NFC West: Danny Amendola

With the NFL owners meetings convening in Orlando this week, much of the discussion will center on potential rule changes and points of emphasis for the 2014 season. For fans of the NFL draft, the biggest news coming out of central Florida will be the compensation selections which are also expected to be announced.

In addition to the chance to finalize the draft order, teams can also pick up valuable selections anywhere from the end of round three to Mr. Irrelevant at the close of round seven.

Before we do our best to try to project what the St. Louis Rams will receive, let's attempt to explain a few things pertinent to the discussion of compensation picks.
  • The NFL does not disclose the exact formula it uses to divvy up the picks. All picks are awarded based on the previous year's free-agent market so in this case, the Rams' extra picks will be based on players like Danny Amendola and Jared Cook rather than the many free agents they've lost this year.
  • What we do know about the formula is that it's based on a balance of what a team gained and lost the previous season. Picks aren't just handed out because a team signed less free agents than it lost. How those players performed, how much they played and how much money they made is more important than sheer attrition. So if you lose four backups and sign one starter, it could theoretically even out and gain you nothing depending on how those backups perform and the differential in money.
  • Only unrestricted free agents who had that designation based on the natural course of their contract expiring are eligible to be factored into the formula. Restricted or exclusive rights free agents who do not receive tenders from their team are ineligible to be counted. Likewise for veterans who are released before the start of the new league year. What's more unclear is how players who come to some sort of opt-out agreement are counted. Using an example for the Rams, running back Steven Jackson technically opted out of his contract and chose to leave but the Rams enabled that despite Jackson not meeting the requirements to automatically trigger the voidable year. Still, Jackson was categorized as an unrestricted free agent and played 398 snaps in 2013, which should qualify him for this exercise.
  • The new Collective Bargaining Agreement only allows for a total of 32 compensatory picks to be handed out. That's not per round but total so as to limit the draft to no more than the equivalent of a full eight rounds.
  • Compensatory picks cannot be traded.

Here's the breakdown of free agents lost and gained with regular season snap counts from 2013 included:

2013 free agents lost: Amendola (542 snaps), Jackson (398 snaps), offensive lineman Robert Turner (379 snaps), receiver Brandon Gibson (245 snaps), cornerback Bradley Fletcher (881 snaps), safety Craig Dahl (84 snaps), receiver Steve Smith (0 snaps, signed with Tampa Bay and retired soon after). (Note: Turner and Gibson finished the season on injured reserve)

2013 free agents gained: Offensive tackle Jake Long (818 snaps), tight end Jared Cook (691 snaps).

Projection: The Rams obviously lost more free agents than they signed in 2013 but Long and Cook were not only clearly the highest-paid going in either direction but the most productive and reliable in terms of play time. Fletcher played the most snaps while the rest of the list struggled with injuries which limited their opportunities. Dahl was mostly a special teams player for the 49ers. Few of the free agents the Rams lost should factor in a significant way aside from Fletcher and, perhaps, Amendola.

Without knowing the full details of how the picks will be handed out, this is simply an educated guess, but while I do expect the Rams to receive some sort of compensation, I wouldn't expect it to be much. The guess here is the Rams will receive one, maybe two, late-round selections likely in the seventh round with a sixth-round choice as the probable best case scenario. The team already holds nine picks in this year's draft and could gain more by trading down but either way, they'll have no shortage of chances to make picks come May.
First-year starters filled four of the top five spots in Total QBR while under pressure last season.

Two of them, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick, call the NFC West home.

With Pro Football Focus singling out the division's current passers for review in this area, I've put together a chart showing where Wilson, Kaepernick, Carson Palmer, Sam Bradford and NFC West alum Alex Smith ranked in this area using ESPN's game charting. That charting defines pressure as plays when the quarterback was sacked, forced to scramble, hit while throwing or put under duress, which counts plays when the quarterback was forced from the pocket, forced to alter his throwing motion, forced to move within the pocket or faced with an approaching defender clearly in his line of sight.

