Predicting St. Louis Rams' Biggest Roster Moves This Offseason

Steven Gerwel@Steve_GerFeatured Columnist IVDecember 23, 2014

Predicting St. Louis Rams' Biggest Roster Moves This Offseason

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    The St. Louis Rams are eliminated from the playoff picture, so it's time for general manager Les Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher to begin pondering the franchise's key offseason moves. 

    St. Louis' latest 37-27 loss to the New York Giants has forced the fanbase into a state of self-loathing and rightfully so, but let's not forget that there's a lot to be excited about when it comes to the future of this young Rams team. 

    The Rams beat San Francisco on the road in Week 9, and that was before the 49ers' recent implosion—they were still considered dangerous at the time. 

    Two weeks later, the Rams handed the Denver Broncos a lopsided 22-7 loss and became just the second team since 2001 to hold Peyton Manning to seven or less points in a regular-season game (and the first to do it in five years). The Rams then went on to shut out the Oakland Raiders and Washington Redskins by a combined score of 76-0.

    So yes, there were dreadful moments throughout the season, but the Rams are still just a few pieces away from striking fire and making the playoffs a year from now. 

    This article will explore the big offseason moves that the Rams will look at. We'll include free agency, the draft and in-house transactions. If St. Louis sufficiently fills just several of these spots, the Rams will be in an excellent position in 2015. 

Find a New Center

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    After witnessing two bad snaps against the Giants, anyone following the Rams can tell you that St. Louis needs to immediately move on from Scott Wells. 

    Signing Wells in free agency was one of Fisher's first moves after being hired by St. Louis in 2012. Since then, the results have been disastrous. Wells was initially inked to a $24 million deal, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (h/t The Associated Press via ESPN), and he immediately missed nine games in his first year as well as four games in 2013. 

    It's not just the money and injuries either. The protection up front has been consistently horrible this season, and Wells is one of the major culprits. The pocket collapses almost immediately every play, and the Rams are not running the ball the way we expect from a Fisher team.

    Simply put, whether it's injury or sloppy play, Wells is simply not reliable. Meanwhile, backups Tim Barnes and Barrett Jones are both total question marks (it's telling that Wells has started ahead of both, despite his play).

    The Rams need an NFL-ready center in 2015, and luckily for them, there are a few solid options.

    Oakland's Stefen Wisniewski is one of the top centers in football and is still only 25 years old. He's a well-rounded center who gets it done in pass protection and run blocking, and he'd be an answered prayer for the Rams. 

    Unfortunately, Wisniewski is a top-level center and will receive elite money as a result. The highest-paid centers in the league are Maurkice Pouncey, Alex Mack and Ryan Kalil. All three players average over $8 million per year, according to Spotrac, and that's the type of money St. Louis will have to fork out. 

    Another option is Brian de la Puente of the Chicago Bears. He's missed about half of the 2014 season with injury, which is something to look at, but he would be a major improvement in pass protection. He's not as capable of a run-blocker as Wisniewski, but he'll keep the quarterback upright. 

    There are some older veterans hitting the market—Will Montgomery, Nick Hardwick, Dominic Raiola—but they carry the same injury and aging risks that the Rams get from Wells. 

    Overall, the Rams need to turn to free agency for a center rather than using a high pick. It wouldn't be unwise to find a project center in the middle or late rounds, but St. Louis needs someone who can start and play at a high level from Day 1. 

    Rams fans are a bit skeptical when it comes to free-agent centers after dealing with Jason Brown from 2009 to 2011 and switching to Wells immediately after. But it's hard to imagine that any of the above players will be a downgrade compared to the current centers, so it's worth a shot.  

Find a New Guard

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Right guard Davin Joseph was meant to be a backup—the "sixth man"—but injuries have forced him into a starting role, and he has been a nightmare. 

    Joseph and Wells playing side-by-side has destroyed the offensive line. The Rams rarely get any push from those two spots, and the pressure comes from the right side almost every time. Poor Joe Barksdale, the right tackle, has been overwhelmed trying to block numerous defenders at once, as he gets zero help from the men to his left.

    The Rams need to replace Joseph, that much is obvious, but it's still questionable how they'll accomplish that. 

