NFL Free Agency: St. Louis Rams' Top 10 Free Agents to Target
The NFL lockout has finally ended after four-and-a-half months of squabbling between the owners and players. The Rams front office can finally get back to work, and they'll attempt to execute the scenarios that they've been planning for months now, but it will be no easy task.
Teams usually have four months to complete all of their contracts, which includes the contracts of their own free agents and newly acquired free agents from other teams, as well as rookie contracts.
Now they have to complete all of those contracts in less than a week.
The task would be impossible if the front office was starting from scratch, but they've been planning for this day for months now. Now we get to see if the careful planning will pay off for general manager Billy Devaney.
Though the Rams are not a team willing to throw big bucks at overpriced free agents, they are willing to turn to the open market to fill holes—but only if the player is reasonably priced and fills a position of need.
So here are 10 players who not only fill a need but are also great values.
10. Sidney Rice (Wide Receiver), Minnesota Vikings
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
His size (6'4", 202 pounds) makes him an ideal No. 1 receiver for any team, and his successful 2009 season proved that he can be productive (1,312 yards, eight touchdowns).
But given his potential, as well as the fact he's the top receiver available, he'll be getting a hefty contract offer, which is why the Rams probably won't go after him.
Ignoring Rice might be a good thing, considering he has missed 22 out of his 48 possible starts over his four-year career due to injuries.
Having said that, the Rams have not even come close to solving their wide receiver deficiency despite the popular belief that Mark Clayton and Donnie Avery will magically overcome their painfully mediocre careers after coming off major knee injuries—or that two rookie mid-round draft picks will become instant starters.
The need for a receiver still exists, which means it would not be overly surprising if the Rams went after Rice, which would potentially solve their problem for years to come. But the Rams are not big spenders, so it's just not probable.
9. Manny Lawson (Outside Linebacker), San Francisco 49ers
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Ever since being drafted in the first round in 2006 by the San Francisco 49ers, outside linebacker Manny Lawson has been an above-average player, but he never quite popped—at least not yet.
Lawson plays in a 3-4 defensive scheme and has done fairly well, but the popular belief is that he's more suited for a 4-3 defense, which is what the Rams operate under Steve Spagnuolo.
Lawson is a solid tackler, and he is capable of getting to the quarterback— though he's certainly not a dominating pass rusher by any means.
Outside of 33-year-old Na'il Diggs, the Rams do not have any promising starters at outside linebacker, which makes Lawson a possible target.
However, Coach Spagnuolo runs a system that does not greatly value the outside linebacker position, so it doesn't take a star player to effectively play the position in his system.
Even though Lawson is not a star who will demand a jaw-dropping contract, he might cost just a little more than what the Rams are willing to spend on a position they don't value.
8. Plaxico Burress (Wide Receiver), New York Giants
Chris Gardner/Getty Images
Plaxico Burress would not be a conventional singing by the Rams' current regime, given that he violates the team philosophy of avoiding troubled players with legal problems.
It's understandable that the Rams did not want troublemakers during the first couple years of the rebuilding process, given that they had many young and impressionable players, but now that their basic foundation has been solidified, it's possible they can afford to take a gamble on an edgy player like Burress—as long as it's a low-risk situation.
Burress will be pretty cheap since he is 33 years old and was just released from a two-year prison sentence, so the financial risk is minimal. He won't carry a heavy price tag, and the team can release him at practically no loss if he misbehaves.
Also, Burress surely realizes that he is on thin ice, and it's certainly possible that prison changed his overall attitude. Both factors minimize the risk of him negatively influencing young players on the team.
Again, not a likely candidate, but when taking every factor into consideration, there's honestly a better chance that Burress will be a Ram over someone like Sidney Rice.
7. Quintin Mikell (Safety), Philadelphia Eagles
Al Bello/Getty Images
Safety Quintin Mikell has been a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles for the past four seasons, and the 30-year-old has really turned the corner and developed into one of the better safeties in the league.
He made the Pro Bowl in 2009, and he was a second-team All-Pro in both 2008 and 2009.
Mikell is a solid tackler, and he is a capable player in pass coverage. In fact, he has 28 deflected passes over the last two seasons combined.
A source told Pro Football Weekly that Mikell is a player the Rams are targeting, although the source of the information was not identified.
It makes sense given that the Rams allowed safety and team captain O.J. Atogwe to sign with the Redskins just before the lockout, which certainly leaves a void in the secondary.
However, just like the outside linebacker position, Coach Spagnuolo is not overly enthusiastic about safeties. They play a minor role in his scheme, which is possibly why they weren't willing to meet Atogwe's asking price to begin with.
Mikell is arguably the top safety in free agency, so there will be some competition. But he would certainly be an upgrade over Atogwe, and he will help towards improving the St. Louis pass defense, which ranked only 19th overall in 2010 (based on average yards per game).
6. Brodney Pool (Safety), New York Jets
Al Bello/Getty Images
The Jets have plenty of their own free agents to worry about, which will make it hard for them to retain average players like safety Brodney Pool in 2011.
