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NFL Free Agency 2011: Rating and Analyzing the Each Rams Signing

Steven GerwelContributor IIIJuly 29, 2016

NFL Free Agency 2011: Rating and Analyzing the Each Rams Signing

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    It was a very exciting week for fans across the NFL, but it was particularly exciting for Rams fans, who were pleasantly surprised with the team’s progress.

    In the past, Rams General Manager Billy Devaney has been fairly conservative during free agency, especially since he is a firm believer in building a team almost exclusively through the draft.

    It’s possible that he was pressured knowing Rams fans are expecting nothing less than a division title in 2011, so it’s reasonable to think that he was willing to find key pieces at all costs.

    The Rams did not make any blockbuster signings of Nnamdi Asomugha or Sidney Rice proportions, but they were able to find solid players at positions of need.

    So while national media outlets have been raving over the big name signings, the Rams quietly had an excellent free agency period. 

Quintin Mikell, Safety (Philadelphia Eagles)

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    It was Tuesday (July 26th) when the first free agency agreements were beginning to surface following the lockout, and the Rams were able to jump off the starting line and quickly make a big splash by signing safety Quintin Mikell, formerly of the Philadelphia Eagles.

    Mikell was arguably the best safety on the market, and he has been spectacular as a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles the last three years.

    Why?

    The signing makes perfect sense because the Rams lost starting safety O.J. Atogwe to the Redskins prior to the lockout, and Atogwe was certainly a key part of the Rams defense.

    Also, Steve Spagnuolo was a positions coach in Philadelphia between 1999 and 2006, which means he was with the Eagles at the same time as Mikell. He has connections in Philadelphia and he has witnessed firsthand what kind of player Mikell is.  

    Where Does He Fit In?

    Mikell fits Coach Steve Spagnuolo’s defense beautifully due to the fact he’s a very capable tackler who can also help with run support.

    Spagnuolo’s scheme prefers a safety capable of delivering a punch, as oppose to a weaker safety known strictly for coverage skills; not that Mikell is incapable of covering a receiver.

    Mikell will immediately start at safety in Atogwe’s place. He will not only be a suitable replacement, but likely an upgrade as well.

    Grading 

    Rank Among Rams Signings: No.1      Letter Grade: A

Mike Sims-Walker, Wide Receiver (Jacksonville Jaguars)

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    Rams fans were beginning to worry by Friday (June 29th) when three days had gone by and safety Quinin Mikell was the only significant upgrade picked up in free agency.

    However, those concerns were put to bed almost instantly Friday evening when it was announced that the Rams reached an agreement with wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker, who was a very capable weapon for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

    Sims-Walker is only 26 years old and has only three seasons of experience, including an admirable 2009 season where he caught 63 catches for 869 yards and seven touchdowns.

    Sims-Walker slowed down a bit in 2010 with only 562 yards, but keep in mind that he missed three starts, and he also had a very average quarterback in Jacksonville—David Garrard.

    Why?

    The Rams were clearly in need of a wide receiver, which was painfully obvious if you watched any game from the 2010 season.

    The team attempted to find some young talent by drafting Austin Pettis and Greg Salas last April, but they still were in need of a proven player.

    Sims-Walker is already the most talented receiver on the roster, so he instantly improves an area on the team that was severely lacking.

    Where Does He Fit In?

    Sims-Walker has solid size at 6’2” and 214 pounds, so a big and physical player like him will be on the outside.

    He will be expected to get physical on deep routes downfield, as well as in the red zone.

    Also, his presence will hopefully attract enough attention to where opposing teams focus on him, which will open things up for slot receiver Danny Amendola, as well as running back Steven Jackson.

    Grading

    Rank Among Rams Signings: No.2   Letter Grade: B

    Explanation:  His letter grade suffered a bit due to the one-year contract the Rams offered him. They should have locked him down with at least a three-year deal. What if he has a big year? The Rams will then risk losing a key piece to free agency, or they’ll be forced to pay a greatly increased asking price. 