    Jones and center Tim Barnes are two promising youngsters who are possibly capable of filling that void. Jones has struggled with injuries since being drafted in 2013, and Barnes only has experience at center. But the Rams must look hard at both players and decide if there's an in-house answer.

    It's almost mind-boggling that neither player has been tossed into the lineup to show his stuff, given that the Rams have nothing to play for. 

    It's unlikely the Rams will use a No. 1 pick on a guard. If there are no quarterbacks or offensive playmakers to be had, it's possible St. Louis will grab one, but Greg Robinson—the No. 2 overall pick of 2014—was the first offensive lineman Fisher has ever drafted in the first round. He typically addresses the position with mid-round picks, along with some late-round gems. 

    There are usually interior linemen capable of starting immediately in Round 2, but the Rams will turn to free agency if they're not satisfied with their draft board. 

    The big name this offseason is Mike Iupati. The former top-20 draft pick is still only 27 years old, and, for the most part, has been one of the best guards in the game. 

    Willie Colon of the New York Jets is another relatively high-end option, but he's 31 and will only decline over the next few years. 

    Some other reasonable options include the Seattle Seahawks' James Carpenter (25 years old), the Detroit Lions' Rob Sims (31) and Adam Snyder of the New York Giants (32). 

    Another name to look at is Vladimir Ducasse. He was drafted in the second round by the Jets in 2010 and signed with the Minnesota Vikings this season. He hasn't lived up to expectations, but he's still young (27) and has the raw talent. 

    The Rams were able to revive Chris Williams' career—a former first-round pick for Chicago—so perhaps they can do the same with a raw but talented player, such as Ducasse. 

    If the Rams can sign a high-end center, as mentioned in the previous slide, and combine him with a mid-level free-agent guard, that should do wonders for the offensive line, especially if Barnes and Jones are ready to contribute. 

Make the Key Re-Signings

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    The Rams have a couple in-house players who have to be re-signed immediately. Luckily for them that shouldn't be too difficult. 

    Kenny Britt is the big one. He has over 700 yards receiving this year (making him the first Rams receiver to hit 700 yards since 2008), and he's only 66 yards away from breaking his career-high 775 yards from 2010. 

    Britt is still far from being an elite receiver in this league, so he should be affordable. A three-year deal for about $18 million should easily get it done—and that's doable, especially if the guaranteed money is kept to a minimum. 

    Barksdale is another key player who has to be retained. Some have criticized his apparent decline on the field, but one only has to look at the two players to his left to understand why he's struggling. With no help from those two spots, it'd be miraculous if he didn't experience a decline. 

    Based on the current right tackle market, a deal averaging anywhere from $2 to $3.5 million per year should be enough. 

    Tight end Lance Kendricks, safety Rodney McLeod, tight end Cory Harkey, center Tim Barnes, tackle Mike Person and defensive lineman Alex Carrington are all players the Rams would certainly like to re-sign, but it would not be a total disaster if several of them walked. 

    If the Rams let Kendricks leave, then re-signing Harkey is a necessity. St. Louis needs a pass-catcher at tight end other than Jared Cook. 

    After being the weak spot of the defense in 2013, McLeod has been a surprisingly solid starter this year. The Rams have other options at safety in Mark Barron, Mo Alexander and Lamarcus Joyner, but re-signing McLeod would still be a positive move.

    The Rams have no blockbuster free agents hitting the market, so they'll be fortunate enough to retain most of their core players.  

Keep an Eye on Available Offensive Weapons

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    The current St. Louis receivers are a considerable improvement compared to recent years, but the Rams still need to keep an eye on available playmakers. 

    Brian Quick was on his way to a breakout campaign—he was on pace for a near 900-yard season without a quality quarterback—but a devastating shoulder injury ended his season, according to ESPN.com

    Unfortunately, there's no guarantee Quick will be back and playing at the same level after such an intense injury. If the Rams sense that Britt will walk in free agency, then St. Louis will once again be in desperate need of help at receiver. 

    Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin add some pop to the offense, but those two alone won't cut it if Britt walks and if Quick isn't the same. 

    Thankfully, the Rams will have a clear view of the receiver position by the time the draft arrives. With a possible top-10 pick, the Rams could be in a position to snag Alabama's Amari Cooper or even Oklahoma's Dorial Green-Beckham, if he declares.

