The Rams were 3-4 in 7 games with Sam Bradford this season and 4-5 in 9 games after he tore his ACL, with Kellen Clemens under center. At first glance, it may appear that Sam Bradford and Kellen Clemens were comparable quarterbacks. That’s not the case though. Bradford actually had a very solid season before the injury, completing 60.7% of his passes for an average of 6.44 YPA, 14 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions. He displayed enough promise that it would made sense for the Rams to keep him at his large cap number, rather than starting over at the position with the 2nd overall pick. Kellen Clemens, meanwhile, completed 58.7% of his passes for an average of 6.91 YPA, 8 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions.
So why were they able to have a similar record with Clemens? Well, their defense improved significantly over the 2nd half of the season and Zac Stacy broke out as their lead back. Stacy rushed for 973 yards and 7 touchdowns on 250 carries, only a 3.9 yard per carry average, but he ran hard and consistently churned out positive yardage and helped them move the chains. They have two first round picks, so if they can continue to run well and play solid defense in 2014 and Sam Bradford continues to develop and stays healthy, this team could compete for a playoff spot next season.
That being said, the Rams do have some issues. They don’t have a lot of cap space after several consecutive off-seasons in which they signed several free agents to multi-year deals, including guys like Cortland Finnegan, Kendall Langford, Jake Long, Scott Wells, Jake Long, and Harvey Dahl. They’ve also re-signed their own guys like James Laurinaitis and Chris Long and of course Sam Bradford has a large cap number. They’ll be able to get some cap space pretty easily by cutting some underachieving veterans, but they’ll need to replace them and they still would only have enough cap space to cheap sign free agents, sign their draft picks, and retain a few of their free agents. On top of that, they play in the deepest division in football. They could be a solid football team going into 2014 and still be the worst team in their division.
The Rams desperately need to re-build their offensive line. Of their starting 5 on the offensive line last year, two are free agents (Chris Williams, Rodger Saffold), two will likely be cap casualties (Harvey Dahl, Scott Wells), and the other (Jake Long) tore his ACL in December and his status will be in doubt for the start of next season. Guard is their biggest need as they’ll basically have nothing at the position once they undoubtedly release Harvey Dahl.
Like Dahl, Scott Wells will undoubtedly be a cap casualty this off-season. They don’t have a replacement on the roster and would need to find one if that happens.
The Rams lost both of their starting safeties from 2012 this off-season and didn’t really replace either, only reaching for TJ McDonald in the 3rd round. McDonald was hurt and the duo of Darian Stewart and Rodney McLeod was very underwhelming. They’ll probably address this position in the first round of the draft.
This is another position of need on the offensive line and where they could go with the first of two first round picks. Best case scenario, Long comes back healthy week 1, they re-sign Rodger Saffold to play right guard, where he was excellent to end the season, and Jake Matthews slots in at right tackle. Drafting an offensive tackle also gives them flexibility in case Long misses time.
The Rams gave Cortland Finnegan a 5-year, 50 million dollar deal before the 2012 season, but this was not what they imagined. After a down year in 2012, Finnegan was downright awful thus far this season, grading out as the 2nd worst cornerback in the NFL on Pro Football Focus, allowing 26 of 34 for 353 yards and 4 touchdowns, and an interception, while committing 6 penalties this season. He also missed 9 games and played just 367 snaps thanks to injury. He’ll probably be cut this off-season. That would leave them with 2012 2nd and 3rd round picks Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson at the position. Both are decent, but they need a 3rd cornerback.
The Rams have brought in a bevy of wide receivers over the past few drafts, but the results have been a mixed bag at best. Tavon Austin caught just 40 passes as a rookie, which is nothing to be worried about with a rookie wide receiver, but still. Chris Givens had a strong rookie year, but struggled as the #1 guy in 2013. Austin Pettis is just a depth receiver. Brian Quick has yet to develop as a 2012 2nd round pick. Do they add someone else in the mix this off-season?
Is Sam Bradford the quarterback of the future? Can he win you a Super Bowl? The Rams will have those questions weighing heavily on their mind over the next couple of off-seasons as Bradford has missed 15 games in the past 3 seasons and has yet to establish himself as an above average quarterback in the NFL. He’s also owed 27 million in cash over the next 2 seasons. They’re probably not going to move on from him this off-season, as they shouldn’t, but they may want to bring in a backup with some upside for the future in case Bradford continues to be a mystery.
