The St. Louis Rams are poised to be in a unique situation on draft day. With five top-100 picks to their name, they will be in the market to upgrade a multitude of positions on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. Cornerback, safety, offensive guard, offensive tackle and wide receiver are all positions of need.
But what about the defensive end position? Could the Rams go against the grain and select Jadeveon Clowney at No. 2 overall if he’s available? Even though Chris Long and Robert Quinn are one of the best pass-rushing duos in the league, Clowney is an awe-inspiring talent and a once-in-a-decade prospect.
Despite having Long and Quinn in the starting lineup, could the Rams afford to pass on him? Based on the number of games the team has won over the last two years, and its inability to take over games defensively, the Rams can’t afford to repeat an old mistake and pass on Clowney.
Some of you may be thinking, what about Long and the long-term extension he signed in 2012? Well, therein lies the problem. As good as the first-round pick out of Virginia has been for the Rams (50.5 quarterback sacks, 222 combined tackles and seven forced fumbles), St. Louis will be forced to part ways with the sixth-year defensive end sooner rather than later.
As it stands right now, Long is the second-highest paid player on the roster and carries a cap number of $14.9 million in 2014, $11.5 million in 2015 and $13.25 million in 2016. That’s an awful lot of money for a 29-year-old player who has never been an All-Pro or Pro-Bowl selection.
That’s not to say Long won’t be on the Rams’ roster in 2014. Odds are he starts at the left defensive end position for another year. St. Louis wouldn’t save any money by cutting him during the offseason. In fact, it wouldn’t reap the benefits of letting him go until the 2015 offseason.
According to Over the Cap, the Rams would save $8.5 million if they cut him prior to the 2015 season. Unless Long agrees to take a pay cut, this seems to be the most likely scenario. Why? Because there’s no way St. Louis opts to pay a 30-year-old pass-rusher $11.5 million.
|Chris Long's Contract|
|Year||Base Salary||Prorated Bonus||Roster Bonus||Workout Bonus||Other Bonus||Cap Number||Dead Money||Cap Savings|
|Over the Cap|
This, in turn, is why drafting Clowney makes the most sense. By drafting the best defensive player in the draft, the Rams could use him as a rotational rusher in his rookie season and insert him into the starting lineup in 2015.
Moreover, the way rookie contracts are slotted under the collective bargaining agreement, Clowney’s cap number in 2015 wouldn’t exceed $5 million. Per Over the Cap, his cap number would be similar to that of left tackle Luke Joeckel’s 2014 cap number (just over $4.8 million).
That’s an absolute steal when you consider the type of talent Clowney is. Over the course of his three-year career at South Caroloina, the All-American defensive end tallied 24 quarterback sacks, 47 tackles for loss, 130 total tackles and nine forced fumbles. Just look at some of the eye-opening plays he made during his sophomore and junior seasons.
Based on the aforementioned numbers, his dominant play on tape and Long’s contract situation, the idea of the Rams drafting Clowney is starting to gain steam. Here’s what Ryan Van Bibber of Turf Show Times had to say about St. Louis drafting the top-notch talent in SB Nation’s latest mock draft:
St. Louis is in an ideal spot early in the 2014 NFL Draft. The Rams once again could be in a position to trade down if they don't like the value with this pick. If St. Louis is forced to sit and pick at this spot, Jadeveon Clowney is a real possibility. Yes, the Rams are already stacked along the defensive line. But that doesn't mean they should pass on a transcendent talent like Clowney. He could play inside and on the edge in the Rams' 4-3 front and give them one of the most dangerous defensive lines in football.
Yet, the praise didn’t stop there. Nick Wagoner of ESPN weighed in on the Rams possible Clowney conundrum:
If the Rams reach a point where Clowney checked out physically and was clearly the best player available with a gap between him and the rest of the prospects, passing on Clowney would be a move the team could one day regret. Maybe a trade would land more quantity, but drafting for need over simply taking the best player is often a recipe for disaster.
Wagoner’s right: Drafting for need over taking the best player available is a recipe for disaster. Some people say the Rams already did that once when they drafted quarterback Sam Bradford No. 1 overall in 2010.
Pundits like Mike Mayock of NFL.com felt St. Louis should have either drafted Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh or Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. Mayock believed Suh and McCoy were the two best players available in the draft, via Tom Kowalski of MLive.com.
|PFF grades for McCoy and Suh in 2013|
|Pro Football Focus|
In hindsight, Mayock was spot-on. Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), McCoy finished the 2013 season with a plus-57.3 grade, and Suh came in with a plus-39.9 grade. There wasn’t a player from the 2010 draft that finished the year with a higher grade.
As unsettling as it may be to a number of fans, the Rams can't afford to make the same mistake twice. If the Houston Texans draft a quarterback with the first pick, St. Louis should sprint to the podium and draft Clowney. Once-in-a-decade-type prospects are extremely rare and incredibly valuable.
Unless otherwise noted, all cap numbers via Over the Cap.