NFL Offseason Primer

Posted Feb 4, 2013

WR Danny Amendola's contract status will go a long way in determining how the Rams offseason goes.

With the Super Bowl over and the 2012 NFL season officially complete, there isn’t much time for any NFL teams to sit back and enjoy the fruits of their labor, not even the world champion Baltimore Ravens.

That’s because the NFL has become more of a year-round proposition than any of the major professional sports and as the offseason nears, business is only going to pick up.

Here in St. Louis, the time for reflection on last season has long since evaporated, leaving the Rams focused on ways they can be the team playing on the sport’s grandest stage in games like yesterday’s.

The college all star game season also came to an end over the weekend with the Texas vs. the Nation game the final contest in a month-long run of games giving players from all over the NCAA a chance to showcase their skills in front of NFL teams.

What comes next is a month of preparation followed by what is affectionately known around the league as the “silly season.”

Here’s a look at how the next few months look on the calendar, along with some of the things that the Rams will have to nail down before they can re-convene on an actual football field.

NFL Scouting Combine – Feb. 20-26

Surrounded by various regional combines throughout the country, the NFL Scouting Combine brings the entire league to Indianapolis for the annual physical and medical evaluations along with extensive interview sessions with the nation’s top collegiate prospects.

That week in Indy affords teams the chance to get up close with around 300 of the best college football players as well as put them through extensive medical tests to help complete the profile on them leading up to the draft.

With free agency coming quickly on the heels of the combine, many teams will look to get business with their own free agents wrapped up here and even some potential talks about other free agents will be had (though that is frowned upon by the league, it still happens.

For the Rams, the biggest piece of this puzzle relates to running back Steven Jackson. He has the opportunity to opt out of the final year of his contract and has to make a decision on that before the new league year begins. It’s expected to come sometime in the month of February.

Whether or not Jackson elects to opt out of the one year and $7 million he has remaining on his contract likely won’t make a huge difference because it’s expected that even if he returns to the Rams, it will likely be on a new contract.

Originally, the Rams and Jackson had agreed that he’d make a decision on the opt out within five days of the end of the Super Bowl. That has been altered to allow Jackson to choose by the start of the new league year (March 12) but it’s expected that Jackson’s situation will be resolved one way or another by the end of the month.

Franchise and Transition Tag Deadline – Late February

Every year right around the time of the combine, many NFL teams are making difficult decisions on what to do with some of their top players who are headed for unrestricted free agency.

Rather than risk losing a player to another team without compensation, most teams elect to protect their best players by using the franchise or transition tag. Teams get a two week window at the end of the month to use those tags.

Those tags are one-year contract offers at the high price of the number for each position determined by taking the sum of the franchise tags for the previous five seasons and dividing by the sum of the salary caps for the previous five seasons (an average of the 2009 and 2011 salary caps are used for the uncapped 2010 season in the calculations). The resulting percentage is then multiplied by the salary cap.

This year’s salary cap is projected to come in at or around $121 million.

The Rams haven’t used the franchise tag on a player since 2009 when they used it on safety Oshiomogho Atogwe. Before that, tackle Orlando Pace was the only other recipient of the tag from the team.

But that could potentially change this year. Receiver Danny Amendola is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent and though the Rams would prefer to get him signed to a contract extension, they find themselves in a difficult spot with Amendola.

While Amendola has been the team’s most productive wideout and punt returner when healthy, he hasn’t been able to stay healthy for a full season since 2010 and has only played in 12 of a possible 32 games in the past two seasons.

Amendola figures to draw interest from teams in need of a top slot receiver in the offseason. One option for the Rams should they be unable to sign him to a lengthier extension would be to tag him with the intent to continue negotiating a contract.

The franchise tag has two designations – exclusive and non-exclusive. The non-exclusive tag would allow other teams to negotiate with the player but the Rams would have matching rights to any contract the player might agree to elsewhere and if those rights are eschewed, the team would receive two first-round picks as compensation. The exclusive tag does not allow any team but the original team negotiating rights.

The transition tag is a less used designation because it generally isn’t much less than the franchise tag and doesn’t have the exclusivity option or the same amount of compensation should the player sign elsewhere.