    Simply put, there's no guarantee the weapons will be in place next season, so it's best to remain vigilant. If a game-changing playmaker can be had, don't hesitate to pull the trigger.   

Find a Starting Quarterback at All Costs

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    Tom Gannam/Associated Press

    This is what it's all about. If the Rams fail to answer the question at quarterback, none of the moves in the previous slides will make much of a difference. 

    Unfortunately, coming to this conclusion is only half the battle. Going out and actually finding a reliable starting quarterback is the most daunting task a team can possibly face in any given offseason. 

    First, let's look at some in-house options: 

    Shaun Hill will turn 35 this offseason and, as we saw against the Giants, his accuracy leaves a lot to be desired, especially on deep balls. Throw in the fact that he's averaging a pick every 23 attempts, and it's clear that Hill can not be relied on at any capacity. He's a good leader and a respectable person, but the team cannot win with him under center. 

    Sam Bradford has the physical tools to be an elite passer, but many failed quarterbacks throughout history can say the same. Bradford has suffered three season-ending injuries in his last six seasons, dating back to college, and the former No. 1 overall pick from 2010 has missed 31 of 80 possible starts at the NFL level. 

    Sure, fans and columnists alike proclaim Bradford as St. Louis' best option in 2015, but never without the qualifier "if healthy," which, frankly speaking, is about as far-fetched as calling Kurt Warner the Rams' best option..."if not retired."  

    To be fair, Bradford was setting some pretty eye-popping numbers before going down in 2013. He was on pace for 32 touchdowns and nearly 4,000 yards by midseason, and he had a ratio of 3.5 touchdowns for every pick. 

    However, his lengthy injury history and his $16.58 million cap hit in 2015, per Spotrac, makes it an easy decision—he'll either be gone, or he'll come back at a reduced rate with a highly touted contingency plan in place. 

    Now, about that contingency plan... 

    Obviously, the draft, free agency and trade are St. Louis' three options. Neither source offers an obvious solution, but there are good players available if the Rams are willing to be bold. 

    Here's what St. Louis is looking at in each category: 

    2015 Draft

    In the draft, Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston are the 1A and 1B quarterbacks at the top. As of now, the Rams are drafting around No. 12 overall, and that's not good enough to get a top quarterback. However, if St. Louis drops its final game in Seattle and gets help from other teams, it could jump up to No. 8 or even No. 7.

    If the Rams make that jump, it's not impossible for them to secure one of the quarterbacks. Winston may drop due to off-the-field concerns, and St. Louis could even trade up for Mariota if the team picking No. 1 is not in need of a quarterback.

    Trading up is hardly a favored strategy among fans, but it'd be worth it to add an electric weapon like Mariota to a very dull St. Louis offense, as long as the price is not outrageous.

    If the Rams are looking for a long-term solution at quarterback, the draft is the way to go. Whether that's feasible has yet to be determined. 

    Free Agency

    The pickings in free agency are rather slim, but that doesn't mean the Rams can't get lucky.

    Mark Sanchez has plenty of experience in Brian Schottenheimer's offense. He's had some moments in Philadelphia, but it's hard to overlook his 12 touchdowns against 10 picks. It will mostly depend on the relationship between Sanchez on Schottenheimer and whether Schotty feels he's worth pursuing.   

    Matt Moore, Jake Locker, Brian Hoyer, Michael Vick and Ryan Mallett are the only other options worth a look. Locker and Mallett have incredible talent, but both players are total gambles. 

    None of the free-agent options is overly attractive on his own, but when combined with Bradford, suddenly all are a bit more appealing. 

    Trade

    The Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders are both picking in the top five, and both teams have talented young quarterbacks they drafted last year. 

    Derek Carr has done surprisingly well on a terrible Oakland team. And while Blake Bortles is less refined, he has talent, and his awful supporting cast has skewed the numbers. 

    If either team has an eye for one of the top quarterbacks, St. Louis might be able to pull off a trade for one of the youngsters. Both teams have a number of urgent needs, so they could use additional draft picks to restock. 

    Other than that, the Philadelphia EaglesNick Foles and Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Mike Glennon are the only other reasonable options through trade. 

    Steven Gerwel is the longest-tenured Rams Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report and serves as the Rams' game-day correspondent. You can find more of Gerwel's work by visiting his writer profile or by following him on Twitter. 

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