After the Seattle Seahawks won Super Bowl XLVIII, all 32 teams officially entered the offseason and started plotting how they could position themselves for a shot at Super Bowl XLIX. Shutdown Corner will look at the offseason blueprint for each of the 32 NFL teams, presenting one team a day (using the 2014 draft order, starting with the Houston Texans and finishing with the Seahawks), leading you right up to the start of free agency on March 11.
ST. LOUIS RAMS
2013 record: 7-9
Projected current salary-cap space (according to Spotrac): $1.1 million
Key free agents: OL Rodger Saffold, QB Kellen Clemens, LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar
Possible salary-cap casualties: C Scott Wells, G Harvey Dahl, DT Kendall Langford, CB Cortland Finnegan, QB Sam Bradford
Draft situation: Own the second and 13th picks of the first round. The second overall pick comes from the Redskins in the Robert Griffin III trade. Also have an extra seventh-round pick, in addition to all their own picks.
Revisiting 2013: The Rams had a really odd season. They seemed to be gaining some momentum after a mediocre start, and were 3-3 going into Carolina. The Rams lost that game and lost Bradford too, to a season-ending torn ACL. While it seemed the Rams were in a lot of trouble with journeyman backup Kellen Clemens the rest of the year, the team went 4-5 with him and thoroughly beat good teams like the Colts, Bears and Saints during that stretch, and completely outplayed the eventual champion Seahawks on a Monday night but somehow didn't win. They were as up and down as any team in the NFL this season. The fact that the team played at least as well under Clemens might not be a great endorsement of Bradford's ability, but Bradford apologists will point to the tweaks in the offense and the entire team playing well in the second half. And the emergence of rookies Tavon Austin and Zac Stacy and a fantastic defense were obviously factors late in the year. We'll discuss Bradford in a bit, because he's the biggest wild card the franchise has right now.
Reasons for optimism: While it's a quarterback league and that position seems to be holding the Rams back (again, we'll get to that in a moment), the Robert Griffin III trade seems to be a winner for the Rams. They'll draft second this year with Washington's pick, and it's easy to see them moving that pick and gaining even more draft assets. The roster is very strong thanks to that trade and some good draft picks. Defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn are devastating. Linebackers James Laurinaitis and Alec Ogletree are fantastic. Playmakers emerged on offense. This is a really good roster. Too bad it plays in the NFL's toughest division.
Glaring hole to fill: There are two ways to go here, and they've both been longstanding problems on this team. The Rams need some help at safety. Nothing new. T.J. McDonald broke his leg early in his rookie season last year. Perhaps he and a free-agent addition (Jairus Byrd?) can finally solidify that position. The offensive line might be in worse shape than safety. Left tackle Jake Long will be coming off a torn ACL. Saffold is a free agent who will get some interest. Wells and Dahl have big salary-cap figures that make their futures uncertain. That's a lot of of question marks for one position group. It seems obvious that the team will get some offensive line help through its two first-round picks.
Sam Bradford (USA Today Sports Images)Toughest decision: Here's where it gets tricky for the Rams. Bradford hasn't shown, in four seasons and 1,760 NFL passes, that he can be an above-average quarterback. He was having his best season last year before the knee injury, and maybe that's a sign of things to come. The fact that the Rams were more competitive with Clemens, who is definitely not above average, was certainly curious. The Rams are stuck making a hard choice. Bradford's cap hit this year would be more than $17 million, which is obviously way too much for a quarterback with his resume.
There have been conflicting reports about whether the Rams want to extend him or not. The team has gone out of its way this week to say Bradford is still their guy, although it's still unclear if an extension is in the works. If the Rams choose to not extend him (and wouldn't that be a leap of faith if they did give him another deal) and Bradford balks at reworking his deal without a significant extension, would the Rams release him? They have that option, no matter what has been said publicly, because they have the second overall pick of the draft and could start over at that position. The argument for keeping Bradford around is he once was the first overall pick and has had very little help or stability in his first four seasons, and perhaps he's ready to take a step forward having just turned 26. Then again, other teams have decided to invest huge money into quarterbacks who haven't shown they're necessarily in the top 10 at that position, hoping that the players fulfill undelivered promise in future years, which is an awful conundrum if you're an NFL team. What will the Rams end up doing? Would they really pay Bradford a huge base salary of about $14 million (and pass on a quarterback with the second overall pick) just to give him one more look? That seems unlikely. The choice they make might set the course of the franchise for the rest of the decade.
Best-case offseason scenario: St. Louis' perfect offseason happens if they find safety help, manage the offensive line issues and the quarterback issue gets settled. The latter could happen with either the Rams retaining Bradford at a salary-cap friendly price without investing a lot more guaranteed money in him like he's a franchise quarterback, or via the second pick of the draft. Either way, the Rams can use two of the top 13 picks to get much better, by trading down for even more picks (doesn't Atlanta, which has the sixth pick and could use Jadeveon Clowney in the worst way, make sense?), selecting a tackle and/or more receiver help or however they decide to play it. There is a lot of talent on the roster already, and there is ammunition to get even better. How the Rams play their cards this offseason will determine if they can be a legitimate threat to the Seahawks and 49ers.
Previous Blueprints: 32. Houston Texans; 31. Washington Redskins; 30. Jacksonville Jaguars; 29. Cleveland Browns; 28. Oakland Raiders; 27. Atlanta Falcons; 26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers; 25. Minnesota Vikings; 24. Buffalo Bills; 23. Detroit Lions; 22. Tennessee Titans; 21. New York Giants
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