Rams free-agent preview: Linebacker

March, 5, 2014
Mar 5
10:30
AM ET
The free-agent market is scheduled to begin March 11 and teams may begin negotiations with those poised to hit the market beginning March 8. We'll countdown to that with a position-by-position look at what the Rams have in place, who is set to hit the market, what they might need and who might fit the bill.

In place: The Rams spent a first-round pick on outside linebacker Alec Ogletree in an effort to give middle linebacker James Laurinaitis a long-term running mate. Both are under contract for the foreseeable future and will continue in their roles as mainstays on the defense in 2014.

Beyond that duo, the Rams have an intriguing group of youngsters who double as the core of the team's special teams units. Ray Ray Armstrong and Daren Bates were difference makers on special teams when they weren't accumulating silly penalties and figure to return to those jobs next year.

Undrafted rookie Phillip Steward is a name that many don't know because he suffered a season-ending injury before the season even began. But the Rams thought enough of him to stash him on injured reserve all year and he could fight for a spot in training camp.

Pending free agents: Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Will Witherspoon

What’s needed: With Dunbar and Witherspoon scheduled for free agency, the Rams need a third linebacker to play when they aren't in their sub packages. While the Rams, like most teams, find themselves playing with an extra defensive back or two more often than not, the need still exists for a player who can be the team's primary option as the third linebacker.

Dunbar or Witherspoon could be brought back as a possible veteran option so long as they're cost effective. Armstrong got a handful of snaps on defense in 2013 and could also figure into the mix though it's questionable whether he's ready for that type of responsibility.

Possible fits: There aren't many solid 4-3 outside linebacker options on the market though Denver's Wesley Woodyard is a good player who might not break the bank. Veteran Jonathan Vilma has ties to Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and would make sense as a fit if the Rams choose to go the veteran route. He also probably wouldn't cost much money though at this point in their respective careers, bringing Dunbar back is probably the more logical option.

Verdict: I expect the Rams to add an outside linebacker at some point this offseason, though it might come via the draft rather then free agency. If the Rams do go the free-agent route, Dunbar's return makes the most sense. Otherwise, an outside linebacker in the middle rounds would also be logical.

Nick Wagoner

ESPN St. Louis Rams reporter

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