Note that the QBR scores aren't very good even for the league leaders. That's because pressure creates problems even for the quickest decision-makers. Sure, they'll beat the pressure some of the time, but defenses are going to prevail most of the time.

A few quick takeaways as they relate to the NFC West:
  • Russell Wilson: Wilson held the ball longer than any other quarterback on a per-play basis, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He generally did a good job looking downfield for open receivers. Wilson also made quick decisions against immediate pressure. The quick escape he made throwing across his body to Sidney Rice outside the numbers against the Miami Dolphins was one such example. I thought it was the most impressive play Wilson made all season.
  • Colin Kaepernick: The stats show Kaepernick was so much more aggressive and effective than predecessor Alex Smith in these situations. Smith was looking to bail from bad plays, minimizing mistakes at the expense of the occasional gain. This approach fit the 49ers' mindset. Kaepernick offered more. A play he made against Green Bay in the playoffs stands out in my mind as one example. The Packers pressured Kaepernick on a third-and-10 play with 11:28 left in the first quarter. Kaepernick rolled to his left and then threw across his body to Frank Gore behind the coverage. Gore gained 45 yards on the play.
  • Sam Bradford: This is one area where the Rams need better production from Bradford and the offense. There were a few bright spots last season, including when Bradford stood strong against the Arizona Cardinals' blitz during the early stages of a Week 5 game in the Edward Jones Dome. Bradford threw deep for Danny Amendola against Patrick Peterson for a 44-yard gain, even through linebacker Daryl Washington was about to tag him.
  • Carson Palmer: Note that Palmer had only four rushing attempts in these situations. He also ranked second to the Indianapolis Colts' Andrew Luck in percentage of plays when opponents hit him while throwing. This will be one area to watch as Arizona emphasizes deeper passes requiring longer time for receivers to get open.
San Francisco 49ers safety Donte Whitner's recent comments complimenting St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford invites a closer look at some of the dynamics.

I'll start by addressing a couple points made in the comments section of our earlier item.

  • Ramon thought a shaky showing by the 49ers' Colin Kaepernick was a bigger factor than Bradford in helping the Rams to a 16-13 overtime victory in the Edward Jones Dome. That was a game we discussed at length during the season, particularly as it pertained to each quarterback's contributions. A controversial play call and Kaepernick's errant pitch contributed to a costly turnover, but Kaepernick also provided a critical 50-yard run during the fourth quarter. Bradford played that game without receiver Danny Amendola, which leads to another point made in the comments section.
  • Jesse blamed the 49ers' secondary for failing to contain Amendola when the Rams and 49ers played to a 24-24 tie in Week 10. He didn't think Bradford was the pivotal player for St. Louis in that game. No question, Amendola gave the 49ers problems, but Bradford was very good in that game, too, as former NFL coach Rick Venturi noted in his analysis of that game. Had receiver Brandon Gibson not lined up improperly in that game, Bradford and Amendola would have gotten credit for an 80-yard reception in overtime.

The chart below ranks the 10 best single-game Total QBR scores by starters against the 49ers during the 2012 regular season. Bradford owns two of the top five. He had a 72.2 QBR score over two games against the 49ers, compared to 46.5 across all other games. That affirms perceptions about Bradford playing a leading role in the Rams' success against San Francisco last season.

The first chart is the same one from the previous item. It compares Bradford's cumulative stats against the 49ers to those for the Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson. Wilson owns the highest single-game QBR score against the 49ers, but his overall score suffered from a less productive game against San Francisco in Week 7.

On QBR, 100 is the maximum score and 50 is average. Teams with the higher Total QBR score in a game have gone 1,103-175-2 (.863) since 2008, including 222-33-1 (.869) last season, highlighting the role quarterbacks play in winning. The Rams' 16-13 victory over the 49ers in Week 13 was one exception. Kaepernick actually had a higher QBR score than Bradford for that game, an anomaly we addressed in December.
The deadline for NFL franchise players to sign long-term contracts in 2013 will pass Monday at 4 p.m. ET.

