Free Agent Preview: Offensive Line

Posted Mar 6, 2012

Guard Jacob Bell is set to become a free agent on March 13.

There is no area of the roster the Rams have tried harder to bolster in the past four years or so than the offensive line.

In that time, the Rams signed guards Jacob Bell and Harvey Dahl and center Jason Brown to costly multi-year contracts. They’ve also spent top 33 picks on tackles Jason Smith and Rodger Saffold.

Yet with free agency set to begin on March 13, the Rams have question marks across the offensive line, some caused by injuries, others by performance and others from expired contracts.

In looking just at the five players mentioned above, only Dahl was able to start and be effective the entire season. Even Dahl was forced to move from his right guard spot to right tackle because of injuries. He fared well outside and though he projects to go back inside this year, he at least gives the Rams some flexibility as they move forward in rebuilding the line again.

Saffold was denied the chance to build on a strong rookie season by a torn pectoral suffered while weightlifting. He had some ups and downs before that but was seemingly rounding into form when the injury hit.

Still, Saffold is on track to be back in time for the offseason conditioning program and has already resumed weight training. He’s only a year removed from a strong rookie season and there’s a belief that a full offseason program will get him where he needs to be to stand up to power rushes from the league’s elite pass rushers.

Smith suffered his second season-ending concussion against Dallas early in the season and did not return. While coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead have indicated that Smith is going to be OK and get a shot to plug back into the lineup, he’ll have to prove he can hold up to the rigors of the NFL season.

Bell is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after four years with the Rams. He was solid if unspectacular in that time but does have a previous relationship with Fisher from their time together in Tennessee.

Bell had his moments in St. Louis, including a downright dominant performance against New Orleans last year. It’s possible he could be brought back with the opportunity to play for Fisher potentially bringing the best out of him.

Brown was able to make it through the season last year but was moved out of his usual center position midway through the year. He eventually re-entered the starting lineup as a guard after injuries hit in other places. With a big cap number coming, it’s possible Brown could be a candidate for a re-structured deal.

Beyond that five, the Rams also have holes to fill in terms of roster depth. Versatile backups Adam Goldberg and Tony Wragge are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents, leaving the Rams in need of capable swing men.

Developmental prospects Bryan Mattison, Kevin Hughes and Thomas Welch got some playing time late in the year and could compete for roster spots in the summer. Same for practice squad center Tim Barnes and tackle Ryan McKee.

Regardless of where it comes from, the Rams are going to need to find some help for the offensive line in all areas this offseason. As it stands, only Saffold and Dahl seem to be set for starting spots though where they line up could come into question.

Finding the needed help on the free agent market could be tricky on the edge and quite a bit easier on the inside.

As is the general rule with talented offensive tackles, teams simply don’t let them get away. So a shallow class of available tackles might best serve the Rams in a chance to get an experienced veteran to serve as a backup.

Heading up the available tackles is Buffalo’s Demetrius Bell, the one young tackle on the market with the combination of production and potential. Beyond that, a group that includes San Diego’s Jared Gaither and Cincinnati’s Anthony Collins could provide depth options with the chance to win starting jobs.

If the Rams should choose to spend some money to find help on the interior, there are much more bountiful – and likely much more costly – options.

New Orleans guard Carl Nicks is the cream of the free agent crop of offensive linemen and should command a contract that could make him the highest paid interior offensive lineman in league history.

It’s unlikely the Rams would spend for someone such as Nicks but there are some intriguing guard and center options beyond him. Baltimore’s Ben Grubbs has been a solid performer since he came into the league and could represent a nice value similar to what Dahl commanded from the Rams last year.

Philadelphia’s Evan Mathis, Miami’s Vernon Carey (who could also play right tackle), Pittsburgh’s Chris Kemoeatu and Tennessee’s Jake Scott represent other, more cost effective options at guard.

At the pivot, Green Bay’s Scott Wells sits at the top of the list. Houston’s Chris Myers is also a good option, especially for teams looking for more zone oriented blockers.

Other potential options in the middle include New England’s Dan Connolly and Dan Koppen as well as San Diego’s Nick Hardwick.

Top Five Available Tackles
1. Demetrius Bell, Buffalo (UFA)
2. Jared Gaither, San Diego (UFA)
3. Anthony Collins, Cincinnati (UFA)
4. Vernon Carey, Miami (UFA)
5. Levi Brown, Arizona (UFA)

Top Five Available Interior Linemen
1. G Carl Nicks, New Orleans (UFA)
2. G Ben Grubbs, Baltimore (UFA)
3. C Scott Wells, Green Bay (UFA)
4. G Evan Mathis, Philadelphia (UFA)
5. C Chris Myers, Houston (UFA)

Rams Free Agents
T – Adam Goldberg (UFA),
G/C – Jacob Bell (UFA), Tony Wragge (UFA)

Note: UFA stands for unrestricted free agent. That player can be signed by any team without compensation going to the former team. RFA is a restricted free agent who must be signed to an offer sheet and compensation in the form of a draft pick must go to the former team. These lists do NOT include players who have been given the franchise tag by their respective teams.