Rams Ready for Free Agency
Thursday, March 9, 2006
By Nick Wagoner
If becoming an NFL head coach was a dream come true for new Rams’ leader Scott Linehan, then the extended wait for the start of free agency and many of his offseason duties because of CBA problems was a harsh wakeup call.
“It’s kind of like a rainout,” Linehan said. “(We are) getting ready to play the opening game and not getting to go play.”
Well, the rain came to a halt Wednesday night when the NFL owners agreed on a 30-2 vote on the players’ proposal for a six-year extension of the collective bargaining agreement.
The agreement comes on the heels of a few delays of the start of the NFL “new year.” The new year is the beginning of the NFL’s fiscal year and is highlighted by the start of free agency.
The lack of an agreement had made it difficult for many teams to get a firm grasp on the future of their rosters. The salary cap number was unclear and many teams had to make difficult cuts to attempt to get under the perceived salary cap number. The start of free agency was delayed multiple times and the only moves a team could make involved players who were released in those salary cap moves.
Now, the picture is much less fuzzy and every team knows where it stands in relation to the salary cap. All of the details of the CBA extension are not known as of yet, but here’s what is clear.
• The start of free agency will be pushed back again, this time until 12:01 a.m. Saturday. This will almost certainly be the last delay in the beginning of free agency as the two sides bang out the details of the extension and take time to understand the intricacies of it.
• The salary cap will be around $102 million. That’s an increase of $7.5 million from the original perceived number of $94.5 million and $16.5 million more than it was in 2005. The number will rise again in 2007, to $109 million.
• Final proration terms for signing bonuses (in other words, how many years you can spread signing bonus payments out over) will be five this year as opposed to four a year ago.
• The extension takes the collective bargaining agreement through the 2011 season.
While the players’ union and executive director Gene Upshaw insisted on a total revenue sharing number of at least 60 percent, the final number is believed to have come in around 59.5 percent. Still, Upshaw said it wasn’t about trying to put one over on either side, just finding the best deal for the future of the league.
“This agreement is not about one side winning or losing,” Upshaw said in a statement. “Ultimately, it is about what is best for the players, the owners and the fans of the National Football League.”
Now that all of the details are known and free agency’s start date is more set in stone, the Rams and Linehan can finally attack the market in the way they have wanted to for some time.
“Right now, there really is nothing to get done until Wednesday or Thursday gets here, until we get something resolved, that’s why we’re at where we are at,” Linehan said. “Everything got pushed back, and pushed back, and pushed back. That fateful day came without an agreement with the CBA.”
St. Louis jumped into the market a little early by signing defensive tackle La’Roi Glover on Monday. But there is still plenty of work to do. The top of that list includes bringing back receiver Isaac Bruce, finding at least one, perhaps two linebackers, more help for the secondary and some depth on the lines.
The Rams will enter free agency armed with over $20 million in cap space. That should allow them to make a variety of moves to improve the defense, but the additional salary cap space will make competition for top free agents even more competitive. Teams that were originally over the cap now have more flexibility and teams that were close to it now have plenty of wiggle room.
At the top of the list of priorities is retaining Bruce, the original St. Louis Ram. Bruce was released last weekend after negotiations for a contract extension could not result in a deal. Now, Bruce remains a top priority, but he is getting interest from plenty of teams around the league.
One thing working in Bruce’s favor should he choose to test the market is the fact that this year’s receiver crop is relatively weak in free agency and the draft. Some would argue that Bruce is the best or second-best receiver available. At least six teams have already expressed interest in his services.
Still, Linehan remains confident that the Rams can get something done with Bruce.
“It’s unfortunate that we are stuck here with a situation with Isaac, but that is part of the game,” Linehan said. “You have to be ready for things to go your way, and you have to be ready for a temporary setback or two. You just have to think positive. I do feel very confident that we will be able to resume some negotiations and hopefully get that resolved.”
The rest of the Rams’ money is expected to be put toward building an improved defense after that unit finished 30th in the league last season. With Glover in the fold, it doesn’t appear likely that the team will be investing any more big money on the defensive line because of the need to add quality and depth at linebacker.
Derek Smith’s re-signing with the Niners took one of the top linebackers out of the mix. The group isn’t extremely deep beyond that with LaVar Arrington as the biggest name available. He should garner considerable interest around the league and will probably land a big money contract.
Because of the need for multiple linebackers, the Rams aren’t likely to pursue anyone that will break the bank, though that could change if they decide that an Arrington or Julian Peterson would make an immediate impact.
More likely targets include Jacksonville’s Akin Ayodele, Indianapolis’ David Thornton and Tennessee’s Brad Kassell.
There are a number of potential targets in the secondary, where the Rams have a decision to make on strong safety Adam Archuleta. Linehan and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett have made it clear they would like Archuleta to return, but they will need to act quickly as Archuleta has plenty of serious suitors lining up to make a move.
Should Archuleta depart, the Rams will look to a group that includes Pittsburgh’s Chris Hope, Minnesota’s Corey Chavous and Buffalo’s Lawyer Milloy as potential additions. Some sources believe Chavous could be a favorite of Linehan’s and a likely addition. Hope would be the best bet for free safety help, but he is the best safety on the market and will have plenty of teams vying for his services.
Re: Rams Ready for Free Agency
So am I! I can't wait until Saturday at 12:01 PM CST on Saturday!
Re: Rams Ready for Free Agency
And surviving Los Angeles RAM!
At the top of the list of priorities is retaining Bruce, the original St. Louis Ram.
13 years with one team, can we make 16 and a career?
I hope so.