I’m hearing complaints from Rams fans about the team’s approach to free agency, that they haven’t filled needs, that they didn’t get a top flight wide receiver, that they should have kept Ron Bartell and added another cornerback.
However, I’m looking at this offseason in a different light. Before free agency started, the Rams released relatively high-priced veterans at three positions, jettisoning cornerback Ron Bartell, center Jason Brown, and defensive tackles Fred Robbins and Justin Bannan. They had watched tape of those players, and concluded that those guys weren’t going to contribute to winning in St. Louis.
The first three positions the Rams filled in free agency were cornerback, with the signing of Cortland Finnegan to replace Bartell; center, with the signing of Scott Wells to replace Brown, and defensive tackle, with the signing of Kendall Langford to replace Robbins. With those signings, the Rams feel like they improved over what they released.
There are still needs, certainly at wide receiver and outside linebacker, at guard and still at defensive tackle. The Rams can let free agency settle a little bit, get their cap situation under better control, and wait for the draft, in which they should be able to add three premium players that contribute in 2012.
To give themselves a more palatable cap situation, the Rams have several options. Earlier in the offseason there was talk of reducing Jason Smith’s contract because of his performance and health issues. After Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh restructured to help out the Lions, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for Sam Bradford to give the Rams some relief, either.
As to the wide receiver position, there’s no way the Rams should have tried to outspend Tampa Bay for Vincent Jackson. They were in on Pierre Garcon, but Garcon was Washington’s top priority, and nobody outspends the Redskins on their top priority. Reggie Wayne wanted to return to Indy, and he did. At this stage, making a trade for Brandon Marshall, as Chicago did, would be a big gamble for a team coming off a 2-14 season. Same with signing Randy Moss, as San Francisco did. Should the Rams have paid No. 1 wide receiver money to No. 2s or No. 3s like Josh Morgan or Mario Manningham? I say no.
The last several Super Bowl teams have drafted and developed wide receivers, or signed them as cheap free agents. The Giants drafted or signed undrafted Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Manningham. The Patriots signed Wes Welker and brought back Deion Branch on the cheap, and of course the key to their passing game is drafted tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Green Bay drafted Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones and Jordy Nelson. The Steelers drafted Hines Ward, Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. Arizona drafted their guys, New Orleans and Indianapolis did, too.
My point is that good teams draft and develop their guys. The Rams need to draft some players and develop them, and continue to develop Greg Salas, Austin Pettis and Danario Alexander. This is not a one-year project, so hopefully the players the Rams get this year will be ready to win a Super Bowl in 2013.
Believe it or not, Peyton Manning may become the most important person in the Rams’ offseason. You need to follow me here, but it’s fun. Manning already eliminated Arizona and Miami from his list of possibilities, leaving Denver, Tennessee and San Francisco as his three options.
Arizona has committed once again to Kevin Kolb, paying him a $7 million bonus to remain as their quarterback. Seattle signed Matt Flynn to be their quarterback, keeping him from going to Miami. So right now, teams looking for quarterbacks are Miami and Cleveland, with the Dolphins negotiating with last year’s 49ers quarterback, Alex Smith.
How does Manning come into play? If he chooses San Francisco, Smith definitely moves to Miami. If the Dolphins don’t need to take Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill in the draft, there’s no pressure on Cleveland to take Tannehill at No. 4 overall. If Tennessee gets Manning, they’ll likely cut Matt Hasselbeck, whose ties with Browns president Mike Holmgren would probably land him in Cleveland.
If Manning chooses Denver, the Rams are in business. Tennessee would keep Hasselbeck, and the 49ers would most certainly enhance their efforts to keep Smith. If those two quarterbacks stay put, Miami, with former A&M coach Mike Sherman as their offensive coordinator, would certainly enter the Tannehill market. With the Dolphins sitting at No. 8 eight, the pressure would be on Cleveland to take him at No. 4.
Observers believe Tannehill has a franchise quarterback’s skill set, but he has only 17 starts at the position. He was a wide receiver before being moved to quarterback. He could certainly shoot into the top 10, or even the top five, with a strong Pro Day.
The lynchpin is Manning. If he selects Denver, the Rams would have a chance to get Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State. Presumably, Minnesota would take Matt Kalil of Southern Cal third, Cleveland would take Tannehill, and Tampa Bay would take either Morris Claiborne of Louisiana State or Trent Richardson of Alabama, because they just spent $55 million on Jackson.
Here’s one more possibility for the Rams. Minnesota hasn’t been shy about their desire to trade the No. 3 pick. If they to, and that team trades up to get Tannehill, there’s no way Cleveland takes Kalil, because they have Joe Thomas. There’s little likelihood of Tampa Bay taking Kalil, because they spent big money on their left tackle, Donald Penn, last offseason. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that if Minnesota moves the third pick, Kalil could be sitting there for the Rams at No. 6.
There’s a long ways to go before the draft, and there’s still moves to be made. There is a chance that the Rams will be able to fill their needs with impact players in this draft, and be great again in 2013.