The clock is ticking with free agency to start whenever the lockout is lifted. A feeding frenzy is just around the corner. The conversations, calculations, and player posturing are currently taking place as it does every year. This time period is like watching a flat-screen television. You only see the screen, while the working parts, guts, computer chips and electronics are busy at work displaying the visual.
With all 32 NFL teams itching to book flights, organize and set up visits to their facilities and plan tours of the city, everything hinges on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and the three judges making the decision to lift the stay.
While the Rams did an adequate job of filling some needs in the draft, the list of needs to fill remains long and the positional needs are on both sides of the ball. Rams owner Stan Kroenke was quoted as saying, “We will build through the yearly draft and avoid heavy spending in free agency.”
With those directives from ownership, look for the Rams to fill some key hot spots in free agency. It’s not that Kroenke doesn’t want to spend the money to build a championship team. It’s that he understands that the draft is the bloodline of the organization and free agents are overvalued too often.
Below I have listed key free agents that would help fill the hotspots, and I prioritized the remaining needs for the Rams: running back, guard, defensive tackle, outside linebacker and safety.
DeAngelo Williams, RB, Panthers. Age: 27
A trade is still on the block. I helped draft Williams before taking a vice-president job with the Rams. He is a class act off the field and an excellent all-purpose running back on the field. Medical is the only concern for me, as he has soft tissue injury history the past several seasons.
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Giants. Age: 25
Ahmad Bradshaw should be re-signed by the Giants, but if not he fits as a great one/two punch. He’s an all-purpose dual threat. Despite some ball protection issues in 2010, he rushed for 1,235 yards (4.5 per attempt) and eight touchdowns. He has a natural receiving skill set with 47 receptions for 314 yards. Has some injury history but they all do.
Michael Bush, RB, Raiders. Age: 27
This running back has size, speed and production. He came into the NFL with a major leg injury history. Despite nagging injuries, he has worked through it with toughness and a passion for the game. A backup to Darren McFadden, he was overshadowed in 2010, but still possesses the skill set to be a key backup and carry the load as a starter an a emergency. Injury history is a concern.
Darren Sproles, RB/KR/PR, Chargers Age: 28
This player is a triple threat and might be the best fit for the Rams. He is not interested in a starting role and would be a key contributor as both a kickoff and punt return specialist. He is a third-down back that is tough, competitive and plays the game with a passion. He is quicker than fast and would be a great complementary back to Jackson.
Tim Hightower, RB, Cardinals. Age: 25
An NFC West divisional threat, Hightower always had good games against the Rams. I liked this player coming out of college, but the Rams’ brain trust turned their heads when he was still on the board. He is a classic change-of-pace running back. He has pick and slide running skills to bounce to open space with big-play ability and solid receiving skills.
Ronnie Brown, RB, Dolphins. Age: 29
I like this former War Eagle and No. 2 overall draft choice. He would bring the wildcat dimension to the Rams. He is also a walking stitch in personnel medical terms, meaning he has major injury history to ligaments or joints. Would add a different dimension, but wear and tear and knee issues in the past rule this player out. He is not a long-term fix.
Jerome Harrison, RB, Eagles. Age: 28
As a Husky, it’s hard for me to like this Washington State Cougar. This undersized running back had a breakout season in 2009. With the arrival and power running of Peyton Hillis, his touches diminished. A change-of-pace back with good durability. He is effective as a receiver and runner.
Mewelde Moore, RB, Steelers. Age: 29
A classic third-down back that would fit in Josh McDaniels’ offense like Kevin Faulk did in New England. Would need to develop into a core special teams player until role is called upon. Is both competitive and tough.
Noel Devine, RB, West Virginia. Age: 23: Short and small but a difference-maker that is a blur as far as speed is concerned.
Garrett Wolfe, RB, Bears. Age: 27: Short and small; is not a true fit.
Laurence Maroney, RB, Broncos: Age: 26: Injury history on shoulder and his latest off-the-field issues knock this player out of consideration for me.
Patrick Cobbs, RB, Dolphins. Age: 28: Would contribute as a third-down back, but must develop into a core special teams player.
Lex Hilliard, RB, Dolphins. Age: 27: The darling of the pre-season early in his career. Has running skills and vision, but injury history and the inability to get off the practice squad is a concern for me.
The remaining positional needs (guard, defensive tackle, outside linebacker and safety) will appear in a four-part series starting with guard on Friday.