Rams free-agent preview: Interior offensive line


EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The free-agent market is scheduled to open March 10 and teams may begin negotiations with those poised to hit the market beginning March 7. We'll count down 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.

Under contract: Rodger Saffold, Scott Wells, Barrett Jones, Demetrius Rhaney, Travis Bond

Pending free agents: Davin Joseph, Tim Barnes (restricted), Brandon Washington (exclusive rights)

What's needed: There's probably not an area on the team that needs more attention than the interior of the offensive line. Saffold is set at either guard position though the Rams believe he's best on the right side. From there, the Rams must investigate every avenue to get better at the other guard position and in the middle. Wells is still under contract for one more year though releasing him would save $4 million. He's due a roster bonus on the third day of the league year so a decision will have to come soon on that front. Wells is a venerable, tough pro but simply hasn't been healthy enough to perform to the level of his contract. The Rams may decide he's their best option while simultaneously trying to develop young talents like Jones and Rhaney, though. Joseph is also a consummate pro but it's clear his best football is behind him and it seems unlikely the Rams would re-sign him, at least not to be a starter again. Since they control the rights to Washington and Barnes, it seems reasonable that both could return at relatively cheap prices. Either through the draft or free agency, the Rams probably need at least two or three bodies to compete for the two positions and provide depth.

Possible fits: The free-agent market isn't exactly flush with talent though there are some interesting names at both center and guard. Among guards, San Francisco's Mike Iupati fits the bill of a physical, power-oriented player who would not only fit the Rams but weaken an NFC West opponent. Iupati is going to be expensive, though, and has had some health issues in recent seasons. He's still only 27, so he figures to still have some of his best football ahead of him so long as he stays healthy. At center, Kansas City's Rodney Hudson and Oakland's Stefen Wisniewski could also hit the market and both should be desired commodities. Hudson would be a terrific addition. He's 25 and considered one of the rising stars of his position because of his intelligence and athleticism. Wisniewski isn't quite at Hudson's level but fits the mold of a physical, tough type that would make sense in St. Louis. Beyond that trio, the pickings are mostly slim though there might be some more affordable younger options. Others available at guard include Cincinnati's Clint Boling, Denver's Orlando Franklin and Seattle's James Carpenter won't cost as much as Iupati but could draw some interest from around the league.

Verdict: The Rams will almost certainly make some moves to give them salary-cap flexibility but it remains to be seen whether they want to dive into the market for a big-ticket item. They have a handful of key contributors who can be free agents after the 2015 season so they might prefer to leave room to retain their own rather than sign a big-name offensive lineman. If the Rams do decide to spend some money on a higher-priced player or two, this is the one area it might make the most sense. Hudson or Wisniewski would be a nice upgrade at center and the same can be said for Iupati at guard. Beyond that, it wouldn't surprise if the Rams kept Washington and Barnes and allowed Joseph to leave.