Rams free agents: Should they stay or should they go?
ST. LOUIS — The Rams know they’ll have to bring in some new faces to fill holes and make improvements to a fairly solid core this offseason. And while they figure to cast a wide net when the NFL’s free agency period begins Tuesday, some roster solutions might already have a spot in the Rams’ locker room.
They have some intriguing restricted free agents in quarterback Austin Davis, tight end Cory Harkey and safety Rodney McLeod, all of whom made significant contributions last season. It wouldn’t be too difficult to keep all three, and it could be the wise choice depending on the team’s other offseason moves.
But the bigger question for St. Louis will be what to do with its eight unrestricted free agents, four of whom finished 2014 as starters on offense. Of course, that group didn’t exactly put up numbers to make general manager Les Snead and coach Jeff Fisher want to maintain the status quo, so let’s take a closer look at which players deserve a raise and which ones should be allowed to walk.
• Kenny Britt, WR. The decision to take a chance on Britt for a year could hardly have worked out better for the Rams.
He caught a career-high 48 passes for 748 yards and three touchdowns, establishing himself as Shaun Hill’s clear No. 1 threat in the second half of the season after an injury to Brian Quick. More important, Britt showed no signs of the off-the-field issues that led to eight arrests during his five-year tenure with the Tennessee Titans.
In some ways, the 26-year-old even stepped up to become a leader for a young receiving corps, demonstrating a huge growth in his maturity level.
At 6-foot-3, 223 pounds, Britt offers a special blend of size and athleticism the Rams won’t be able to find in many places, particularly if Quick doesn’t recover fully from a separated shoulder. Britt wants to stay in St. Louis with his former coach at Tennessee, and the Rams shouldn’t hesitate to offer some more money and job security with a longer contract.
• Joe Barksdale, OT. Offensive line questions are a little trickier, and Barksdale may be the most difficult of all.
The 26-year-old may have been the strongest and most reliable part of a weak offensive line, which struggled all season to protect its quarterback and establish a consistent run game. Barksdale started 16 games for the first time in his career, though his performance hardly made him a rising star or a player the Rams can’t afford to lose.
Particularly if Jake Long doesn’t return, Barksdale could be quite useful on a line that will almost certainly be bolstered by draft picks and other free agents. The Rams will have to pay a lot more than the $510,000 Barksdale averaged over his first four seasons, but keeping him on board at the right price looks like a smart choice.
• Davin Joseph, G. This one should be a little easier.
St. Louis signed Joseph, who got cut by Tampa Bay last spring, to a one-year, $1.1 million contract to provide depth, and injuries forced him into a starting role almost immediately. The 31-year-old looked overmatched in virtually all of his 13 starts and provided little reason to believe he’ll improve.
The only benefits to keeping Joseph would be for his veteran locker room presence, but even then it’s not as if he has a wealth of playoff experience, having played only one postseason game with the Buccaneers. The Rams would be better off cutting their ties and searching for better options in the free-agent market and draft.
• Shaun Hill, QB. Few backup quarterbacks in the NFL find success or have the capability to maintain a consistent level of play after their team loses its starter.
Hill certainly lived up to his reputation as a career backup, even as he showed why he’s lasted so long in the league with his professionalism and work ethic. On occasion Hill can make some plays and win games, but he has his limitations and can be prone to costly mistakes.
Clearly, St. Louis wants to find a reliable backup for Sam Bradford, and Hill probably doesn’t quite reach that standard. Even Davis may have more potential heading into his fourth season, which would make it time to let Hill find a new home.
• Lance Kendricks, TE. Tight end may well have been the most reliable position for the St. Louis offense last season.
Jared Cook turned in another solid year with a team-high 52 catches for 634 yards, and Kendricks improved as a red-zone threat to catch a team-high five touchdown passes. Both have said they provide complementary roles for the Rams, and if St. Louis could afford to keep them together, this would be a no-brainer.
But the reality of the salary cap means one may have to go, and Cook’s downfield capabilities make him the better option. Kendricks deserves a significant raise on the four-year, $4.2 million contract he signed after the Rams drafted him 47th overall in 2011, and if another team steps up to the plate, St. Louis shouldn’t try to compete.
• The other three. Defensive lineman Alex Carrington, linebacker Will Herring and offensive lineman Mike Person count little against the cap and might be worth keeping around in reserve roles.