It seems odd to say it now but before the Cardinals and the Seahawks, it was the Rams who dominated the NFC West division. However, that was the 1990's and the greatest show on turf has been stuck in neutral for some time now.
The franchise was once defined by it's explosive passing game, but it is now trying to redefine itself as a more physical group. Head coach Steve Spagnuolo has placed a new emphasis on defense and running the ball, but so far the results have been much the same (bad). Despite a poor record, the team seemed to be making some progress in 2009 and they will be looking to build upon that in the offseason.
However, if Spagnuolo is going to win anything more than a moral victory in 2010, he is going to need some help from his front office. St. Louis, like all other really bad teams, has suffered from a dearth of talent in recent years. This is an important season for Spagnuolo and his coaching staff, and it is vital that his personnel department continues to improve the talent level up and down the Rams roster.
Let's take a look at the clubs pending free agents after the jump...
DB O.J. Atogwe (RFA) - Atogwe was one of the few bright spots on the Rams defense before he injured his shoulder and missed the last four games of the season. He is a playmaker in the secondary and is seeking a long term contract this off-season.
T Alex Barron (RFA) - Barron had an up and down year at left tackle, but he is expected to be retained. He was the most penalized player in the NFL this year.
DB Eric Bassey (RFA) - After injuring his knee in the preseason, Bassey missed the entire regular season. He has spent time on the Rams special teams for the past three years, but he may have to find a job on another team.
CB Quincy Butler (ERFA) - He has spent the majority of his career on special teams, but Butler saw extensive action at cornerback due to injuries in the Rams secondary.
RB Kenneth Darby (RFA) - Thought not know for his playmaking ability, Darby actually averaged over five yards a carry in limited duty for the Rams (27 carries). He seems like a solid backup, but he will not be getting many carries as long as Stephen Jackson plays in St. Louis.
TE Daniel Fells (UFA) - Fells is essentially a less talented Delanie Walker. He's a big body who can line up at wide receiver and create mismatches. He showed flashes of playmaking ability throughout 2009, but he is not the long term answer at tight end. Still, the UC Davis alum is an intriguing prospect given his size and skill set.
RB Samkon Gado (RFA) - Gado spent much of the season as Stephen Jackson's primary backup, but it's doubtful that any team would look at him as a potential starter.
LB Larry Grant (ERFA) - Grant was behind 2008's Mr. Irrelevant David Vobora on the strongside linebacker depth chart this year. He saw some time as a starter when Vobora was suspended for four games.
DL Leonard Little (UFA) - At 35 years old, Little was still the Rams most productive pass rusher this season. He could come back to St. Louis in a situational role in 2010. It is also rumored that he could move on to Carolina and reunite with defensive line coach Brian Baker, who was on Scott Linehan's staff from 2006-2008.
DB David Roach (ERFA)
DL Clifton Ryan (ERFA)
G Mark Setterstrom (RFA) - Setterstrom provided depth on the interior of the Rams offensive line before tearing his bicep against the Cardinals and missing the remainder of the season. Rotoworld described his play as "decent"
LB David Vobora (ERFA) - Vobora started at strongside linebacker for most of the season. He showed some potential at that position so expect him to be back there next year.
DB Jonathan Wade (RFA) - Wade rotated at right cornerback for much of the season. He lost his starting job to Bradley Fletcher before Fletcher went out with a knee injury. This is an area of need for the Rams, as Wade is better suited for a backup rather than a starting position.
Quarterback - The first order of business for St. Louis this offseason should be finding a franchise quarterback. The precipitous decline of Marc Bulger has left a gaping void under center, and until they find an able signal caller the Rams will be stuck in rebuild mode. Stephen Jackson remains an elite running back, but he needs some help on the offensive side of the ball and it starts with a new quarterback.
Defensive End - St. Louis has already invested a significant amount of money in their defensive line, but they could use a pure pass rusher at the defensive end position. This situation will only be exacerbated if Leonard Little departs. If they don't improve their pass rush their secondary will continue to struggle in coverage.
Defensive Tackle - The emergence of James Laurinaitis has given St. Louis a solid playmaker at the linebacker position, but they need to build around him. Everybody knows a linebacker's best friend is a dominant defensive tackle who can hold the line and allow him to run freely to the ball, so I expect the Rams to upgrade this position.
Guard - St. Louis needs a capable player to step into the right guard position.
Cornerback - The Rams already have young cornerbacks with some potential, but if they can find another one with good value they would be wise to secure his services. Increasing the competition at cornerback could help them find a long term answer at the position.
Wide Receiver - In his second year in the league Donnie Avery failed to live up to the lofty expectations that resulted from his breakout rookie campaign. There is still a chance Avery will live up to his talent, but St. Louis needs to pair him with another playmaker. Taking the pressure off of Avery and adding to their depth at the position could add another dimension to their run first offense.
St. Louis has been stuck in rebuild mode for a while now, and until they find a competent quarterback things are unlikely to change. They have some talent on offense, but nobody to distribute the ball efficiently. Filling the void at the quarterback position has to be their number one priority this offseason.
On the defensive side of the ball, expect them to try and improve their pass rush. They have a good foundation on which to build, but they are still missing a dominant sack specialist. If they can find someone to get pressure on the quarterback, their whole defense will start to look better.
Given Steve Spagnuolo's history as a member of the Giants organization, you have to think that he understands the value of a dominant defensive line. New York won a Super Bowl on the strength of their defensive line, and it seems likely that Spagnuolo will try and follow that blueprint in St. Louis.
Really though, when you get right down to it their strategy in free agency will be determined by what they plan to do in the draft. If they are going to take Ndamukong Suh with the first pick, then they will likely focus on other areas of need during free agency. If they decide to take somebody else with the number one overall pick or they are hoping to trade down, then obviously that will change their approach to free agency. Whatever they decide to do one thing is certain; they have plenty of needs to fill. Expect a busy offseason in St. Louis.
Would you be interested in acquiring any of the Rams free agents? What would you do with the first overall pick in the draft? What quarterbacks do you think could be donning the blue and gold next year?