NFC West teams can afford to sit back and watch without consequence. For the second time in three years and the third time since divisional realignment in 2002, no teams from the division named a franchise player.

The three potential NFC West candidates we discussed all departed their teams' rosters as unrestricted free agents this offseason:

Elsewhere, the Denver Broncos reached agreement over the weekend on a long-term deal for 2013 franchise player Ryan Clady. But as the first chart shows, there were only eight franchise players across the league this offseason, down from 21 a year ago.

The St. Louis Rams list nine wide receivers on their 90-man roster. That is the lowest figure in the NFL and three below the league average.

The overall number isn't most important to the Rams right now. For the first time in recent memory, they have five young receivers they're eager to build around: Tavon Austin, Chris Givens, Brian Quick, Stedman Bailey and Austin Pettis.

Pettis, Givens and Quick are returning. Austin and Bailey are new. Danny Amendola, Danario Alexander, Brandon Gibson, Greg Salas and Steve Smith are among those gone from this time last year.

For a closer look at rosters for the Rams and their NFC West rivals, check out my latest roster file, ready for download here.

Enjoy your Saturday -- the second-to-last one before training camps open.
Carlos Rogers' contract with the San Francisco 49ers ranks among the NFC West's top three for cornerbacks in guaranteed money ($10.65 million), 2013 base salary ($5.5 million) and average per year ($7.325 million).

Where does Rogers rank as a corner?

"I'm lukewarm on him," Matt Williamson, ESPN's NFL scout, said. "He would start for just about every team, but if he is a $7 million guy, maybe I'd rather use a second-round pick on a corner and use that money on someone else."

[+] EnlargeCarlos Rogers and Victor Cruz
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesCarlos Rogers has 15 interceptions in eight seasons, including a career-best six in 2011.
The 49ers did not take that route in the 2013 draft, and when it ended, reporters asked general manager Trent Baalke whether he felt Rogers could match up against some of the new wide receivers in the NFC West, notably Percy Harvin and Tavon Austin. Last season, Rogers had his hands full against the St. Louis Rams' Danny Amendola, leading former NFL coach Rick Venturi to say Amendola turned Rogers "every way but loose" in Week 10.

The 49ers, by their actions in the draft and free agency, do not appear particularly concerned.

"You always talk about matchups -- are we manning up these guys, or are we playing zone and covering them in an umbrella type of situation?" Baalke told reporters when pressed about the team's options at slot corner specifically. "So, I think we've got to look at it a lot of different ways. And you take care of certain things with scheme more than just one-on-one matchups."

Cian Fahey of Pre-snap Reads, who previously took game-by-game looks at NFC West cornerbacks Richard Sherman (here) and Patrick Peterson (here), dove into Rogers' 2012 performance this week. He saw what Venturi saw against Amendola, who is now safely outside the NFC West after signing with New England. Fahey also noted Rogers' struggles against slot receivers Early Doucet, Randall Cobb, Doug Baldwin and Austin Pettis.

But there are reasons the 49ers decided to guarantee $1.25 million of Rogers' upcoming salary by keeping him on the roster past April 1.

"Tackling is a vital part of Rogers' game," Fahey wrote. "While he doesn't have the superior coverage ability of his peers, he is a good fit with the 49ers because he doesn't allow big plays after the catch and he's not a liability in run defense. According to Pro Football Focus, Rogers made 59 tackles last season and missed just three. That ratio for a player who primarily played the slot cornerback role in the NFC West is incredible."

I circled back with Williamson for some final thoughts:
"Rogers is a tough evaluation. He came in as a first-round pick. He is a first-round caliber tools guy: not small, long arms, pretty fluid, moves well. But he more or less never lived up to that in Washington. His first year with the Niners (2011) was his best as a pro, and not just for the six interceptions. I would bet he will never reach those six picks again. I felt like that first year in San Francisco on a very good defense with a good pass-rush, he was good. Last year, I thought he was an average NFL starting corner. I don't know the guy or know his motivation, but I wondered if he coasted a little bit. He can play the slot, and he benefits from a strong supporting cast. He will not be a top corner who you put on the opponent's best receiver every week. He is a good fit, but it wouldn't shock me if you're looking to replace him, too."
The target percentages posted earlier are open to interpretation. Drop percentages are a little more straightforward.

