The Rams are in a tight spot up against the cap in 2014 with loads of large cap hits coming due. Sam Bradford, Chris Long, James Laurinaitis, and Cortland Finnegan are all set to have cap hits in the top 10 at their positions and none were even close to top 10 players last season. As it currently stands the Rams have $7.3m in cap space with the salary cap at $133m. After back to back seven win seasons, the Rams need a lot more help to keep up with the vaunted NFC West. With their cap situation though, it’s likely going to have to happen through internal development and the draft.
Potential Cap Casualties
All cap savings are courtesy of overthecap.com
– The Rams are unfortunately all but locked in to the $14.9m and $10.4m cap hits of Chris Long and James Laurinaitis respectively. Both have dead money that is almost equal to their cap hits for the 2014 season. This means that cutting either won’t give the Rams any more cap room.
– One has to believe that Cortland Finnegan is on the chopping block. He’s been a disaster in his two seasons with St. Louis and is owed $27m over the next three seasons. Releasing the corner would save the Rams $4m this year.
– The Rams will have to think long and hard about what to do with Scott Wells. The center has been injury riddled in his two seasons with the St. Louis and is 33 years old. Parting ways with Wells could save the team $4.5m.
The Rams really don’t have too many glaringly bad contracts that can be easily moved. Restructures are always possible for guys like Long, Laurinaitis, and Bradford, but none really have the incentive to restructure at this point. Because of this it is unlikely that St. Louis can create enough cap space to be a player with any major free agents.
With Chris Williams, Rodger Saffold, and Shelley Smith all set to become free agents, and with Scott Wells potentially on the chopping block, the Rams have a glaring need on the interior. Last season Williams led all Rams linemen with 923 snaps despite being one of the worst graded guards in the NFL (-21.8). The two midseason replacements at guard, Saffold and Smith, were far more productive. After three years at tackle, Saffold got his first taste of the interior and he looked like a natural. In six starts at guard he graded at +9.4 overall. Smith may have played the fewest snaps, but he was unbelievable in the run game. In 371 snaps he racked up a +12.3 run blocking grade.
Free Agent Fix: The most logical option here is to resign either Saffold or Smith. Saffold could be difficult to resign depending on his positional preference. The former left tackle could be looking for an opportunity to get back to the outside and he won’t find that in St. Louis. Smith looks entirely more plausible as his 731 career snaps will keep his price down. Any direction they choose to go should be an upgrade over Chris Williams though.
The Rams have taken two receivers in each of the last three drafts. Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, and Chris Givens have shown some promise, but Brian Quick, Austin Pettis, and the short tenured Greg Salas have done little on the field in Rams uniforms. St. Louis hasn’t had a receiver gain over 800 yards since Torry Holt had 1,189 back in 2007. Bradford has never had a receiver gain 700 yards in a season since he took over as quarterback in 2010. They are in desperate need of a consistent, go-to type receiver that will move the chains when called upon. No one on the roster has fit that bill to date.
Free Agent Fix: The free agent market for receivers this offseason is fairly slim. There aren’t any true upper echelon guys hitting the market and the guys that could actually improve St. Louis will likely be out of their price range. The two names I’d take a closer look at are Sidney Rice and Kenny Britt. Rice was plagued by injuries in Seattle and Britt had his fair share of issues in Tennessee, but both are supremely talented and could come cheaply. The most viable option for the Rams though is likely the draft again. They have two picks in the top 13 and this year’s receiver class is loaded with talent.
When looking at the Rams roster there aren’t too many blatantly obvious holes. Even positions where they were weak last season, like safety and outside linebacker, they are relying on young guys to take steps forwards. That is why I think cornerback is the next position where the Rams should turn to free agency for help at. Starting corners Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson look to be fairly entrenched as starters after grading at -0.9 and –3.0 respectively last season, but they don’t have any solid option for the slot position. Cortland Finnegan manned that position the previous two seasons, but he is a prime candidate to be released. Even if he’s not the Rams could use an upgrade from Finnegan’s -19.7 grade in 367 snaps.
Free Agent Fix: Since they’ll likely be looking for a bargain-level replacement to the slot position, Captain Munnerlyn will likely be a little too pricey. At this price range, Javier Arenas will be the best option. In Arenas’ three seasons as a slot corner in Kansas City he had a positive coverage grade every season. After just 107 snaps a season ago in Arizona, he’ll likely be had for near the veteran minimum.
Follow Mike on Twitter: @PFF_MikeRenner