The Biggest Offseason Priorities for St. Louis Rams
After a 2012 season that one would be hard-pressed to term anything other than a success, Jeff Fisher, Les Snead and company have no time to rest, as it is imperative they get right back to work addressing the St. Louis Rams' biggest offseason priorities.
A lesser organization might take this time to rest on the laurels of their previous year's success. Or, even worse, be so excited by the proximity of their team to the division leaders that they would make ill-advised free-agent signings or draft picks, disregarding their organization's future for immediate success in the next season.
Thankfully, the Rams are smarter than that.
They will effectively prioritize and address their most pressing offseason needs.
Let's see if we can't do the same.
Priority No. 6: Find a Defensive Coordinator
The way the whole Rob Ryan thing played out showed exactly why we Rams fans, by and large, have faith in Jeff Fisher.
That Fisher wanted to bring in Ryan was not surprising. After all, Fisher learned much of what he knows about coaching from Rob's father, Buddy Ryan, who gave him his first job.
That Fisher wouldn't budge on not allowing Ryan to bring in his own staff shows the commitment and belief that Fisher has in his system. His unwillingness to compromise that proven system, even for someone who is practically family, illustrates the kind of dedication and strength of will that are essential for success.
The Rams are in good hands.
But, even though it is and will be Fisher's defense, someone still has to call the plays.
Aside from Fisher, the Rams have three coaches on their staff who have experience as defensive coordinators: secondary coach Chuck Cecil, newly hired linebacker coach Frank Bush and assistant head coach Dave McGinnis. As such, promotion from within is not out of the question.
At the moment, the leading outside candidate is Dick Jauron, whom the Rams met with on February 4 (per Josh Hill of Fansided.com). Jauron was the head coach of the Chicago Bears in 2003 and then the Buffalo Bills from 2006 to the midway point of the 2009 season. Neither stint ended well for him. In 2012, he was the defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns, a job in which he achieved considerably more success than the head coaching gigs.
If Jauron is willing to run Fisher's system Fisher's way, he will likely get the job. If not (which is unlikely), the Rams have plenty of in-house options if it gets to that point.
Priority No. 5: Restructure Quintin Mikell's Contract
This is going to be difficult if not impossible for Quintin Mikell to accept.
He had three quarterback sacks (No. 1), nine quarterback hurries (No. 1), 84 tackles (No. 8) and 39 stops (No. 3).
It was an elite-level season for Mr. Mikell. He earned every penny he is owed in 2013.
The problem is, he is owed a whole lot of them—$9 million worth.
With the Rams only having about $10 million to re-sign all of their free agents and sign all of their draft picks—not to mention pursue any of the other teams' free agents—Mikell's contract is a huge burden, even if he has played up to it.
However, the Rams are not without leverage.
Mikell was so bad in coverage he ranked 66th in the NFL, one spot behind teammate and St. Louis-area pariah Craig Dahl.
Les Snead can and surely will get creative with his contract structures. Even so, Mikell is going to have to give up some of his 2013 money if the Rams are to have enough salary cap room to address all of their needs.
Priority No. 4: Develop Brian Quick
A pretty strong case could be made that this priority should have been higher up the list, even with the recent signing of former Detroit Lions wide receiver Titus Young.
That you see the same picture in nearly every slide dedicated to Brian Quick speaks volumes. The guy was just not very productive in his rookie season.
His season stat line of 11 catches for 156 yards and two touchdowns reads like an exceptional single game for a premier receiver, or an incredibly disappointing season for the 33rd overall pick of the draft.
At 6'3" and 220 pounds, Quick is the receiver Bradford needs. He could do for Bradford what Anquan Boldin did for Joe Flacco in the Super Bowl; he has the tools to be that guy, perhaps even better.
It's up to the Rams to do everything necessary to get him on the field as often as possible in 2013. If they are successful, they may still be playing in January of 2014.
Priority No. 3: Re-Sign Their Own Free Agents
Titus Young will not be much of a salary cap burden; he is only owed $800,000 in each of the next two seasons.
Still, his presence on the roster makes bringing back both Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson less likely.
Gibson is coming off of his best season, and Amendola is, well, Danny Amendola, one of the best slot receivers in the game.
Despite the possibility that Young could be cut in the first week of training camp if he doesn't change his boneheaded ways, at this point he represents an insurance policy if the Rams are forced to let either Amendola or Gibson walk.
If we knew that Young was going to stay out of trouble in 2013, the Rams might let both Amendola and Gibson go. With Amendola's injury history, the Rams may still allow him to walk if his price tag reaches a level that makes them uncomfortable for a guy who has only played in 12 of the Rams' last 32 games.
Robert Turner made $700,000 in 2012. He will cost a little more in 2013, but he will be worth it if the Rams have the cap space. Even though the Rams could use an upgrade over Turner in the starting lineup, there is no such thing as too many good offensive linemen. If Turner is comfortable in a reserve role, and the price tag is workable, he needs to come back.
Barry Richardson played better than anyone expected, especially in the running game. Still, his pass-blocking was a weakness. The Rams may and probably should look for an upgrade in the draft. Even if they find one, they would like to have Richardson back for 2013, O-line depth being of immense importance.
Perhaps the most important of the Rams' own free agents is William Hayes. He wants to come back, having said (per Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch):
I love it here. I love the tradition, the coaches, my teammates, the facility. It’s a great place to be. This team, the future’s gonna be crazy around here. If we can keep these guys together, it’s gonna be really exciting.
There is no overstating Hayes' importance to the Rams defense in 2012. Let's hope his affinity for the situation here in St. Louis inspires him to grant a "hometown discount."
His departure would be a huge blow for a Rams defense with an incredible amount of potential.
Priority No. 2: The Draft
Though it is still nearly three months away, the 2013 NFL draft—and more specifically, what the Rams may or may not do in it—has already been covered ad nauseam.
Jeff Fisher has never taken an offensive lineman in the first round. But tackle and guard are two positions for which the Rams need upgrades. Will they be able to find an upgrade in a later round?
Does the addition of Titus Young mean the Rams will not look to draft a wide receiver? This largely depends on what happens with Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson in free agency. If either or both of them leave, look for the Rams to take a wideout, possibly as early as the first round.
The other areas of need remain safety (possibly two of them if the Rams decide to cut Quintin Mikell) and outside linebacker.
The main objective for every NFL team's draft is to fill positions of need and add depth with young, inexpensive players.
Jeff Fisher, Les Snead and Kevin Demoff have given us no reason to think they will not be successful.
Priority No. 1: Protect and Provide Weapons for Sam Bradford
However they do it, the Rams have to put Sam Bradford in a position to be successful in 2013.
Having had a different playbook in each of his first three years to go along with suspect-at-best offensive lines and receiving corps, not to mention an inept coaching staff for two of those years, Bradford has not yet had a fair chance to prove what he is capable of.
Say what you will about Titus Young (and you could say a lot), that the Rams went out and grabbed a potentially impactful player just two days after the Super Bowl shows they realize the importance of getting Bradford more weapons.
But they can't be done yet.
Bradford's salary cap hit is going to be a relatively acceptable $12.5 million in 2013. In 2014, it balloons up to $17.6 million.
If 2013 sees Bradford once again wallow in mediocrity, it may be his final year in the blue and gold.
Nobody in the Rams organization wants that.
To prevent it, their No.1 priority this offseason has to be giving Bradford everything he needs to be successful.
The onus has to be on him this year. The time for excuses is over.