Six current or former NFC West players ranked among the NFL's top 20 qualifying wide receivers and tight ends last season in lowest drop percentage, defined as drops divided by targets.

Percy Harvin and Mario Manningham went without a drop. Neither played a full season, but each had enough targets to qualify for inclusion in the chart below.

You might recall some of these players suffering more drops than we've listed in the chart. ESPN's standard for drops could be stricter than the ones our uncles apply when deciding which objects to throw at the television following frustrating plays. Our game charters count drops as "incomplete passes where the receiver SHOULD have caught the pass with ORDINARY effort" and only when the receiver is "100 percent at fault" for the incompletion.

The first chart shows where NFC West teams' wide receivers and tight ends ranked in the league in drop rate. The Seattle Seahawks ranked third. However, their running backs ranked only 29th in drop rate (9.3 percent), one spot ahead of running backs for the San Francisco 49ers (9.4 percent). The Arizona Cardinals' backs were fourth at 2.7 percent. The totals for running backs affected the overall team percentages, which we can check out separately another time.

I've singled out wide receivers and tight ends because we've been looking at players from those positions while discussing potential changes to the 49ers following Michael Crabtree's recent injury. Getting Manningham back to health could help the 49ers.

We spent some time Saturday looking at receiver Michael Crabtree's value to quarterback Colin Kaepernick when the San Francisco 49ers faced third down last season.

The idea was pretty simple. We took the number of times the 49ers targeted Crabtree on third down from Week 11, when Kaepernick became the starter, through the playoffs. We then divided that number by the number of pass routes Crabtree ran on third down. The result: a 40.6 percent target rate, by far the highest on the 49ers over that span.

I've expanded the exercise to cover qualifying NFL wide receivers and tight ends with target rates of at least 30 percent last season (no tight ends cracked the list). NFC West followers should note that Percy Harvin, Crabtree and Danny Amendola cracked the top five. Only Crabtree and Amendola played for NFC West teams. But with Crabtree injured and Amendola in New England, Harvin is the last one standing in the division.

A separate look at notable players from NFC West teams showed the majority with target rates between about 20 and 25 percent.

Patrick Peterson and Sidney RiceNorm Hall/Getty ImagesArizona's Patrick Peterson has Seahawks WR Sidney Rice covered during their Sept. 9, 2012 game.
Patrick Peterson should become the best cornerback in the NFC West and beyond. The talent is obviously there. Coaches and teammates rave about Peterson's commitment.

"If we have this discussion in a year, he is top three in the league and if not, No. 1," NFL scout Matt Williamson predicted Monday.

Peterson's ability shined through in Cian Fahey's recently published game-by-game analysis using the all-22 coaches' video made available to the public last year.

Some background: Last week, Fahey came away impressed after taking an in-depth look at Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman. When I expressed an interest in seeing something similar for Peterson, Fahey said on the spot he'd put one together within a week. Here we are.

Fahey's analysis showed Peterson at his best against wide receivers such as Sidney Rice, Julio Jones and Roddy White. Peterson struggled some against smaller, quicker wide receivers such as Steve Johnson, Danny Amendola and Davone Bess. Michael Crabtree's physical play around the goal line was also a problem. Physical play is one area where Sherman in particular excels among corners.

"There is no shame in spending time as a prince learning the role of the king before you take his seat," Fahey concluded. "For most, it is a necessary step. Peterson is an exceptional talent and athlete, but he is no exception when it comes to developing as a pro. He must refine his talent, but once he does he may have no equal."

Unlike Sherman, Peterson often tracked the opponent's best wide receiver all over the field, play after play. That made Peterson's job tougher than Sherman's job, a key distinction when evaluating the best cornerbacks. Darrelle Revis, widely regarded as the NFL's top corner before suffering a knee injury last season, has set the standard recently for eliminating opponents' top wideouts.

