The 2012 NFL offseason is winding down for the St. Louis Rams. The club has signed most, if not all, of its free agent targets, and the draft is now little more than a memory. With the Rams roster settling down, I think it's safe to say that the team has drastically improved from 2011.
General manager Les Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher went into this offseason hoping to get younger, faster, and more aggressive on both sides of the ball. Their moves began by releasing veterans such as defensive end James Hall, defensive tackle Fred Robbins and center Jason Brown. While Hall and Robbins played well for the Rams, they were older and struggling to stay healthy.
When Brown signed with the club, he was supposed to lead the offensive line for years to come. Instead, his lack of aggressiveness and his inability to adjust in St. Louis led to his downfall. The Rams weren't going to pay him to sit on the bench and had to let him go.
Other key members of the 2011 squad were not re-signed after their contracts ran out. It was hard to watch the team lose wide receiver Brandon Lloyd after spending less than a year with the Rams. He was the only true receiving threat that the offense had during his brief tenure, and it definitely hurt to see him sign with the New England Patriots.
Ronald Bartell was a solid cornerback when he was healthy, but he became a salary cap casualty after spending most of the season on injured reserve. He later signed with the Oakland Raiders.
The new signings
The Rams' free agent period began when cornerback Cortland Finnegan signed a five-year deal with the club. He brings a level of physicality to the secondary that is sure to change how opposing teams will game plan for the Rams each week.
Center Scott Wells and defensive lineman Kendall Langford signed with St. Louis just days after Finnegan joined the team. Wells is a Pro Bowl-caliber center who I believe will become one of the Rams' leaders. Langford is a versatile, athletic player who will help solidify the interior defensive line. Both of them are upgrades at their positions, and I can't wait to see them manning the trenches in St. Louis.
The Rams also added linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, wide receiver Steve Smith, and defensive lineman Trevor Laws. All three players will have the opportunity to earn significant playing time, especially Dunbar. I think there's a good chance that he's starting at outside linebacker on opening day.
The 2012 draft class
Earlier this week, Snead spoke with the press about his plan for the 2012 NFL Draft. "The goal was, 'Let's get multiple [draft] picks so we can get multiple players to go with our free agent crop," Snead said. "And I think we accomplished that."
While there are some fans who don't approve of the Rams' decisions in the draft, I agree with Snead. LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers is someone the team considered picking in the top 10, so the trade down to the No. 14 selection worked out well. In the second round, the Rams drafted receiver Brian Quick, who blew them away in pre-draft workouts, and running back Isaiah Pead, who gives them speed as a change-of-pace back.
The team also picked up two cornerbacks, Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson. I believe that both players have the potential to be stars in the NFL if they can stay out of trouble. The Rams filled other needs by selecting speedy receiver Chris Givens and the raw, but talented guard Rokevious Watkins. I think there's an excellent chance that each one of these draft picks will develop into a starters.
Does it all add up?
Overall, the Rams were able to fill or upgrade multiple spots on the roster through the draft. Now the team is younger, faster, and more athletic than it has been in years. I understand that there are character issues with some of the players that the club drafted, but I believe the Rams' coaching staff will keep them in line.
The team still needs help on the offensive line and at outside linebacker, but Snead and Fisher did an outstanding job finding players through both free agency and in the 2012 Draft. I think the Rams upgraded far more than most people believe they did. St. Louis might not win more than five or six games, but the team will make life miserable for opponents next season.
Derek Ciapala has been a Rams fan since he was a child and the team was in Los Angeles. His favorite Rams moments include Flipper Anderson's 336-yard receiving night against the Saints in 1989, and their miracle 1999 run to their first Super Bowl victory. You can follow him on Twitter @dciapala.
Source: 2012 St. Louis Rams Draft Conference Calls