Harvey Dahl, Offensive Guard (Atlanta Falcons)

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    We saw a lot of good things out of the Rams offensive line in 2010, especially when focusing on the young tackles Rodger Saffold and Jason Smith.

    But despite the significant improvement between 2009 and 2010, the line was still not at the level they need to be at.

    In an attempt to beef up the line, the Rams signed 30-year-old Harvey Dahl, who has a reputation as a mean and nasty right-guard.

    Why?

    The offensive line was able to protect Sam Bradford sufficiently in 2010, but the run blocking suffered frequently, especially in short yardage and goal line situations.

    The clear weak link was right-guard Adam Goldberg, who is probably a suitable backup, but he clearly cannot handle the starting role.

    When the Rams signed Dahl away from the Atlanta Falcons, they not only replaced Goldberg and greatly upgraded the entire offensive line, but they also signed a player who will bring a mean streak to the team.

    If you saw the Rams run block on the goal line last season, then you know that their offensive line needs some attitude.

    Where Does He Fit In?

    The Rams released the overpaid left-guard Jacob Bell, but they were able to re-sign him at a reduced rate, so he will likely remain at his familiar spot on the left side.

    Dahl will step in and immediately start at guard on the right side.

    Not only will Dahl fill the hole that the Rams had at that spot in 2010, but his presence will truly help center Jason Brown and right-tackle Jason Smith elevate their level of play as well, which means that his present could bring the entire offensive line to a whole new level.

    Grading

    Rank Among Rams Signings: No.3   Letter Grade: A-

Jerious Norwood, Running Back (Atlanta Falcons)

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    After the signing of Mike Sims-Walker, it seemed as though free agency was winding down for the Rams, but there was still a key ingredient missing from the team.

    Ever since Marshall Faulk retired after the 2004 season, Steven Jackson has been the workhorse for the St. Louis offense, so the Rams were in need of a secondary running back in order to help Jackson.

    Jerious Norwood was not as popular as some of the other options, such as Ronnie Brown or Jason Snelling, but  he will still be a weapon for the offense.

    Norwood rushed for 633 yards as a rookie in 2006 and had a remarkable 6.3 yards per carry average. He has a similar year in 2007 with 613 and a 6.0 average.

    Norwood’s numbers greatly declined in 2009 (252 yards), as he missed six games due to injury. He looked to redeem himself last season, but he was sidelined after Week 2 with a season-ending ACL tear.

    Why?

    Jackson doesn’t have the same pop that he did five years ago, although he is still playing at a very high level. The Rams had to increase his longevity as much as possible by finding some help in the form of a backup running back capable of taking five to ten carries a game.

    Norwood will allow Jackson to have an occasional breather throughout the game, which will keep him fresh for four quarters.

    Where Does He Fit In?

    Norwood had 28 receptions in 2007 and 36 in 2008, so he is a capable receiver out of the backfield.

    We will frequently see Norwood enter the game in third-down situations in order to give Sam Bradford an extra receiving option.

    However, he will also come in the game and take several consecutive carries whenever Jackson is on the bench catching his breath.

    Also, Norwood had over 1,300 kick return yards in both 2007 and 2008, so he could possibly be the new return man for the team, which would give Danny Amendola some rest.  

    Grading

    Rank Among Rams Signings: No.4   Letter Grade: C+

    Explanation: Norwood could do a lot of good on offense and special teams, but he has been struggling with health the last two seasons. Also, the Rams ignored better options (Ronnie Brown, Jason Snelling, Joseph Addai) for Norwood.

Justin Bannan, Defensive Tackle (Denver Broncos)

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    Justin Bannan was a low key signing that didn’t get a lot of attention; in fact, it was probably the most underrated signing by the Rams this offseason.

    Bannan is not a well known player, but the Rams were in need of a starting defensive tackle and Bannan can help solve that problem.

