3 Moves St. Louis Rams Should Have Made This OffseasonJuly 13, 2015
3 Moves St. Louis Rams Should Have Made This Offseason
Every NFL team attempts to maximize its offseason resources, but each team ultimately misses an opportunity. It's unavoidable.
The St. Louis Rams made some excellent decisions in free agency and the draft.
The Rams added an elite running back prospect in Todd Gurley, an intimidating fifth-lineman in Nick Fairley, a starting-caliber linebacker in Akeem Ayers and even a new signal caller in Nick Foles—who could be the new face of the franchise if things go well.
The team also replenished an ailing offensive line with a platoon of rookies—all of whom are built to strengthen the offense's rushing attack.
Still, there are a few small details and missed opportunities that prevented St. Louis from having the perfect offseason. It's not something the Rams should be blamed for—as mentioned, it happens to every team every year—but we can still point out those errors.
This article will accomplish that by highlighting the three majors misses of St. Louis' offseason.
Taking a Chance on La'el Collins
Missing out on La'el Collins is a regret 30 other NFL teams are dealing with, but it's a little more specific to the Rams than those other teams.
For those unfamiliar with the situation, let's go through a brief refresher course:
On Tuesday, April 28—two days prior to the 2015 NFL Draft—Adam Schefter of ESPN reported that Collins was wanted for questioning by the Baton Rouge police regarding the shooting death of his pregnant former girlfriend, 29-year-old Brittany Mills.
While Collins was not a suspect at the time, the police still wished to question him as a person of interest.
Collins—initially pegged by many as a possible first-round pick—requested to enter the July supplemental draft but was denied, per NFL.com. He ultimately went unpicked in the opening round, as most predicted.
Naturally, teams did not want to make a sizable investment in Collins, just in case his story took a horrible turn for the worse.
For three days, the free-fall continued and Collins never heard his name called. He went totally undrafted.
But for those who don't know, he came pretty darn close.
Immediately following the draft, the MMQB released the following quote from Rick Smith, who served on Collins' team of counsel:
“There was a team that had drafted four offensive linemen,” Smith says, “and they said, ‘We’re taking him.’ And I texted back, ‘You’re going to embarrass yourself. You’re going to waste this pick.’"
The quote refers to a potential seventh-round suitor. Given that the Rams are the only team to fit the description, that pretty much narrows it down.
Many, including Schefter, reported that if Collins were drafted beyond Day 2, he would have held out in an attempt to re-enter the 2016 draft.
In the MMQB article, Collins' camp basically admitted that the threats were a complete bluff in order to avoid being drafted—a ploy that granted Collins free-agent status and the ability to sign with his preferred team.
No one can really blame the Rams for not calling the bluff, especially since he apparently had no desire to play for St. Louis (which we can assume is the case, given his representation's discouragements in the above quote).
However, if the Rams truly had interest, as suggested, the cost of the gamble was minimal.
For a mere seventh-round investment, the Rams would have owned the exclusive rights to Collins. Regardless of the open-ended case, along with Collins' threat of holding out, that's still a pretty minimal cost to pay.
Had the case taken a turn for the worse, the Rams could have immediately cut Collins with little to no backlash. It would've been viewed as a classic risk-reward business decision that went awry.
Had Collins attempted to holdout, general manager Les Snead could have simply shrugged his shoulders and said, "Oh well, at least we tried. It was a rare chance to get a first-round talent in the seventh round, but that's that."
But as we now know, a holdout was never going to happen.
It was a rare, dicey situation that was surely difficult to analyze on the spot, so as mentioned, the Rams don't deserve any real blame for missing out.
Still, in hindsight, the whole incident was rather transparent and could have been dissected a little better. It was a chance to add some much-needed offensive line talent, but they were simply outmaneuvered.
Holding off on Trading Zac Stacy
Zac Stacy's diminished role was one of the great mysteries of 2014.
Stacy failed to hit 20 carries in a single game last season—even before Tre Mason's emergence in Week 7. He even had a four-game stretch where he didn't touch the ball once.
There were no media reports involving off-the-field misconduct or poor behavior during practices. He just vanished from the field without a proper explanation from the coaching staff.
From a visual standpoint, he did appear to lose some of his power and nastiness in 2014. He didn't pinball off defenders and shed tackles with the same effectiveness as his 2013 self.
He also had fewer big plays.
In 2013, six of his 250 carries went for 20 or more yards (once every 41.6 carries), yet he had zero 20-yard carries in 2014, despite carrying the ball 76 times.
However, his 3.9 yards-per-carry average last season was dead-even with his 2013 self. So regardless, he was still on pace to match his rookie season.
