Rams Assessing Needs
Thursday, January 7, 2010

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

Considering the nature of a NFL offseason, it seems more and more that the next four or five months are in some ways busier than the regular season.

“We go into overdrive now,” general manager Billy Devaney said. “Honestly, the draft feels like it’s right around the corner. It’s a real busy time for all the personnel people.”

But before any planning can be done in terms of offseason roster changes or additions or for April’s NFL Draft, the Rams must first take a look in house, make a determination on what they already have in place and set their offseason goals accordingly.

The NFL has always been a league of change and roster turn over every year with regularity and in quantity.

For the better part of the past year, the Rams personnel staff has been out scouting college players and formulating lists of potential free agent additions. None of that stuff really comes into focus until now.

This week, head coach Steve Spagnuolo and his staff have sat down and evaluated all of the moving parts of the team including the players and themselves.

Once that process is complete, the staff can meet with the personnel people and they can come up with a better idea of what the Rams needs are, who will be staying and who will be going. It’s inevitable that some players will be gone.

“A lot of guys contracts are up,” defensive tackle Clifton Ryan said. “Those guys are like my big brothers. They have helped me be the guy I am today showing me the ins and outs of the league and help me be a veteran. Just looking around and knowing you are not going to see some of these faces again, it’s kind of hard, it’s real hard.”

By now, players like Ryan and other veterans are used to that fact of NFL life. And they’ve been around long enough to know that some players will indeed be back.

Before getting the opportunity to sit down and watch the film, Spagnuolo said earlier this week that he believed there are some pieces in place for the foundation of the team for 2010 but also acknowledged that change will be in the air, as it always is.

“I believe we’re got the makings of a nucleus, a foundation to go forward and where we want to go in this thing,” Spagnuolo said. “I do realize that in the NFL, every year there’s change. Our team is no different so we expect that to happen. Right now we’re kind of in the evaluation mode. Certainly everybody, players, coaches, everybody within the organization that works hard needs a little bit of rest. You got to re-energize and then move on, so that’s what we’ll do.”

Because of uncertainty surrounding the collective bargaining agreement, there is also some question as to which players will hit unrestricted free agency and which will not.

As it stands, the Rams have 41 players under contract for next season with 14 more under their control as restricted or exclusive rights free agents.

Among players scheduled for unrestricted free agency regardless of the CBA, the Rams have tight end Randy McMichael, quarterback Kyle Boller, defensive ends James Hall and Leonard Little, long snapper Chris Massey and linebacker Paris Lenon.

It’s possible that Little could opt for retirement after 12 seasons in the league though he has said he would take some time to sit back and think about it before making a decision upon the end of the season.

Hall, a valuable player, who is capable of helping all across the defensive line and a consummate professional, says he would like to stick around to help finish what is being built in St. Louis.

“It’s a great locker room,” Hall said. “It’s a pleasure playing with these guys. There are good people in this organization, people on this coaching staff. Each NFL locker room is different. I have been in some bad ones and I have been in some good ones. You try to stay in the good ones.”

Ryan is among the list of restricted free agents, players the Rams can control simply by giving them tender offers. Those offers will vary based on the skill of the player and those players can receive offer sheets from other teams that require compensation going to the original team should that team choose not to match the offer.

Six players are scheduled for restricted free agency with Ryan the biggest name among that group. Like Hall, Ryan is also eager to stick around St. Louis and continue building on what has been put in place.

“I like this city, I like talking to you guys every week,” Ryan said. “I like being around here. This franchise has a rich history and I take pride in being a part of that. This team is rich in history, guys like Merlin Olsen, Deacon Jones, Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt, Orlando Pace; you can go on and on. If I could be a part of that, it would be an honor.”

Confusion sets in on a different group of players that is scheduled for unrestricted free agency but might not actually see that this year.

Under the rules of the current CBA, if a season is uncapped, players will have had to have six years of experience before they can become unrestricted free agents. That means players like safety Oshiomogho Atogwe, end Victor Adeyanju and tackle Alex Barron would go from being unrestricted to restricted because the requirement would have gone up a year on them.

The Rams have seven players on the roster that would be affected by the capped/uncapped season. As of right now, there is no new collective bargaining agreement in place and the 2010 season would be uncapped if it started today.

If nothing else, the Rams are better prepared to have those meetings than they were at this time a year ago. Last year, the Rams didn’t even have a coaching staff at this point.

Now, the coaching staff has been in place for a year, the scouts know what to look for and the meetings to evaluate the current personnel have a lot more first-hand opinions rather than simply what can be seen on tape.

“I will listen to the coaches and they will say this guy came on, he’s better than you think, with another season it’s not quite as bad,” Devaney said. “We have to go through that whole thing but it’s not nearly as daunting as this time last year.”