Thursday, March 6, 2014
Rams free-agent preview: Safety
By Nick Wagoner
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 St. Louis 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 bring back both of the safeties who started the majority of their games in 2013.
T.J. McDonald is entering his second season after an up-and-down rookie season marred by a leg injury. But the Rams believe in McDonald and he figures to maintain his starting position going into 2014.
More tenuous is the other safety spot where Rodney McLeod started all 16 games and also served as de facto nickel cornerback for much of the season. McLeod improved as the season went along and finished with two interceptions. He had a lot on his plate for a second-year undrafted free agent.
Cody Davis and Matt Daniels are also under team control for 2014. Davis returns after a rookie season in which he appeared in 12 games, primarily on special teams.
Daniels likely would have had an opportunity to play last season were it not for a season-ending leg injury suffered in the second week against Atlanta.
Pending free agents: Darian Stewart, Matt Giordano
What’s needed: An athletic upgrade for McLeod who is capable of running the alley and patrolling center field when McDonald is operating near the line of scrimmage. New coordinator Gregg Williams likes to use one safety in the box, bringing him on blitzes and moving him around. McDonald figures to fill that role, leaving the Rams cornerbacks needing a big-play safety who can help over the top. McLeod is a nice piece to have because of his versatility, but is probably better suited for a backup role and special teams at this point in his career. With Giordano and Stewart headed to free agency, the Rams could also use some veteran depth.
Possible fits: The free-agent class at safety is a good one compared to other positions. Buffalo’s Jairus Byrd, Cleveland’s T.J. Ward, Pittsburgh’s Ryan Clark, Miami’s Chris Clemons and New Orleans’ Malcolm Jenkins are just a handful of the recognizable names that figure to hit the open market.
Byrd is the prize, but the Rams don’t seem to be in a hurry to spend the type of money required to land him. Likewise, the team may not want to spend big money on any free agent after splurging the past two years.
But the Rams did well in a saturated market last year, landing offensive tackle Jake Long at a relatively bargain price because so many tackles were available. Perhaps a similar opportunity could arise this year.
Jenkins is already free and familiar with Williams’ defense but isn’t necessarily the type of roving ball hawk the Rams need on the back end. Clemons is maybe the most intriguing name on the list, but he figures to be right behind Byrd and Ward as the most expensive guy available.
The Rams could also choose to bring back someone like Giordano to add some veteran depth.
Verdict: No position on the Rams' defense could use an influx of talent more than safety, and it’s the one spot that if the team could solidify might take the defense to the next level. The Rams could choose to address the position in the draft, though the crop of safeties in this year’s class is actually not as strong as the free-agent group. I still don't believe the Rams will spend big on any free agent not named Rodger Saffold, but if they want to get a mid-level type at a position of need, safety might make the most sense.