The point being: There doesn't seem to be a true defect to warrant the low-ball seventh-round compensation St. Louis received for trading Stacy to the New York Jets.
Stacy rushed for 973 yards as a rookie. There have been 127 running backs drafted in the fifth round since the 1970 merger, and none of them were able to exceed that total during their rookie years. The closest was Mike Thomas of the Washington Redskins, who ran for 919 yards in 1975.
Surely, that performance warrants a full refund on that initial fifth-round investment. That should have been the minimum compensation. It would've even be reasonable to expect a little interest—maybe a high fourth-round pick.
The insulting seventh-round offer should have been balked at from the start.
According to Chris Wesseling of NFL.com, Stacy requested a trade following St. Louis' selection of Todd Gurley at No. 10 overall. So, we can assume the deal was a combination of low demand and an effort to please Stacy.
Still, that's not good enough.
There was no pressing deadline for accomplishing a deal. If the market were quiet, the Rams could have waited until the end of training camp, when the injuries typically begin to pile up. Surely, a running-back needy team would have surfaced and St. Louis could've cut a better deal.
As for Stacy's desires, the Rams could have simply ensured him that they have every intention of trading him as soon as a reasonable buyer emerges. If that didn't sit well, they would politely but firmly remind him that he has a contract and that the Rams are a football business—not a travel agency.
The difference between a fifth- and seventh-round pick might seem marginal, but think again.
Along with Stacy, Chris Givens (fourth round), Greg Zuerlein (sixth) and E.J. Gaines (sixth) are all productive players drafted in that mid- to late-round range.
It's possible the Rams missed out on striking mid-round gold once again, presumably due to nothing more than a lack of patience.
Pursuing a Veteran Offensive Lineman
The Rams entered the offseason in desperate need of offensive line reinforcements.
St. Louis' strategy was to pass on free-agent offensive linemen and bombard the position with draft picks. In the end, the Rams grabbed linemen with four of their nine picks, including Rob Havenstein (second round), Jamon Brown (third), Andrew Donnal (fourth) and Cody Wichmann (sixth).
Adding fresh, healthy recruits over worn-down veterans is an excellent long-term strategy, but things could get messy in 2015.
Without a veteran presence, the unit is facing a steep learning curve.
It's assumed that Havenstein is the new anchor at right tackle. Given recent history, he might have the best shot among all the St. Louis rookie linemen at starting the majority of the games.
In 2014, six offensive linemen were selected in the second round, like Havenstein. Four of them started at least 14 games, and only Buffalo's Cyrus Kouandjio started none. So that bodes well for Havenstein.
However, the Rams will likely depend on Brown or Donnal to fill a starting guard spot. Unfortunately, if we use the previous draft as an indicator, that might be asking a bit much.
Of the 15 offensive linemen selected in the third or fourth round in 2014, only four started at least 10 games and Russell Bodine of the Cincinnati Bengals was the only one to start all 16. Nine of those 15 started five games or fewer.
The Rams have some extra cushion with Wichmann and supplemental draft pick Isaiah Battle—who's likely far behind after missing OTAs—but needless to say, it'd be reassuring to have at least one more veteran in the mix.
That's not to say St. Louis should have overpaid for Rodney Hudson or Mike Iupati, but there were other options.
Center Stefen Wisniewski signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars on a manageable one-year, $2.5 million contract with a mere $1.75 million cap hit, per Spotrac.
As of now, the center job is between Tim Barnes, Barrett Jones and Demetrius Rhaney, who have combined for four career starts—all belonging to Barnes. Wisniewski could have improved the position—a position that went ignored in the draft—for a minimal cost.
Even now, former Pro-Bowl center Chris Myers and former All-Pro guard Evan Mathis are still on the market, waiting to be snatched up. With the lack of interest, surely a modest deal can be hammered out with at least one of them.
It's true that adding a veteran would mean cutting a younger player, or at least sending him to the practice squad. However, can this current regime afford to wait patiently while seven first- or second-year linemen take the time to fully develop?
It's been three seasons and Jeff Fisher has yet to exceed seven wins. If the rate of this team's development does not enter turbo-mode soon, he'll eventually be rebuilding an offensive line for some other team.
For three years, the complaints have all been directed at the offense. If the fans are asked to ignore the offensive woes yet again while the new line develops, they might be calling for heads by the season's end.
With that in mind, maybe one single veteran lineman as an insurance policy isn't such a horrible idea.
Steven Gerwel is the longest-tenured Rams featured columnist at Bleacher Report and served as the Rams' game-day correspondent in 2014. You can find more of Gerwel's work by visiting his writer profile or following him on Twitter.