    While Bannan has been primarily a rotational player for the majority of his career, he was also a full-time starter for the Baltimore Ravens in 2008, as well as the Broncos in 2010.

    Why?

    As a 32-year-old veteran, Bannan will not only be able to bring some experience to the defensive line, but he will be a contributor as well.

    Fred Robbins was a great addition for the Rams in 2010, but since he is 34 years old it’s possible he could suddenly fall off the map, and since he was an important piece to the puzzle, the team had to have a plan in place at the defensive tackle position.

    Bannan will provide some reassurance at the position, but the 32-year-old will not likely last the length of his three-year contract.

    Where Does He Fit In?

    Due to the length of his contract (three years), it’s clear that the coaching staff has a decent amount of faith in him, so there’s a good chance that Bannan will be an immediate starter.

    However, even if he doesn’t win the starting job, he will more than likely get a decent amount of playing time as a rotational player.

    The Rams wanted a strong core at defensive tackle in order to help out defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn, so Bannan was a pretty important signing overall.

    Grading

    Rank Among Rams Signings: No.5   Letter Grade: B+

    Explanation: While Justin Bannan is not an impact player by any means, he gets a high grade because he will play an important role while going easy on the salary cap.   

Cadillac Williams, Running Back (Tampa Bay Buccaneeers)

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    Jerious Norwood was the first running back to sign, but due to his health concerns he is hardly a slam dunk, so the Rams wanted a little more reassurance, which came in the form of Cadillac Williams.

    Cadillac was the No.5 overall pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2005 draft coming out of Auburn, and he made his mark as a rookie.

    He rushed for 148 yards during his rookie debut against Minnesota, and he had over 100 yards in his first three NFL starts. After missing two games due to injury, he still wrapped up his rookie campaign with 1,178 rushing yards and six touchdowns, which led everyone to believe he was a future NFL star.

    However, he has never been able to recapture that rookie magic, but he has somewhat revived his career over the last two seasons.

    In 2009 he rushed for 823 yards, which was the most he’s had since his rookie year, and though his rushing yardage dropped to only 437 in 2010 due to the presence of LaGarrette Blount, he still established himself as a solid receiving threat for the Buccaneers with 355 receiving yards.

    Why?

    Just like Jerious Norwood, Williams was signed to play a minor role in the run game in order to give Steven Jackson a proper amount of rest throughout the game.

    Also, Norwood has never been considered a starting running back in the NFL, so if Jackson goes down with injury then Norwood is not capable of carrying the bulk of the workload.

    Meanwhile, while Williams is not be best option in the world, but he’s a decent backup who’s capable of replacing Jackson in the event of an injury, though there would likely be a decrease in production.

    Where Does He Fit In?

    Both Williams and Norwood are capable of taking about five or more carries a game, and both are solid receivers out of the backfield.

    They both offer something similar to the offense, so Williams will be battling to get more touches than Norwood.

    Williams will likely get several carries each game. He will also make appearances in third-down packages as a receiving threat.

    Grading

    Rank Among Rams Signings: No.6   Letter Grade: B-    

Zac Diles, Outside Linebacker (Houston Texans)

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    The Rams have been awfully mediocre at outside linebacker in recent years, as it’s been occupied by undrafted free agents, seventh-round draft picks, and even the 2008 Mr. Irrelevant (David Vobora).

    The Rams tried to beef up the position last season by signing veteran Na’il Diggs, but given his age at the time (32), it was too little too late.

    However, Diggs played some solid football before missing the last four games of 2010 with a season-ending injury, so he figures to be the favorite to start at one of the outside linebacker spots.

    In an attempt to fill the other spot, the Rams signed Zac Diles of the Houston Texans.

    Diles is only 26 years old, so he still has his best years ahead of him, especially since he just turned the corner in his development with a career high 82 tackles in 2010.

    Why?

