis Rams' Needs

Ethan NovakAnalyst IIJuly 12, 2011

NFL Free Agency: A Realistic Option for Each of the St. Louis Rams' Needs

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    The St. Louis Rams head into the 2011 season with the confidence and optimism of a team that knows it belongs. The Rams are fresh off a season that saw them improve their win total by six, develop a future franchise quarterback in Sam Bradford and establish themselves as a serious contender in not only the NFC West, but the entire NFC as well.

    If they are going to make a serious bid at winning any sort of title of this season, though, the Rams have a few large holes that need filling.

    While it is easy to point at the most talented and most talked about free agent at every position and say, "Sign him," chances are the Rams would be better off pursuing quantity over quality this offseason. That isn't to say the quantity won't be talented, as they are all very talented football players, but no one on this list is a free agent that the whole football world is talking about.

    With that said, I present to you a realistic option for each of the Rams' positional needs.

Safety: Brodney Pool

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    2010 Team

    New York Jets

    2010 Stats

    53 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble, one interception

    Why He Is the Most Realistic Option

    While Pool is not the most talented safety available, he will have the fairest price tag of the bunch. The Rams already showed a high level of interest in Pool when they pursued him last offseason, a time when they believed they'd lose then-free safety O.J. Atogwe to free agency. 

    At 27 years old, Pool still has plenty of quality seasons left in him. He played well in Rex Ryan's system last season and would provide a huge upgrade to the Rams' current situation at the position. With the Rams being more than a single player away from becoming an all-around solid team, they'll need to spend their money wisely and fill each hole with reliable players. Pool fits in well with this scheme.

    Click here for a more detailed article I wrote a month ago on how Pool fits in with the Rams.

Backup Running Back: Darren Sproles

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    2010 Team

    San Diego Chargers

    2010 Stats

    267 rushing yards, 520 receiving yards, two touchdowns

    Why He Is the Most Realistic Option

    Sproles fits in well with new OC Josh McDaniels' system, and he would provide a reliable option to give lengthy breathers to running back Steven Jackson.

    He won't be the cheapest backup in the free agency pool, but he is more than capable of filling all of the following roles:

    - Third down running back

    - Blocking back

    - Kick returner

    - Punt returner

    There are a few experts that have Sproles going to the Rams, and with how well the two sides would fit together, there is no reason this shouldn't happen.

Right Guard: Evan Mathis

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    2010 Team

    Cincinnati Bengals

    Why He is the Most Realistic Option

    While this is a position many wished the Rams would fill in the draft, it appears they are going to either rely on John Greco, fill the gap temporarily in free agency or wait for the 2012 NFL draft.

    With the right contract, Mathis could be a low-risk, high-reward signee. He has plenty of talent and has proved to be very effective in both the passing and running game, playing a role in the emergence of Cedric Benson. The downside with the guard, however, is his ability to stay healthy.

    He will come as a cheap option, and should the Rams decide to take a gamble on his health, there is a chance he could become a steal for St Louis.

Outside Linebacker: Thomas Howard

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    2010 Team

    Oakland Raiders

    2010 Stats

    Nine tackles, one forced fumble

    Why He Is a Realistic Option

    Don't read too much into his 2010 stats—Howard is a very adequate linebacker. After four productive seasons in Oakland that saw him collect 382 tackles, three forced fumbles and seven interceptions, Howard fell into the unfortunate circumstance of being the odd man out in a crowded group of linebackers.

    Howard should come somewhat cheap and would be an upgrade over current OLBs Na'il Diggs and Larry Grant. Chances are he'll be looking for a place he can receive significant playing time, and St. Louis will be one of the few teams that can offer him not only playing time, but a shot at the playoffs as well.

    Both sides would greatly benefit from this signing. Make it happen.

*Wide Receiver: James Jones

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    * The asterisk is to mark the fact that while I don't personally believe the Rams are in such dire need of a receiver that they must pursue one this offseason, it does appear the front office feels otherwise.

    2010 Team

    Green Bay Packers

    2010 Stats

    50 receptions, 679 yards, five touchdowns

    Why He Is a Realistic Option

    If injuries didn't exist in the NFL, the Rams would be pretty set at wide receiver. They have Donnie Avery, a speedster capable of making a big play every time he gets his hands on the ball. There is Mark Clayton, a veteran who appeared to have finally found a home in St. Louis. They even have an impressive youngster by the name of Danario Alexander, who showed flashes of being the stellar receiver that he was during his time at Mizzou.

    Unfortunately for all three of these receivers listed, they have health concerns heading into 2011.

    Should the Rams experience injury issues again, they don't want to be left helpless similar to how they were last year. Jones would not only provide an immediate upgrade at the position, but he would also be a healthy and reliable receiver week in and week out.

    The front office has shown it is looking to surround QB Sam Bradford with as many weapons as possible, so it appears it will go after one last target in the free agency market. Jones will not come cheap, but should he achieve the potential he flashed over the past couple seasons in Green Bay, he will be worth it.

Defensive Tackle: Alan Branch

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    2010 Team

    Arizona Cardinals

    2010 Stats

    35 tackles, two forced fumbles, two sacks

    Why He Is a Realistic Option

    The Rams have a need at the defensive tackle position. Fred Robbins is beginning to get up there in age, Clifton Ryan has question marks all over him following an injury-shortened season and the rest of the group is moderate at best.

    While Alan Branch wouldn't be a huge upgrade, he is still a young guy with plenty of enough talent to be a successful tackle in this league. Steve Spagnuolo has been very successful in developing linemen over his career, and Branch could be brought in as a project.

    While he learns the ropes, however, he brings with him an already established ability to clog the middle and stop the rush. His pass rush is what needs the most work, and a season under the tutelage of Robbins could go a long way for the lineman.

    In terms of money, Branch should come fairly cheap and would round out a nice offseason haul for the St. Louis Rams.