"Peterson can be a Hall of Fame corner," Williamson said. "In a league full of superb athletes, he is in the top 1 percent. He is not yet half the technician of Revis, but he is learning and his upside is higher than the upside for any corner in the league."

Peterson's relative difficulties against slot-type receivers might not be a problem to the same extent in the future. One, Peterson will most likely continue to improve. Two, Arizona added slot corners Javier Arenas and Tyrann Mathieu to match up with some of those smaller, shiftier wideouts.

"Slot corner is really its own position," Williamson said. "A slot receiver like Wes Welker has a two-way go and there's no sideline as the helper for the corner. I could see Peterson being a bit of a fish out of water against some of those guys."

Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald said last offseason he thought Peterson was quickly on his way to becoming the best cornerback around.

"From a physical standpoint, he has no weaknesses at all," Fitzgerald said. "Most guys you go against, bigger guys, I can manipulate them on the field or physically. Patrick is just so different. He has the game-changing speed. He can run with anybody in the league. His ball skills are like playing with another receiver. He can tackle you in the run game. He knows what’s going on, is a student of the game.

"You want to draft a guy to carry the torch for your team, Patrick Peterson epitomizes that. Just his maturity. He’s 22 years old [now 23]. He just got married. His outlook on life, the way he carries himself, the way he performs, it’s like a 30-year old. He just gets it. To get it at that young of age, that is a scary combination when you couple that with elite talent."
Sometimes it takes a few years to fully assess an NFL draft class' impact. Imperiled veterans can't afford to wait that long.

Among the NFC West veterans on alert as 2013 rookies arrive for minicamps Friday:
Chatting with Bernie Miklasz about the NFC West in general and the St. Louis Rams in particular has become a staple each Tuesday.

The run is ending this week after Bernie hosted his final show on 101ESPN St. Louis. Bernie isn't leaving, fortunately. He's recommitting to his main job at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The paper has created an expanded role for him through its website. We'll stay in touch and collaborate in new ways, I'm sure.

In the meantime, I wanted to share the audio link to our conversation Tuesday. This was a Rams-only conversation primarily about their draft, specifically how the team has changed on offense.

The chart below shows key receivers, tight ends and running backs for the Rams in their final game before coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead arrived. It also shows key players at those positions now. Some of the players from the 2011 regular-season finale were on injured reserve at the time. The last two receivers listed in the right column aren't key players at the position. I included their names to even up the chart.
The NFL draft becomes a blur on the final day as teams select lesser-known players one after another.

By the end, it's helpful to take a look at the bigger picture.

The chart above shows which general positions NFC West teams targeted. Quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers are listed as skill players. The other group names are self-explanatory.

Seattle Seahawks seventh-round pick Jared Smith played defensive tackle at New Hampshire. He will play guard for Seattle. The chart reflects that change. There will be other tweaks and distinctions as we learn more about how teams plan to use players.

A few thoughts initially based on available information:
  • RB picture: NFC West teams loaded up on running backs. That position was already evolving with Steven Jackson's departure from the St. Louis Rams and Beanie Wells' departure from the Arizona Cardinals. Spencer Ware, the running back Seattle selected from LSU in the sixth round, projects at fullback to some extent, coach Pete Carroll said.
  • WR shifts: Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson, Early Doucet, Randy Moss and Ben Obomanu are among the veteran wide receivers to leave NFC West teams this offseason. The division added Anquan Boldin and Percy Harvin before selecting five wideouts in the draft, four in the first four rounds.
  • DT focus: Seattle drafted three players listed as defensive tackles, not counting Smith. No other team in the division drafted one. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians told reporters the team could address that position in free agency.
  • Safety numbers: Every team in the division but Seattle needed a safety. The 49ers took Eric Reid in the first round. The Rams took T.J. McDonald early in the third. The Cardinals did not take one, but they plan for early third-round choice Tyrann Mathieu to play a hybrid safety-corner role. Mathieu is listed as a cornerback.
  • Front seven: Think the 49ers wanted to help their front seven, which wore down last season and needs to develop players for the line in future seasons? San Francisco drafted three players listed as defensive ends. Tank Carradine is 275 pounds with versatility. Corey Lemonier, at 255 pounds, is more of an outside linebacker type. Quinton Dial is 318 pounds and a pure lineman.
Tavon AustinJerry Lai/USA TODAY SportsThe St. Louis Rams haven't drafted a receiver in the first round since 1999.
For three years, the St. Louis Rams lacked sufficient offensive weapons to properly support and evaluate prized quarterback Sam Bradford.