    Na’il Diggs is now 33 years old, and the experiments with David Vobora, Larry Grant and Chris Chamberlain have all failed.

    The Rams need someone at the position capable of producing and starting for 16 games, as oppose to playing musical chairs with the position.

    It’s still uncertain if Diles can be the guy that locks down one of the outside linebacker spots, but he certainly has a good chance.

    Where Does He Fit In?

    Diles began his career as a strongside linebacker, but his career and numbers have improved ever since moving to the weakside, so that’s where he will likely remain with the Rams.

    Also, Diggs has the ability to play both outside linebacker spots, so the Rams have the freedom to stick Diles on at whichever side he is more compatible with.

    Grading

    Rank Among Rams Signings: No.7   Letter Grade: C+  

Dan Muir, Defensive Tackle (Indianapolis Colts)

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    Just like Justin Bannan, Danny Muir was another signing that quietly improves the team.

    The advantage that Muir has over Bannan is that he’s only 27 years old, while Bannan is 32, so it’s possible that Muir has not maxed out his potential quite yet.

    Muir has been a full-time starter for the Colts the past two seasons, which means he was part of a team that made a Super Bowl appearance in 2009, which is good because the Rams want players who know how to win.

    Why?

    Neither Bannan or  Muir are homeruns, but the Rams need another starting defensive tackle other than Fred Robbins, so the team decided to double their chances of finding a quality starter by signing two guys who are capable of competing for the job.

    Muir, like Bannan, will also serve as an insurance policy in the event of Robbins’ production taking a nose dive due to his age. If Robbins goes down or can't perform, those two will be the new starters.

    Where Does He Fit In?

    Muir will compete for the starting tackle job with Bannan, but he will likely lose the battle, as Bannan is a better and more experienced player.

    Even so, Muir will be a valuable member of the defensive tackle rotation.

    Grading

    Rank Among Rams Signings: No.8   Letter Grade: C+

Brady Poppinga, Outside Linebacker (Green Bay Packers)

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    The Rams were in need of a starting defensive tackle, but they did not want to fork out a large sum of money for a flashy free agent, so instead they signed two average players who will fight for the spot, and the hope is that one of them will surprise everyone and play at a decent level.

    The team is doing the exact same thing with the outside linebacker position—first they signed Zac Diles of the Houston Texans and then they brought in Brady Poppinga of the Green Bay Packers.

    Poppinga was a starter for the Green Bay Packers for three seasons between 2006 and 2008, but he has just been a role player over the last two years.

    Why?

    With Na’il Diggs turning 33 years old last month, and since Zac Diles is not exactly a jaw-dropping prospect, the Rams wanted to better their chances of finding an effective linebacker by signing another one.

    Where Does He Fit In?

    While the 31-year-old Poppinga will certainly compete for the starting gig, the most likely scenario has him participating as a role player on defense, as well as special teams.

    Grading

    Rank Among Rams Signings: No.8   Letter Grade: C-

Al Harris, Defensive Back (Green Bay Packers)

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    Most people remember Al Harris for his seven seasons with the Green Bay Packers between 2003 and 2009.

    Harris made the Pro Bowl in both 2007 and 2008, and if you watched the Packers during his tenure there, he always seemed to be around the ball making plays.

    The only downside is that he is 36 years old, which made this signing a bit of a head-scratcher.

     

    Why?

    Besides Ron Bartell and Quintin Mikell, the Rams are very young in the secondary, so they can certainly benefit from some veteran leadership.

    Also, the depth is very thin and lacks any real talent, so they need more experienced players competing for roster spots in the secondary.

     

    Where Does He Fit In?

    Harris might not make the team if he is beat out by younger and faster players, but he’ll certainly be given a fair shot.

    If he makes the team then he will probably appear in nickel packages, and it’s possible we could see him on special teams as well.

     

    Grading

    Rank Among Rams Signings: No. 10

    Letter Grade: D

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