- Nick Wagoner, ESPN Staff Writer
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It's no surprise that Mikell ended up landing a job somewhere (and with the added benefit of not having to go through training camp) but there are those in Rams Nation that aren't pleased Mikell isn't returning to St. Louis.
In reality, Mikell's departure came down to money (the Rams needed cap space to bolster the offense), and an ongoing commitment to youth and player development.
Mikell's time in St. Louis came with its share of ups and downs but for the most part he was a steady, solid performer, especially in 2012. According to this ESPN Insider piece from the folks at Pro Football Focus, Mikell graded out as the fifth best safety in the league last year. Here's a snippet of what they had to say about Mikell in the rankings:
Analysis: When the Rams spent big on Mikell, it was unlikely he'd see out his deal. It was simply too much money for a player at his spot. It's a shame for St. Louis, which obviously would have liked to keep him. Mikell is a fierce competitor, and in 2012 made his presence felt around the line of scrimmage with more pressure (14 combined sacks, hits and hurries) than any other safety.
Indeed, the Rams parted ways with Mikell much more as a function of needing cap space to sign players like tight end Jared Cook and tackle Jake Long than out of disappointment in his performance. Mikell struggled with missed tackles and coverage mistakes in his first year with the Rams but seemed to find a niche playing more exclusively as a box safety last year. That's evident in the numbers above.
Even after the Rams spent a third-round pick on T.J. McDonald, many Rams fans had held out hope that Mikell might return on a cheaper deal. Indications from the Rams were that there was interest in a reunion, an interest that Mikell might have shared but only in the right situation. My sense is that the right situation meant only in a potential starting role.
With McDonald in place, the Rams have the safety who likely will handle a lot of the in the box work that Mikell did a year ago. Things have trended in the direction of Rodney McLeod handling the other starting spot and he's better suited on the back end, running the alley and sticking in coverage.
Like nearly every position on the roster, the Rams are not hesitating to trend younger at safety. McDonald is a rookie and McLeod is entering his second season.
Behind McDonald and McLeod, the Rams have Darian Stewart, Matt Giordano and Matt Daniels. Stewart and Daniels are younger options that could have long term upside. Giordano is around to provide experience and brings the added value of having worked with John Fassel in Oakland on special teams. When the team signed him, it probably eliminated any chance of Mikell returning.