Key Free Agents
OT Rodger Saffold
Rodger Saffold is a solid offensive lineman, but he has missed 17 games in the past 3 seasons, maxing out at 621 snaps over those 3 seasons. He’s a decent offensive tackle, but his best position is probably right guard, where he was borderline dominant to finish last season. The Rams should view him as a talented, but injury prone right guard and pay him accordingly. The guard position isn’t as lucrative as offensive tackle though, so someone will probably overpay for him. Hopefully for the Rams’ sake, it’s not them.
QB Kellen Clemens
Kellen Clemens proved himself to be a solid backup quarterback this season, game managing the Rams to a few nice wins, while completing 58.7% of his passes for an average of 6.91 YPA, 8 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions. His career numbers haven’t been good, as he’s completed 54.5% of his passes for an average of 6.36 YPA, 15 touchdowns, and 20 interceptions in his career, but he’ll continue getting work as a backup this off-season.
G Chris Williams
A massive bust in Chicago as the 14th overall pick of the 2008 NFL Draft, Williams resurfaced this season as a starter in St. Louis, starting 16 games at left guard. However, he struggled once again, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 74th ranked guard out of 81 eligible. The Rams need to take this opportunity to upgrade the position. Williams should not be pursued as a starter by any team this off-season and should struggle to find more than a one year deal. He’s best as a reserve. He has versatility in that he’s spent significant time at 3 different positions (left tackle, left guard, and right tackle), but he’s struggled everywhere and the only reason he’s played so many different positions is that he’s never been able to establish himself at any position.
S Darian Stewart
Darian Stewart was a starter for the Rams during their awful 2011 season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 5th worst ranked safety that season and got demoted for 2012, playing just 82 snaps. In 2013, he got another chance to be a starter and, while he didn’t struggle as much, he still proved himself not to be a starting caliber player and got benched after 6 starts. He should be looking at reserve work on a short-term deal this off-season. The Rams could do better.
OLB JoLonn Dunbar
JoLonn Dunbar was a 3 down linebacker for the Rams in 2012, but struggled in coverage and proved he was more suited for two-down work and being a run stopping specialist. The Rams drafted Alec Ogletree in the first round in 2013 to move Dunbar into that two-down role. He eventually got suspended for performance enhancing drugs and cut by the Rams, before eventually being brought back. After that, he ended up struggling on 425 snaps in a part-time role. The market for mediocre two-down outside linebackers with a PED history is not going to be very big.
Cap Casualty Candidates
CB Cortland Finnegan
The Rams gave Cortland Finnegan a 5-year, 50 million dollar deal before the 2012 season, but this was not what they imagined. After a down year in 2012, Finnegan was downright awful thus far this season, grading out as the 2nd worst cornerback in the NFL on Pro Football Focus, allowing 26 of 34 for 353 yards and 4 touchdowns, and an interception, while committing 6 penalties this season. He also missed 9 games and played just 367 snaps thanks to injury. They can save 4 million on the cap by cutting him this off-season.
C Scott Wells
Scott Wells has missed 13 games out of a possible 32 games over the past 2 seasons, since signing a 4 year, 24 million dollar deal before the 2012 season. He’s also struggled whenever he’s been on the field. The Rams can save 4.5 million on the cap by cutting him as he heads into his age 33 season this off-season. He’s probably gone.
G Harvey Dahl
Harvey Dahl could be cut going into the 4th season of his 5-year deal. He’s missed 9 games over the past 2 seasons, including 7 last season and he isn’t as good as he once was at the start of the deal. He’s also going into his age 33 season in 2014. The Rams would save 4 million on the cap by cutting him this off-season.
QB Sam Bradford
Sam Bradford’s cap number for 2014 is 17.61 million and the Rams can save 10.42 million on the cap by cutting him. Considering he’s missed 15 games over the past 3 seasons combined and has yet to develop into the franchise quarterback he was drafted to be and he is being paid to be, there’s some talk over whether or not the Rams should cut him and draft a cheaper quarterback 2nd overall. I think that would be a mistake. Bradford actually had a very solid season before tearing his ACL, completing 60.7% of his passes for an average of 6.44 YPA, 14 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions. He displayed enough promise that it would made sense for the Rams to keep him, rather than starting over at the position. There’s no guarantee they’d be upgrading the quarterback position with a rookie and you never want to downgrade the quarterback position. Fortunately, the Rams appear highly unlikely to move on from Bradford this off-season.