They drafted Tavon Austin eighth overall Thursday night to change the dynamic.

The pressure isn't necessarily on Bradford to instantly produce in a huge way or else, but for the first time in the quarterback's career, the Rams have given him a highly drafted and versatile young group of targets to grow along with him.

Bradford is still just 25 years old. He's a few days younger than San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, hard as that is to believe.

Austin, a wideout unlike any other in this draft, just turned 22. Chris Givens, who had a reception of at least 50 yards in five consecutive games as a rookie in 2012, won't turn 24 until December. Brian Quick, a second-rounder last year, turns 24 in June. Austin Pettis is 25 next month. The newly acquired Jared Cook just turned 26. Fellow tight end Lance Kendricks is 25.

The targets for Bradford range in height from the 5-foot-8 Austin to Givens (5-11), Pettis (6-3), Quick (6-3), Kendricks (6-3) and Cook (6-5).

"They're going to create mismatches which are going to have to be dealt with defensively," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said of Austin and Givens in particular.

Austin's selection marked the first time the Rams have used a first-round pick for a receiver since taking Torry Holt sixth overall in 1999. About time, right?

No wide receiver has more than eight touchdown receptions for the Rams since the team drafted Bradford first overall in 2010. Fifty-eight NFL wideouts have at least nine scoring receptions over the same three-year period.

Bradford shares some of the blame, of course. But the supporting cast has let him down too frequently. The offensive line, undermanned and ravaged by injuries, has exposed Bradford to undue punishment. Danny Amendola's injury troubles prevented Bradford from building upon an on-field relationship that appeared so promising at times, including against the 49ers last season.

"Tavon will play a similar position as Danny," Rams general manager Les Snead said by phone Thursday night. "He will also return punts and return kickoffs. And you can do some things with him that may cause defenses to wonder if the play is a throw or a run. Put him with fast tight ends, with our receivers and we're trying to create mismatches."

The Rams could have paid a premium to keep Amendola, arguably their top receiver, from leaving in free agency. They could have paid a few million bucks to keep their other starting receiver, Brandon Gibson.

Instead, the Rams have bet big on their ability to scout fresh talent. They have entrusted Fisher and Snead to build the type of supporting cast Snead helped Atlanta assemble around quarterback Matt Ryan previously. Snead was working under Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff when Atlanta traded up 21 spots in the first round to select receiver Julio Jones sixth overall in 2011.

"They made a larger jump and their team was probably at a more mature state," Snead said of the Falcons. "But we stated all along how we wanted to get this offense weapons."

The move from No. 16 to No. 8 for Austin could be just as significant for the Rams if they're right about Austin possessing unique qualities as a 5-foot-8, 174-pound dynamo with touchdowns as a runner, receiver and return specialist at West Virginia last season. Austin finished the season with 114 receptions for 1,289 yards and 12 receiving scores.

To get Austin, the Rams sent picks in the first, second, third and seventh rounds to Buffalo for first- and third-round choices.

"They did give up a lot," Austin told reporters in St. Louis, "but I'm definitely going to try to work my hardest to give out a lot. I'm going to come out every day at work ready to play."

The first round ended for the Rams with the team moving back from 22nd to 30th in a trade with Atlanta, then selecting outside linebacker Alec Ogletree.

"To be honest, the plan No. 1 was to come away with Tavon Austin and Alec Ogletree, and it worked out," Snead said. "We knew we would have to give up some things to get Tavon. We felt we could recoup some of those things and still get Alec."

