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‘Shutdown Corner’ offseason TPS report: St. Louis Rams

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Chris Long spearheads an improving Rams defense (USA Today Sports Images)

After taking a few days to focus on the 2013 NFL scouting combine, "Shutdown Corner" resumes our TPS reports (Office Space), where we take a look back at each team's 2012 season and a look at what lies ahead for the 2013 offseason. We continue in the NFC West with the St. Louis Rams.

2012 record: 7-8-1

What went wrong: When the Rams beat the Cardinals 17-3 to improve to 3-2 on Oct. 4, it marked the first time the club was over .500 since 2006. Unfortunately, the Rams would not win another game until their rematch with the Cardinals on Nov. 25, a stretch of four losses and a tie.

The Rams improved on both sides of the ball in 2012, but one area that needs to be addressed this offseason is their return game. Rams kick returners averaged 21 yards per return, which was tied for 26th in the NFL. On punt returns, the Rams averaged 6.6 yards per return, which ranked 31st in the league.

What went right: For a sub .500 team, quite a lot went right for the Rams in the first season of the Les Snead/Jeff Fisher era.

The Rams' defense ranked 14th in total yards allowed per game and were tied for 14th in points allowed per game. According to Football Outsiders' opponent-adjusted metrics, the Rams were seventh in defensive DVOA, finishing in the Top 10 against the run and pass last season. Though no Rams players would appear in the 2013 Pro Bowl, the defense received solid seasons from defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn, who combined for 22 of the Rams' league-leading 52 sacks in 2012. Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis led the Rams with 142 tackles, adding two interceptions, while second-round cornerback Janoris Jenkins led the Rams with four interceptions. Another key contributor on defense was outside linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, who had 113 tackles, 4.5 sacks and led the squad with 16 tackles for a loss.

With a third coordinator (Brian Schottenheimer) in as many seasons, the offense remains a work in progress, improving from 32nd in FO's offensive DVOA in 2011 to 21st in 2012, but still finishing towards the bottom of the league (25th) in points scored.

The Rams also struck gold with sixth-round kicker Greg "The Leg" (or Legatron, depending on your inclination towards sci-fi cartoons) Zuerlein, who was 23-of-31 on field goal attempts on the season with six of his eight misses coming from beyond 50 yards. Zuerlein nailed a 60-yard field goal in a Week 4 win over the Seattle Seahawks and became the first kicker in NFL history to hit a 60-yard field goal and a 50-yard field goal in the same game. Rookie punter Johnny Hekker also had a solid season, finishing with a net average of 39.9 yards and completing all three of his passing attempts on fakes for 42 yards and a two-yard touchdown in the Week 4 win over Seattle.

Coaching/front office changes: The Rams went without a defensive coordinator after Gregg Williams was suspended indefinitely over his role in the New Orleans Saints' bounty program. Fisher says he made the decision late in the season to move on from Williams, but took his time this offseason before naming a full-time replacement. The Rams named Detroit Lions secondary coach Tim Walton their defensive coordinator in mid-February.

Estimated 2013 cap space: $750,000 over their estimated 2013 adjusted cap number.

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James Laurinaitis could give the Rams major cap relief (USA Today Sports Images)

Possible cap casualties: The Rams will gain $7 million in cash and cap space when Steven Jackson officially voids his contract and becomes a free agent. The Rams could clear an additional $3 million in cap space, and more importantly save $6 million in cash, by releasing safety Quintin Mikell, who turns 33 in September and is a player the current regime inherited from the Billy Devaney/Steve Spagnuolo era. Another inherited player who could be released is right guard Harvey Dahl, an over-30 veteran who is coming off a biceps injury and has a $4 million salary and cap number in 2013. If the Rams have faith in young tackles Joe Barksdale and Ty Nsekhe and/or use a draft pick on an offensive tackle, they could part ways with, or seek to reduce, Wayne Hunter's $4 million in cash compensation ($3.95 million base salary, $50,000 workout bonus) and cap number this offseason.

In terms of restructures, the lucrative, long-term extension signed Laurinaitis before the start of the regular season was structured in such a way that a slight tweak would create a lot of cap space in 2013. Laurinaitis is scheduled to receive a fully guaranteed $11 million roster bonus on March 16, which could be converted to a signing bonus and prorated through the end of the current deal (2017). The move would lower his 2013 cap number to $3.2 million, a cap savings of $9.4 million this season, while adding very little prorated amounts to future seasons.

Cortland Finnegan ($14 million cash, $15 million cap number) and Chris Long ($13.25 million cash and cap number) also have contracts with large sums of guaranteed money that could be converted to a signing bonus and prorated over the next four seasons (five, if a season is tacked on to maximize proration), but the Rams may opt to not leverage the health of future caps for short-term relief. Between Jackson, Mikell, Dahl, Hunter and a Laurinaitis restructure, the Rams would have well over $20 million in cap space by 4:01 p.m. ET on March 12, which should be plenty for a team that showed in 2012 that they're fully capable of playing with division powers San Francisco and Seattle.

Unrestricted free agents

Danny Amendola, WR
Kellen Clemens, QB
Craig Dahl, S
Bradley Fletcher, CB
Brandon Gibson, WR
Mario Haggan, LB
William Hayes, DE
Trevor Laws, DT
Rocky McIntosh, LB
Brit Miller, FB
Barry Richardson, OT
Steve Smith, WR
Robert Turner, C/G
Chris Williams, G

Restricted free agents

Justin Cole, LB
Jermelle Cudjo, DT
Darian Stewart, S

RFA tender amounts in 2013 are:

• $1.323 million for right of first refusal and/or original draft round compensation

• $2.023 for right of first refusal and second round draft selection

• $2.879 for right of first refusal and first round draft selection

Franchise Tag candidates: Rams GM Les Snead told NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal that the Rams will not use the franchise tag on Danny Amendola or anyone else on their list of free agents this offseason. That approach makes sense because no matter how valuable Amendola has been to the Rams offense, it's hard to guarantee that much money - around $10.4 million, depending on the official league-wide cap number - for one season to a player who has appeared in just 12 games over the last two seasons.

Previous installments of the "Offseason TPS Reports" series:

AFC East: New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills
AFC North: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns
AFC South: Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans
AFC West: Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers, Denver Broncos
NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Washington Redskins
NFC North: Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers
NFC South: Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Atlanta Falcons
NFC West: Arizona Cardinals

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