Pool has been a starter for four-and-a-half years out of his six-year career, which started with the Cleveland Browns in 2005.
Although Pool is only a slightly above average player who will probably never produce a Pro Bowl-caliber season, he is still good enough to immediately win a starting job with the Rams, and he would certainly be an upgrade over any of the current safeties on the roster.
If the Rams are truly interested in signing Quintin Mikell, and if they lose him to another bidder, then Pool would be a decent consolation prize.
5. Ben Leber (Outside Linebacker), Minnesota Vikings
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Just like Quintin Mikell, outside linebacker Ben Leber was another player mentioned in Pro Football Weekly's report on free agents the Rams are interested in.
If Manny Lawson is indeed too expensive for the Rams, then someone like Leber could be right up their alley.
Leber is a 32-year-old veteran, so he will not carry a heavy price tag, but he is still a reliable player.
Leber has started at least 10 games in eight out of his nine seasons, and he is expected to be let go by the Minnesota Vikings.
If signed, Na'il Diggs would likely move to weak side linebacker, given his ability to play both outside linebacker spots, and Leber would occupy the strong side, which would be an improvement over David Vobora or Larry Grant.
4. Steve Slaton (Running Back), Houston Texans
Thearon W, Henderson/Getty Images
Steve Slaton had a remarkable rookie season for the Houston Texans in 2008, as he finished the season with 1,282 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, but he has been a non-factor ever since.
He was injured for five games in 2009, and his yards per carry average dipped to a unimpressive 3.3, which was a significant drop from his 4.8 average in 2008.
Slaton never had the chance to prove that 2009 was a fluke, since Arian Foster came out of nowhere to win the NFL rushing title for the Texans in 2010.
In fact, Foster was so good in 2010 that Slaton was only given 19 carries all season long.
However, his poor performance in 2009 should not scare the Rams away. They already have Steven Jackson, so there would not be a lot of pressure on Slaton, who would play a secondary role in the backfield for the Rams.
If Slaton can return to his 2008 form, he could be a major asset for the Rams. If Jackson were to go down with an injury, then Slaton would be capable of carrying the load without the season being ruined. The Rams would not get that luxury with Darren Sproles or Reggie Bush.
3. Brandon Mebane (Defensive Tackle), Seattle Seahawks
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Defensive tackle Fred Robbins turned out to be a huge addition for the Rams last year.
Chris Long was the star of the defensive line, but Long wouldn't have been as effective without support in the middle from Robbins—and the entire defense would not have been as good without Robbins.
He was a very important piece for the 2010 Rams defense, and there will be a drop-off in defensive production if he is lost.
But since Robbins is 34 years old, it's just not realistic to expect a repeat performance in 2011, which means the Rams have a major need for a defensive tackle— preferably a young one that can help out for the next several years.
Brandon Mebane would be a perfect candidate to come in and support Robbins in the middle.
Mebane is a rising star in this league, and he is still just entering his prime at the age of 26.
But the best part about Mebane, other than what he can contribute on the field, is that he's a member of the Seattle Seahawks. Thus, signing Mebane would not only greatly strengthen the Rams defensive line but would also weaken a division rival.
2. Darren Sproles (Running Back), San Diego Chargers
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
When discussing the Rams and what free agents they should sign, it's almost impossible to not mention a backup running back as a clear need, but more specifically, it's almost impossible to not mention Darren Sproles as a clear option for fulfilling that need.
Sproles has been the most talked about free-agent option for the Rams this offseason, and for good reason.
His speed and elusiveness are a perfect change of pace from the bruising running style of Steven Jackson, and he also possesses abilities as a receiver, which would give Sam Bradford another weapon in the passing game.
Also, Sproles is capable of returning both kicks and punts, which would allow Danny Amendola to stay well rested and focus on being a wide receiver.
The Rams are in need of offensive playmakers, no matter what position they play, and they would be getting just that in Darren Sproles.
1. Barry Cofield (Defensive Tackle), New York Giants
Chris McGrath/Getty Images
Although Darren Sproles is the most talked about—and possibly the most desired—free agent for the Rams, it's hard to argue that defensive tackle Barry Cofield is not the most likely free agent to become a member of the Rams this week.
Since Fred Robbins is 34 years old, the team needs another defensive tackle. But beyond that, Cofield played under Coach Spagnuolo while Spagnuolo was the defensive coordinator for the Giants.
Robbins was willing to sign with the Rams in 2010 because he played some of his best football under Spagnuolo, so it's hard to believe that Cofield would not use similar logic.
Besides the Spagnuolo connection, though, Cofield is a very good football player. He is not an All-Pro, but he is a durable starter who can consistently get the job done. Also, he is only 27 years old, so he will be a long-term weapon for the Rams defensive line.
If you had to bet and guess one free agent who's on Bill Devaney's speed dial, a very safe bet would be Barry Cofield.