It’s hard to knock Jeff Fisher and Les Snead for their approach to free agency this offseason. They’ve been patient, have added excellent defensive depth with the signings of Nick Fairley and Akeem Ayers, and best of all they haven’t overspent like they’ve done in the recent past.
Now, if they could just use that same approach on the other side of the ball.
With a month to go before the draft, it’s shocking the Rams still have three openings along their offensive line. The signings of Garrett Reynolds and Tim Barnes provided depth, but neither are starting options on a team that needs to end its playoff drought next season. While I applaud Fisher and Snead for not allowing themselves to be forced into overpaying for veterans, I’m getting anxious about what their current lack of activity could mean for the near future.
The signings of Fairley and Ayers allow the Rams to not reach for a defensive tackle or outside linebacker in the draft. Clearly they felt the need to bolster the depth at those positions, so they added inexperienced veterans that still have upside.
Well done. But what about the offensive line?
Fisher told ESPN’s Nick Wagoner something telling last week at the owners meetings in Phoenix, saying “It’s either money or ideal fit” in relation to signing free agents.
His comment indicates guys like Stefen Wisniewski, Joe Barksdale and Justin Blalock either severely overestimated their free agent value or the Rams don’t believe they’re a fit. While I can’t see any reason why those three players aren’t fits for St. Louis, I can understand if Fisher and Snead are waiting for one or two of the linemen to come down on their asking price.
That said, we’re only a month away from the draft and the Rams spent the past month freeing up cap space. With just more than $10 million in available cap space, there’s no reason the team can’t sign at least one of those available free agents without feeling they’re overspending.
There’s a possibility the Rams are comfortable allowing Barnes to compete with Barrett Jones and Demetrius Rhaney at center. While they’d be rolling the dice on an unproven player, if the starting center emerges from that group, the only open spots along the offensive line to address between now and the draft is right tackle and left guard. Still, the team would need to sign at least one free agent before they’re on the clock next month.
The best case scenario is that the Rams figure out a way to sign two capable starters along the O-line in free agency, then head into the draft with the approach that they’re going to take the best player available. Winning teams usually don’t reach for needs: They draft the best talent that fits their philosophy, then trust that the coaching staff will figure out the best way to use said talent. Addressing needs is for free agency, while the draft is for building a young core that allows you to have sustained success.
The Rams have done an excellent job with this philosophy on defense, but their approach on the other side of the ball has left them dangerously thin at some positions, including O-line.
If they sign two free agents, they could head into the draft and set themselves up to take the best player at No. 10, whether that’s Amari Cooper, Kevin White, their top offensive lineman or defensive back.
If they sign one free agent offensive linemen or worse yet, no free agent O-linemen, now they’re basically forcing themselves into drafting a certain position. That’s when reaches happen.
Fisher and Snead have a much better grasp on the free agent market than I do. They could be waiting for a price drop to occur so that they can pounce and sign multiple free agents at bargain deals. I just hope we’ll see their patience rewarded and they’ll be able to fill their needs well ahead of the draft.