2013 Franchise and Transition Numbers (Projected)
CB: Franchise: $10.668         Transition: $8.939
DE: Franchise: $10.984         Transition: $8.994
DT: Franchise: $8.306           Transition: $6.919
K/P: Franchise: $2.926         Transition: $2.654
LB: Franchise: $9.455           Transition: $8.216
OL: Franchise: $9.660           Transition: $8.560
QB: Franchise: $14.642         Transition: $12.845
RB: Franchise: $8.079           Transition: $6.851
S: Franchise: $6.798             Transition: $5.899
TE: Franchise: $5.962            Transition: $5.105
WR: Franchise: $10.357        Transition: $8.716
Free Agent Negotiations Begin – March 9-11

For the first time this year, the NFL is looking to get out ahead of the problems its had with tampering in the past by allowing teams to negotiate with other teams’ free agents in a three day window before the official start of free agency.

This could also allow teams one last ditch effort to sign their own potential unrestricted free agents or make the necessary qualifying offers to restricted and exclusive rights free agents.

The Rams don’t figure to be flush with cap space that will allow for a wild spending spree or even a few high profile additions as they did last year with cornerback Cortland Finnegan, center Scott Wells and defensive tackle Kendall Langford.

That, of course, will be greatly affected by what the Rams do with their own free agents. Below is a list of the team’s free agents.

Unrestricted free agents

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

Restricted free agents

LB Justin Cole
DT Jermelle Cudjo
S Darian Stewart

Among the unrestricted free agents the Rams are most likely to retain are Amendola, Gibson, Hayes and Turner. They can retain the restricted free agents by offering one-year tenders at various designations.

The Rams also have some high priced veterans who could be brought back at a reduced rate or released to create more salary cap space. Jackson, tackle Wayne Hunter and safety Quintin Mikell could be asked to figure out more cost-effective contract options.

New League Year Begins – March 12 (3 p.m. CST)

While negotiations with free agents league wide will begin in earnest three days earlier, teams can’t begin actually signing free agents until the new league year begins.

On what is traditionally one of the busiest days of the year from a league-wide perspective, the deadline for a number of important facets of the offseason also falls at the start of the league year.

Before the 3 p.m. central deadline, teams must be under the salary cap (that is the 51 highest paid players on the roster must have a salary total below the designated number), have made decisions on any players who have club options and submit all necessary qualifying offers to their restricted and exclusive rights free agents.

Again, the Rams aren’t expected to be major players in free agency depending on what they can get done with their own roster. There could be some activity with some mid-level free agents, though those deals might not happen in the opening moments of free agency like many of the big deals are. 

Annual League Meeting – March 17-20

Offseason Training Program – April 15

Near the end of the season, Rams coach Jeff Fisher lamented the fact that his team was getting healthy at the “wrong” time. What he meant was the Rams were getting all of their pieces at full strength just in time for the season to end.

That was unfortunate at the time but it figures to be good news come April when the team finally re-convenes for the offseason conditioning program.

New rules from the CBA stipulate that teams actually get less mandatory time with their players than they used to be allotted in the past but the offseason program is generally considered the foundation for what is to come in the lead up to the season.

Starting on tax day, the Rams will return to St. Louis for the beginning of the offseason program. It’s considered voluntary but the majority of players generally attend. Strength and conditioning coach Rock Gullickson oversees the program with workouts tailored to individual players.

Mixed into the program is a pair of minicamps as well as Organized Team Activities, dates of which will be announced later.

The Rams figure to be at or close to full strength when the offseason program begins with only center Scott Wells coming back from an offseason surgery. Aside from guard Harvey Dahl, players who finished the year on injured reserve, such as guard Rokevious Watkins and safety Matt Daniels, are expected to be ready to go.

Dahl also could be ready to go by then as well. He had surgery for a torn biceps in December and his recovery time was placed at three to four months, putting him on course for a potential return to full strength in time for the start of the offseason program.

NFL Draft – April 25-27

Perhaps the most anticipated event of the offseason, the NFL Draft draws more attention, debate and speculation than any other league tent pole.

The mock drafts and guessing games all come to a head in New York City as the 32 teams go through the seven rounds of the draft.

The Rams have been prominently involved at the top of the draft many times in recent years but that won’t be the case this year. Instead, the Rams will remain prominently involved but for different reasons.

After making waves with a huge trade of the No. 2 pick in last year’s draft, the Rams come armed as the only team in the league holding two first-round picks in this year’s selection process.

Sitting at No. 16 and 22 in the first round and armed with picks in each of the ensuing six rounds, the Rams again have the chance to manipulate the board and move up or down as they see fit.

Early returns on this draft class indicate a solid group top to bottom without much sizzle at the top. That could play into the hands of Rams general manager Les Snead, who has showed no fear in his willingness to move up or down to accumulate picks or get the player he covets.

NFL Spring Meeting – May 20-22