Releasing Long, Wells makes Rams' OL needs clear

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams made a pair of unsurprising moves Monday when they released offensive tackle Jake Long and center Scott Wells.

The fact that the cuts save the Rams about $12 million in salary-cap space offered reason enough to make the moves, but that Long and Wells had not been able to stay healthy enough to perform up to the lofty contracts the Rams once gave them in free agency should leave no doubt.

There's no need to go deep diving into the perils of signing big-ticket free agents. It's been pretty clear that the team that spends the most is rarely the one that wins the most.

The Rams signed Wells and Long at a time when they were attempting to rebuild a barren roster. Neither signing worked out and should serve as an obvious warning sign as to why the Rams have not actively pursued bidding wars for high-priced free agents like center Rodney Hudson and guard Orlando Franklin.

What's more concerning for the Rams is that by parting ways with Long and Wells they are continuing a seemingly endless cycle of searching for answers on the offensive line. It's been a process that's ongoing with little in the way of stability. Long and Wells join the likes of Jacob Bell and Jason Brown as high-priced free-agent offensive linemen that didn't work out despite many dollars going their way.

In a combined five seasons with the team, Wells and Long played 57 games with the Rams shelling out nearly $37 million in exchange. Now, the Rams find themselves with the cap space to make a move or two on the offensive line but face the same situation repeating itself.

With Long and Wells gone and guard Davin Joseph and right tackle Joe Barksdale headed for unrestricted free agency, the Rams have three openings for starters along the offensive line. On the eve of free agency, only left tackle Greg Robinson and guard Rodger Saffold can safely be penciled into the starting lineup.

Finding three starters from outside the building in one offseason figures to be an arduous task, especially considering the Rams don't have as much cap space as others and currently have just five picks in the NFL draft.

At least at center the Rams do have some in-house options, though they are wholly unproven. The team did not tender restricted free agent Tim Barnes, though he could come back at a lesser rate later. They also have 2013 fourth-round draft pick Barrett Jones and 2014 seventh-round selection Demetrius Rhaney.

Jones has been an enigma who has dealt with multiple injury issues since arriving in St. Louis, appearing mostly on special teams in 10 games over two seasons. Rhaney spent last season on injured reserve with a knee injury but Rams coach Jeff Fisher has spoken highly of his potential.

As for outside options, free agency doesn't figure to offer many. Oakland's Stefen Wisniewski looks like a possible fit though as of Sunday the Rams had not expressed interest in him. That doesn't mean they won't or haven't in the time since, especially with the job now open.

The situation at tackle and the other guard spot doesn't offer even as much as Jones and Rhaney at center in terms of possible replacements. Short of a major surprise before Tuesday, Robinson will be the only true tackle on the roster, though the Rams did tender exclusive rights free agent Brandon Washington, who is believed to be a better fit at guard.

To this point, the Rams have not been linked to any free-agent alternatives and though they would like to bring Barksdale back, it seems his market could go beyond what the Rams are willing to spend. The Rams could theoretically move Saffold outside to tackle but they believe he's better at guard and that would only create another opening on the interior.

Barring an outside addition, tackle would then have to be considered the team's top need entering the NFL draft.

With the expected return of Sam Bradford at quarterback, the thought of so much uncertainty on the offensive line can't be a pleasant one for the Rams or their fans.

To get it fixed, they'll have to hit some home runs either acquiring talent, developing it or some combination of the two. For the better part of the past decade, that's apparently been too much to ask, which is why the Rams once again find themselves looking for help.