This is going to be a busy time for the Rams’ front office, but for the second consecutive year, luck seems to be on their side as they pursue personnel.
There’s no doubt that when the Rams went 3-13 in 2007 and 2-14 in 2008 that the cards didn’t exactly fall their way. While Chris Long and Jason Smith have been solid additions to the roster, the Rams didn’t have a shot at a playmaker like Calvin Johnson or Reggie Bush, who went second overall the two years before the Rams had the second pick, or Ndamukong Suh, who was selected second the year after they had their No. 2 overall picks.
But the worm turned when the Rams had the top pick, and were able to get Sam Bradford. After that, they got tackle Rodger Saffold last year, and added Fred Robbins in free agency. In addition to Long and Smith, linebacker James Laurinaitis, cornerback Bradley Fletcher and tight end Michael Hoomanawanui arrived as draft picks, Danny Amendola came from Philadelphia’s practice squad and Danario Alexander was fortuitously not drafted and signed with St. Louis.
Now, after an offseason lockout, free agency begins and the Rams are in position to take advantage of a market that looks like it caters to their needs. While many clubs will have to take care of priorities at quarterback, defensive end or cornerback, the Rams will be trying to sign from an overcrowded running back crop, trying to find a defensive tackle to pair with Robbins, looking for a sturdy weakside linebacker and a safety to replace Oshiomogho Atogwe. And if the right value is there at wide receiver, they can fish in those waters, as well.
The best fit for the Rams as a complement to Steven Jackson is former Charger Darren Sproles. Not that there won’t be a market for Sproles, but when you look around there don’t seem to be many contenders looking for a third-down back/kick returner. Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Cincinnati could all be in the market, as could Tampa Bay. But Sproles is sure to be joined on the market by Reggie Bush, who will likely be cut by New Orleans, Jason Snelling and Jerious Norwood of Atlanta, Ronnie Brown of Miami, and Cadillac Williams of Tampa Bay. There are going to be more running backs than there are good jobs available, so the Rams should be able to flourish there.
At defensive tackle, the Giants’ Barry Cofield sticks out like an obvious sore thumb. He played for Steve Spagnuolo in New York, and Robbins is one of his best friends. He’ll draw lots of interest, but being with familiar faces in an ascending situation would seem attractive. The quality falls off sharply after Cofield, but the Rams could get good use out of a guy like Shaun Cody of Houston or Seattle’s Brandon Mebane.
Outside linebacker presents somewhat of a problem, but let’s take a look at history. When Spagnuolo coordinated the Giants’ Super Bowl defense in 2007, his starting outside linebackers were Reggie Torbor and Kawika Mitchell, a pair not exactly compared with Lawrence Taylor and Carl Banks. The Eagles’ defense that Spagnuolo was with in 2004 had Mark Simoneau and Dhani Jones as the outside guys. Spagnuolo has pointed out several times now that his system is predicated on having a great middle linebacker, and great perimeter players … defensive ends and cornerbacks. So, available outside linebackers like Chase Blackburn of the Giants, Rocky McIntosh of Washington, Ernie Sims of the Eagles, James Anderson of Carolina, Mitchell, now of the Saints, oft-injured David Thornton of Tennessee or Thomas Howard of the Raiders would seem to fit the bill.
There are interesting choices at safety in the NFC East. For richer tastes, Quintin Mikell of the Eagles, for the moderate, Reed Doughty of Washington, and for the bargain shopper, Michael Johnson of the Giants.
If there’s money left over for a receiver, and the Rams are going to have a difficult time cutting now from among Donnie Avery, Mark Clayton, Danario Alexander, Danny Amendola, Dominique Curry, Austin Pettis, Greg Salas, Brandon Gibson and Mardy Gilyard, there are choices. If you’re going to spend a lot of money at that position, you want a healthy, untarnished, low mileage star. Santonio Holmes has drug and suspension issues. Sidney Rice is coming off of hip surgery that kept him out of the first half of last season. Steve Smith of the Giants had microfracture surgery on his left knee. Randy Moss is diminished and Plaxico Burress hasn’t played in two years. Unless Rice gets an absolutely clean bill of health, I don’t give big money to a wide receiver.
There will be attractive options for the Rams, who because of Bradford are an attractive destination in the NFL. I’ll be interested to see how they execute over the next 10 days.