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A Look Ahead to Five Key 2007 Free Agents
The date is August 10th. The Rams are playing their first pre-season game today against the Indianapolis Colts. Anyone watching the game will likely get a very watered down contest between two teams whose primary and perhaps only goal is to get off the field healthy. The roster is not down to 53 players, nor will be for another few weeks. The first regular season game still seems ages away.
Yet here I am, talking about 2007?
That's right. Because if the Rams front office is at all competent in how to successfully run a professional franchise, which really is quite debatable depending on who you talk to, then they're already thinking about 2007 as well. Not in the sense that 2006 is a throw-away season, but from another standpoint. A free agent standpoint.
We're a little over half a year away from the start of the 2007 free agency period, but there are a number of important contracts the Rams should already have on their table, important decisions that the Rams need to heavily consider as soon as possible.
5) Travis Fisher: Will Jerametrius Butler show that he’s back to full form after missing all of last season? Is Fakhir Brown the player that Jim Haslett thinks he is? How quickly will Tye Hill become acclimated to the NFL? These are the kinds of questions that have allowed Travis Fisher to stay on the team to date, and will likely keep him a Ram through 2006. But what about after this season? Barring any catastrophic events that affect the futures of Butler, Brown, and Hill, Travis Fisher would likely enter 2007 as the Rams’ dime cornerback. Not important, you say? Consider that with the offensive firepower most teams now try to utilize, the nickel package is seeing more and more time on the field. The importance of a strong dime cornerback should not be overlooked, not only because of what he brings to the dime package but also because of the depth he brings should one of the three players above him become hurt. And frankly, I would take Travis Fisher in this role every day of the week over DeJuan Groce or Dwight Anderson. Fisher’s contract status will likely depend both on playing time and health, but if the Rams can get him to agree to a moderate contract extension, having a former starter in the dime role will certainly benefit the secondary as a whole.
4) Tony Hargrove: When people say this is a make or break year for Tony Hargrove, they mean it. It came as somewhat of a surprise to me that Hargrove was facing a contract year this season, if only because he’s always been a bit of a project due to the playing time he missed in college, and accordingly probably could have been signed to a four-year deal to better the chances of him meeting his goals by the time his contract ran out. Unfortunately, those goals have not been met. While Hargrove has shown flashes of ability, there’s a reason it’s called a flash rather than a constant bright light. Hargrove’s inconsistency could be attributed to that inexperience we’ve known about for years, but it’s put up or shut up time for the young end. There’s no excuse for him not to produce this season, now that the interior of the line has been upgraded to try and take pressure off of the ends. Rams faithful have been waiting for another pass-rush option whose last name isn’t “Little.” If Hargrove finally delivers and shows that he’s got what it takes to be a starter in this league, get that boy an ink pen and slap the contract down in front of him immediately, because the last thing we need to see is our third starting defensive end in four years walk out of town because we wouldn’t shell out the dough. However, if Hargrove doesn’t produce in year three, then it’s time to start looking at the market to find someone else that can not only provide pressure from the end position but someone who could potentially become the Rams premiere pass rusher when our #3 name calls it quits.
3) Leonard Little: Yes, here is that #3 name I was referring to. Kind of hard to gauge where Leonard Little should be placed on the list, but personally I think this is a satisfactory location. Little was at his peak in Lovie Smith’s Cover 2 defensive scheme from 2001-2003, and though his production dropped off during the Larry Marmie era – whose didn’t? – Little remains one of the Rams’ best defensive players. But with his 32nd birthday on the way this October, how much more can the Rams expect out of Leonard Little? Is it a smart move to depend on this early 30s defensive end as one of our defensive cornerstones? My answer, why not? The guy is still producing at a high level, registering nearly ten sacks and four forced fumbles last season. At 34-years-old, Michael Strahan is still getting the job done in New York, partially thanks to the attention being taken away from him by other dangerous players. There’s absolutely no reason to think that, with some help from his teammates, Leonard Little isn’t going to continue being productive. So with that said, the sooner you get Little signed to a 2-3 year contract, the better. You don’t need to break the bank on this guy, and a long-term deal for someone of his age is out of the question. But a moderately priced contract for the next three seasons will be ideal for the Rams, because it will allow Little to continue producing as he nears the end of his career as the Rams look for his replacement (or groom Adeyanju to fill that role, if you believe he’s the man).
