Wednesday, March 13, 2013

St. Louis Rams Free Agent Report Card - A Guest Article for SBNation

 The St. Louis Rams hit the free agent market harder than I would have thought, given their small-ish salary cap situation. But with some free agents testing the market for their services, and strategic players being released, they gained the money needed to have a wild - for the Rams - shopping spree.
  In the lead up to the first day of free agency, not many fans really know what their teams have on their needs lists. The same held true for Rams fans, and it turned out a tight end was at the top of head coach Jeff Fisher's wish list. They've taken a stab at the safety position too, but I'm not sure they've found the right guy yet. Let's assume for the sake of this article that Miami offensive tackle Jake Long is signed by the Rams. taking this into account, I'm going to rate St. Louis' 2013 free agent class so far;

Jake Long, OT - This is one of those signings that will be incredibly great, or cause for lynching parties to form by mid-season. Jake Long came into the NFL as a #1 overall draft pick in 2008 by the Miami Dolphins. He's had a terrific career, but in the last few seasons he's begun to show the wear. I've been reminded by a few that his record for missed games due to injury is impressively small. Great, but let's not forget however well he's played through pain in the first few years of his career, he's an NFL offensive lineman. They get beat up by huge defensive ends, tackles and linebackers. It take a toll. Early last season I had the chance to read some of the Dolphin fans' thoughts in a few comment threads at "the Phinsider". What I remember most is how they ganged up on Long for being injured? Really? here's a look at his games played stats. What do you think?

courtesy of NFL.com

OFFENSIVE LINE
YearTeamGGS
2012Miami Dolphins1212
2011Miami Dolphins1414
2010Miami Dolphins1616
2009Miami Dolphins1616
2008Miami Dolphins1616
TOTAL7474

For three straight years he played every game, but in 2011 and '12 he missed a total of 6 games. While this isn't evidence of a possible decline in his ability or durability, I'm sure this small trend is why his medical check with the St. Louis Rams took the entire day on Wednesday. Twitter mentions said he was put through his paces by the Rams' training staff, and this may have to do with testing his strength after tearing his Triceps muscle last season.  The bottom line here is the only red flag I can find on his signing is his health, or possible lack of it. The Rams have been cursed by offensive line injuries, so I'm a bit shocked Jeff Fisher and Les Snead opted for a veteran linemen, and not staying with the evident trend of building through the NFL Draft. All in all, there's risked inherent with any free agent signing. The Rams' needs on the offensive line aren't a secret. Kudos to the Rams' front office for their aggressive approach to solving the problem. I give this acquisition a solid: B+

Jared Cook, TE - This one kind of puzzled me. Don't get me wrong, I think the rams can use as many offensive weapons as they can afford. But the amount of money thrown at Cook - $35.1 million, for 5 years/$16 million guaranteed - seemed really, well... HUGE? This isn't a guy who ranked at the top of tight end ranking last season, and has been known to drop a pass on occasion. I love his skill set, with his ability to to compete as a wide receiver as well as Tight end. He's shown a talent for highlight reel catches too. The third round pick out of South Carolina in 2009 doesn't have one of those "Wow!" stat lines either. Let's take a look courtesy of NFL.com.


RECEIVING
YearTeamGRecYdsAvgYds/GLngTD20+40+1stFUM
2012Tennessee Titans134452311.940.261T481241
2011Tennessee Titans164975915.547.480T3112342
2010Tennessee Titans162936112.422.636160180
2009Tennessee Titans149748.25.31700050
TOTAL591311,71713.129.1808253813

The most impressive statistic for Cook is his yards after catch. Combines with his size - 6'5", 348 lbs. - as well a 4.4-ish speed, he offers a unique skills package the rams' offensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer, could really take advantage on in the NFC West. This is a guy who matches up well against the hyper-sized defensive backs their division rivals now employ. I give this acquisition a solid: B+

William Hayes, DT/DE - Is re-signing a player, who took a flyer at free agency, worth acknowledgement as a signing? I think it is. Hayes was an enormous part of the Rams defensive success in 2012. He register 7 sacks, but more importantly became a key player who could move among the defensive line positions and excel as he did so.


Courtesy of NFL.com

CAREER STATSMORE
SeasonTeamTacklesInterceptionsFumbles
GGSCombTotalAstSckSFTYPDefIntYdsAvgLngTDsFF
2012St. Louis Rams160352967.0--1----0.0----0
2011Tennessee Titans101161151.5--0----0.0----0
2010Tennessee Titans140322571.5--0----0.0----1
2009Tennessee Titans16115131204.0--0----0.0----2
2008Tennessee Titans80131031.0--1----0.0----1
TOTAL1471064115.00200--004


His new contract seems down right affordable by NFL standards - 3 years, $10.5 million, $3.75 million of it in a signing bonus. "Cap friendly" is a term that comes to mind. The 4th round pick in 2008 out of Winston-Salem State is small by most NFL defensive end standards. At 6'3", 273 lbs, he's shown an ability only Jeff Fisher - who drafted him for the Tennessee Titans - would know is there. To me, these are the guys who take a defense from being an also-ran, to greatness. These are the kind of guys the Pittsburgh Steelers have made their stock in trade for years - small school, huge ceiling players with zero fear on the football field. I give this re-acquisition a big time: A