Rams Must Mine Free-Agent Market and Keep Their Own

With $10.645 million in cap space available as NFL free agency gets underway, the Rams have some difficult choices to make. Where do they try to make a splash? Who should stay, and who should go? And with those moves, where are the Rams best positioned to make a move on draft day?

Let’s start with their own free agents. The Rams would, as Jeff Fisher said at the end of the season, love to keep them all. But in today’s NFL, that simply isn’t possible. The franchise must make some choices. There aren’t many players in the league who can play all four defensive line positions effectively, and get to the passer, like William Hayes can. He should be a priority.

It would be nice to bring Steven Jackson back, but the plan would be for him to share time with last year’s rookies, Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson. For his part, SJ39 sounds like someone who doesn’t want to share time.

“For where I’m at, going into Year 10, I’m not ready to step back and just become a primary backup or a reduced role guy to be part of a running back by committee,” Jackson said Thursday on Sirius XM NFL Radio. “I still have a lot left in my tank. I still have a lot left to offer to a team. We’re not talking about someone that’s in Year 12 or 13.”

He added on the radio show that “I have opted out of my position of being with the team and being comfortable because I want to continue to still be the bell cow. So that’s how I want teams to look at me.”

It doesn’t appear as if, philosophically, Jackson and the Rams are on the same page. And that’s fine. They can put Terrance Ganaway into the competition, and draft a running back to look at, too.

Defensive backs Craig Dahl and Bradley Fletcher are as good as gone, and linebackers Mario Haggan and Rocky McIntosh are replaceable parts that the Rams can bring back late in free agency. It’ll be interesting to see what Robert Turner commands on the market. Barry Richardson gave the Rams more than they could have expected last year, but upgrades are available in-house.

That brings us to wide receiver Danny Amendola, who is a huge part of the offense when he’s healthy. But in the last two years, Amendola has missed virtually all 16 games in 2011 and basically seven games in 2012. How much value does a player who’s been available for nine of the last 32 games have? For the Rams, it should be higher than other teams. So, let’s bring Amendola and Hayes back.

So where should the Rams make a splash? The draft is deep in offensive linemen and safeties, doesn’t appear to have a surefire superstar wide receiver and lacks real outside linebacker quality. There are two top-flight tight ends, and then that position falls off.

The Rams have already invested in and like Brian Quick and Chris Givens. If you bring back Amendola, you have your top four receivers when Austin Pettis is added. They like their young tackles, and good free-agent ones are expensive. It looks as though the Falcons are intent upon keeping William Moore with a big contract, and he wants to return there. Plus, the Rams can definitely find a safety in the second or third round of the draft.

That brings us to tight end. The Rams have one playmaker at that position in Lance Kendricks and clearly need another one. While Tyler Eifert of Notre Dame and Zach Ertz of Stanford both have special qualities, the Rams may desire a safety and a guard with their first-round picks.

So a tight end in free agency is the most logical position to target. And the one to target is a guy who got his start and played for Jeff Fisher in Tennessee, Jared Cook. He’s 6’5”, 248 pounds, and has averaged 13.1 yards per catch in four NFL seasons. Plus, he’s only 25, turning 26 on April 7. He shouldn’t cost as much as Moore or wide receivers Mike Wallace or Greg Jennings, and obviously fits in with what the Rams like to do on offense.

Breaking it down, if the money is right and the cap situation allows, Cook should be the guy the Rams bring to the Continuity X training center on Tuesday and don’t let leave without a contract.