2) Pisa Tinoisamoa: It killed me not to put Pisa on the top of this list, but I have my reasons. First, the Rams have two potential weak-side linebackers on their roster already. Will Witherspoon could shift to the outside, filling a role he’s more than qualified to occupy. Also, the Rams drafted Jon Alston as a potential weak-side candidate who has the athletic ability to run freely and terrorize the opposition. However, having promising back-up plans certainly does not lessen the value of your primary option. Pisa Tinoisamoa has emerged as one of the highlights of the Rams defensive units. He’s far from perfect, but does nothing but give his all on every down. Over the past two seasons, Tinoisamoa has accumulated nearly 200 tackles and has become one of the clear leaders on this defense. The speed combination between he and Will Witherspoon is one that will likely be a strength to the new Rams defense in 2006. But not only has Tinoisamoa proven his worth by his own actions, but also consider how difficult a job the Rams have had trying to find adequate linebackers in recent years. Tommy Polley, Jamie Duncan, Robert Thomas, Chris Claiborne, Dexter Coakley. The Rams aren’t exactly known for their incredible talent at linebacker, so when a good player comes along at that position, it’s vital the Rams find a way to keep him around. Fans still have yet to be convinced that the Rams have adequately replaced London Fletcher, though signing Witherspoon this season was the best attempt yet by the organization. However, will the Rams struggle in a similar way should they let Tinoisamoa leave? There’s no guarantee Alston will work out, and the Rams may be content with Witherspoon in the middle. Make no mistake about it, the Rams have found a player in Pisa Tinoisamoa. And by March of 2007, they’d better do everything in their power to make sure he doesn’t go anywhere.
1) Kevin Curtis: Nick, are you crazy!? You’ve listed Kevin Curtis as the Rams’ #1 in-house free agent priority, ranking him above THREE defensive starters?! Yes folks, I have. And it's not just because I'm a more offensive-minded guy. The previous three choices were defensive ends and an outside linebacker. At those positions, the Rams at least have some options for the future in rookies such as Jon Alston and Victor Adeyanju. Both of these players could develop into starting material given time, Alston due to his athletic ability and Adeyanju with his nice combination of size and speed. At wide receiver, the Rams back-up unit really does not contain any potential starters outside of Kevin Curtis. Shaun McDonald has not shown the consistency to be more than a slot man, Dane Looker was mediocre in that role and does not have much upside as a starter, and Marques Hagans is a converted quarterback who will likely see more time as a return specialist and certainly wouldn't have been viewed as a fifth-round reach if he had starting potential at receiver. That leaves Kevin Curtis, who seems to be the heir apparent for Isaac Bruce’s job once Bruce hangs it up. Yet Curtis, who could very well be starting for many teams in this league, is in a contract year. It is imperative that the Rams front office get to work on a long-term deal with Kevin. One of the main advantages of the Rams passing game has been the dual attack provided by having two exceptional starting players. Defenses cannot focus their coverage on Torry Holt because they’d be susceptible to Isaac Bruce, nor could they focus on Bruce without the risk of being burned by Holt. It’s a strength the offense has enjoyed through the Martz era, and despite a changed focus under Linehan, is not likely to go away. If Curtis isn’t around to fill Bruce’s shoes, who takes attention away from Torry? Who punishes teams that choose to slant coverage toward Holt? The Rams would have to either spend top dollar or a top pick on an additional starting receiver. As the Falcons, Lions, *****, and Jaguars are likely to tell you, spending a top pick on a receiver does not always pan out. And if we’re willing to spend top free agent money on a receiver, why not spend it on the guy we already know? There’s no reason why Kevin Curtis should not remain in blue and gold after 2006, and making sure he remains a key role in this offense should be a priority for this organization.
So there it is - the top five in-house free agent priorities for the Rams. Don’t worry about them now. Put them in the back of your mind. You won’t need to think about any of these situations for half a year. But whenever spring comes, refer back to this article and see exactly where we are in these situations. If the Rams were smart, they’d do the same. Or better yet, they’ll have already taken care of them.
PS: Happy birthday to my wonderful girlfriend Lauren, whose picture can be seen in the ClanRam Gallery on the sidelines of a West Virginia University game with none other than Rams starting quarterback Marc Bulger!
Country Roads, Take Them To St. Louis!
Re: A Look Ahead to Five Key 2007 Free Agents
Excellent article , you made me aware of important behind the scenes info that would have hit me in the face later in the year. Thank you
Happy Birthday to You, Happy Birthday to You, Happy Birthday Dear LAUREN
Happy Birthday tooooo Yoooouuu !