ST. LOUIS -- We're still months away from May's NFL draft, but that doesn't mean it's too early to start looking at the many possible permutations of how things could shake out.
The St. Louis Rams aren't having an open auction for the No. 2 overall pick like they did in 2012, but general manager Les Snead has already indicated a willingness to move it. Without a pair of clear cut top quarterbacks, the market may not be in the hurry to make a move which could leave the Rams waiting until they're on the clock before making a deal. As the combine approaches along with pro days, prospects will become more valued and the market could crystallize.
Free agency is also likely to have an impact on potential trade partners as teams fill needs in other avenues. For now, we'll take a look at a possible Rams trade partner each week for the next six weeks.
To begin, we start with the most logical possibility: the Atlanta Falcons, who hold the No. 6 overall selection.
Why Atlanta makes sense: The ties between the Rams and Falcons run deep. Snead, director of player personnel Taylor Morton and director of pro personnel Ran Carthon came up in the Atlanta organization and still maintain close relationships with Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff and director of player personnel Lionel Vital, among others.
Although it wasn't the trade that drew the most attention of the Rams' deals made in last year's draft, the Rams and Falcons managed to swing a deal sending the Rams' No. 22 pick and seventh-round choice to Atlanta for pick No. 30, a third-round pick and a sixth-round selection. Atlanta drafted cornerback Desmond Trufant and the Rams used No. 30 on linebacker Alec Ogletree in a deal that has worked out well for both teams so far.
The relationships alone should make for some easy conversation between the sides but, of course, the Falcons have to be willing to move up to make something happen. According to ESPN Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure, that willingness appears to be there. Dimitroff told McClure that he will "always consider" making a move, whether it's up or down in the order.
Dimitroff hasn't hesitated to put action behind those words. Beyond the move to get Trufant last year, he made the bold move up for receiver Julio Jones in 2011. That, of course, begs the question of whether there's a player the Falcons would want to move up for this year.
Atlanta is set at quarterback, the one position that generally draws the most interest for a trade up. But the Falcons have big needs for pass rush and offensive line help. Fortunately for the Rams, those are two areas this draft looks to boast some elite talents.
Headlining that group is defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney is clearly the best pass-rusher in the draft and would be a logical fit in Atlanta's base 4-3 defense. Atlanta finished tied for last in the NFL in sacks in 2013 with 32.
Clowney is nearly certain to be a top-five pick if not the No. 1 overall choice. At No. 6, the Falcons are almost certainly out of range to draft Clowney and would need to make a move up to get him. Should Houston opt for a quarterback, the Falcons and Rams could certainly have discussions for Clowney.
Likewise, the early returns indicate a pair of top tackles -- Texas A&M's Jake Matthews and Auburn's Greg Robinson -- who could go in the top five. If Atlanta opts to bolster its offensive line or if Clowney goes first, the Rams and Falcons could strike a deal to give Atlanta the chance to have their pick of the two stud tackles.
For what it's worth, Dimitroff praised those prospects to McClure this week in Mobile.
Why Atlanta doesn't make sense: There was probably no team in the NFL racked by injury more than the Falcons in 2013. Atlanta was a preseason Super Bowl favorite and fell to a disappointing 4-12 season. While the Falcons still have plenty of talent in place, the injuries exposed a lack of depth which kept Atlanta from at least reaching the level of mediocrity.
Given that lack of depth, the Falcons might not be inclined to give up extra picks to make a move with the knowledge that they need to add more players to the roster. It might even spur Dimitroff to be more interested in a move down than a move up.
While the Falcons hit it big with the addition of Jones the last time they moved up, they'd once again likely have to offer up a big package of picks to get to No. 2. It likely wouldn't be on the level of the deal the Rams made with Washington but would still cost a sizable amount of draft capital. There's also the question of whether teams will be more gun-shy about making a deal to move into that spot after seeing what happened with the Rams-Redskins trade.
The Rams may also have some hesitation about moving out of the top five altogether. They moved to No. 6 in the original trade with Washington but did so knowing that they could still land a player they like later. It's too early to say how many players the Rams view in such high regard, but if moving out of the top five would take them out of the running for Clowney, Matthews and Robinson, it's possible they might hesitate to deal with Atlanta.