Free Agency Primer: NFC West
St. Louis Rams
• Key free agents: QB Kellen Clemens, OL Rodger Saffold, G Chris Williams, LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar, LB Will Witherspoon,
• Players St. Louis needs back: Saffold, Williams
In St. Louis’ revolving-door offensive line, Saffold and Williams were fairly reliable, at least — Saffold held it down at three positions, and Williams was the only Rams lineman to start all 16 games. They should be relatively low-cost options for the near future as the team works to improve other positions of priority.
• Players St. Louis should let walk: Clemens, Witherspoon, Dunbar
Given Sam Bradford’s injury history, the Rams will either move on and find a younger quarterback, or try it one more time. Either way, a better backup quarterback will be required — the Rams are too close to contention to allow games to get away from them via the game’s most important position. Witherspoon and Dunbar are easily replaceable cogs, especially given the way head coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead develop defensive talent.
• Outlook: Like the Cardinals, the Rams are trying to find a way to kick it up a notch in a brutal division. And because they’re so solid in so many other areas, the decision made at quarterback with this team could very well turn the NFC West’s balance of power sooner than later.
• Key free agents: WR Golden Tate, DE Michael Bennett, K Stephen Hauschka, DT Tony McDaniel, DT Clinton McDonald, CB Walter Thurmond, QB Tarvaris Jackson, OLB O’Brien Schofield, FB Michael Robinson, OT Breno Giacomini, OL Paul McQuistan
• Players Seattle needs back: Tate, Bennett, Hauschka, McDaniel, McDonald, Jackson, Robinson, Thurmond, Schofield
Tate and Bennett are known priorities for the Seahawks this offseason — Tate as the speed slot guy and return man who adds a great deal to the passing game, and Bennett as the one-year player who far exceeded everyone’s expectations. Thought to be a swing tackle by head coach Pete Carroll at first, Bennett became a major inside/outside force in the NFL’s best defense. McDaniel and McDonald were valuable reserve players inside, and their talents are perfectly suited to the schemes set up by head coach Pete Carroll and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. Jackson is an ideal backup to Russell Wilson — comfortable in his role and respected by everyone in the locker room. Robinson has those same qualifications, and he provides veteran leadership for a very young team. Thurmond is good enough to play outside corner in this defense if he can stay healthy — the question is whether some other team will come calling with more money than Seattle is willing to give up.
• Players Seattle should let walk: Giacomini, McQuistan
Both Giacomini and McQuistan have been tough guys with a lot of starts, but Seattle’s offensive line has underperformed over the last few seasons, with the exception of center Max Unger and left tackle Russell Okung. They now need better players in the other spots if they wish to defend their Super Bowl title with everything they’ve got.
• Outlook: Carroll and general manager John Schneider have established one of the most appealing environments in the NFL — a winning franchise with top-level facilities in which players are encouraged to be themselves, even if that works to the team’s detriment at times. As long as the discipline holds out and Seattle is able to alleviate some short-term salary cap concerns, this is a team built to ride the high wave for a good long time.