Austin's status as the first skill player selected verifies the first part of Snead's statement. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Thursday marked only the fourth time in the common-draft era (since 1967) that no team selected a quarterback, running back or wide receiver before the eighth overall pick. Herman Moore (1991) and Al Toon (1985) went 10th overall in their draft classes. Austin and Larry Csonka (1968) went eighth in theirs.

There can be no denying the Rams got the receiver they wanted.

Rookie wideouts sometimes need time to adjust. Austin should contribute right away on special teams, at least. The biggest challenge could be digesting an NFL playbook. Processing terminology in the huddle can be much tougher than reading simplified signals from the sideline, as the case can be in college.

"I never came out of the big playbook in college [like] they have in the NFL," Austin said. "I did all signals. I don’t know how it’s going to be when I get to the league. That’s probably going to be my biggest challenge right now."

The Rams could still use a starting safety. They could use another running back to round out a backfield featuring committee backs Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson. Getting a big back Friday should be a priority as the Rams continue to build around Bradford.

"One of the things was, when it tipped and we gave up a second-rounder, our board was looking like the better value for our team and our fits and the roles we want them to execute the next few years was going to be more in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth rounds," Snead said.

The Rams won't be shy. Snead has demonstrated that. A year after the Rams swung a blockbuster trade with the Washington Redskins to secure two additional first-rounders and more, they were navigating their way up the board for Austin.

"You have decisions to make and don't be scared to get what you want," Snead said.
Bernie Miklasz tricked his 101ESPN St. Louis guest -- me -- into saying the St. Louis Rams have had the worst offseason to date among NFC West teams.

We laughed about it Tuesday during our weekly conversation .

Let's just call the Rams' offseason the fourth-best in the division based on what we know. The Rams' move away from established players on offense has naturally raised short-term questions about whether the team will be better right away. Sometimes, though, the unknown is better.

The Rams made two high-profile additions, signing tight end Jared Cook and left tackle Jake Long. They're scheduled to make two high-profile acquisitions Thursday night when they use the 16th and 22nd choices in the 2013 draft.

St. Louis has parted with four players who participated in at least 95 percent of the Rams' offensive or defensive snaps last season. No other team has subtracted as many. Robert Turner, Barry Richardson, Craig Dahl and Quintin Mikell left the team for varying reasons. Brandon Gibson, Steven Jackson and Danny Amendola played fewer snaps, but they were arguably more valuable to the team that the others, with the possible exception of Mikell.

Those players represented the known, which can sometimes be more comfortable.

I'm interested in see what the unknown holds for St. Louis. It's also clear the team needs additional reinforcements, beginning with whatever players St. Louis adds in the draft.
Players reaching NFL free agency are, by definition, players teams are prepared to lose.

That has become clearer in the one month since 45 NFC West players became unrestricted free agents March 12. The Arizona Cardinals, St. Louis Rams, San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks have so far re-signed only two of the 45. Another UFA, Chris Williams, reportedly will re-sign with the Rams, although no contract has been filed to this point.

At most, then, three of the 45 have been retained. The 49ers and Seahawks have yet to re-sign one of their own UFAs. Arizona re-signed safety Rashad Johnson just as free agency was beginning. The Rams' deal with defensive end William Hayes is the most significant UFA re-signing in the division so far. Hayes signed for $3.4 million per season.

Teams from the division had re-signed 13 UFAs at this point last year. Seventeen UFAs had signed elsewhere, matching the number that have signed elsewhere this offseason.

The chart shows UFAs from NFC West teams this offseason. Quite a few were backups and/or players teams hoped to replace. Dashon Goldson, Delanie Walker, Danny Amendola and Steven Jackson could be the toughest ones to replace right away, although their teams did not appear particularly determined to keep them.

NFC West teams kept several valued players from reaching free agency this offseason by re-signing them before contracts expired. Calais Campbell, Chris Clemons, James Laurinaitis and Chris Long come to mind as prominent examples.