Rams center Tim Barnes hoping to build off first season as starter

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Last offseason was a long and difficult one for Los Angeles Rams center Tim Barnes.

Barnes was a restricted free agent but the Rams declined to give him a tender offer, which made him an unrestricted free agent. After a relatively long wait, Barnes visited the Kansas City Chiefs before signing back with the Rams on March 31.

But Barnes' new deal was just a one-year, $1 million contract that guaranteed only that he would be back in the unenviable position of searching for another job this offseason, if not sooner.

As it turned out, Barnes was able to win the starting job at center, and though he now goes into this offseason set to become an unrestricted free agent, this time he goes armed with a full season's worth of starting experience.

"Absolutely, I had a good year on film and there’s a lot of stuff out there [for teams]," Barnes said. "My name is out there for the teams and so I won’t be in that same position where I was last year where it’s kind of fishing or whatever where I wanted to stay here but you never know. Now, I still don’t know. We’ll just have to see."

Barnes earned the respect of teammates and coaches in the offseason after he came back to the Rams. He found himself embroiled in a three-person competition against draft picks Demetrius Rhaney and Barrett Jones, two younger options whom the Rams hoped would take a step forward to win the job. Ultimately, Barnes' experience and savvy won out and he earned the spot as Jones was released.

After appearing in 45 games, mostly on special teams, in his three previous seasons with the Rams, Barnes started all 16 games in 2015. He proved durable, playing 913 snaps, well over the 266 he'd played from 2012-2014. And the highlight of his season came against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 16 when he recovered a pair of fumbles to help preserve a 23-17 upset win.

It was all valuable experience that Barnes believes will make him better moving forward.

"I just think the more you play, the more comfortable you get," Barnes said. "You get more comfortable with the defenses, and seeing different blitzes and playing different players you get more confident and figure out how to play people differently. To me, that’s huge."

Of the many pending free agents the Rams have to deal with this offseason, only Barnes lands on the list among offensive linemen. That's largely because they spent five draft picks on linemen last year. Still, while Barnes had some good moments, he also had his share of struggles, and it wouldn't be a surprise if the Rams looked for an upgrade this offseason either in-house, outside or a combination of the two.

For his part, Barnes would like to return to the team that gave him his first starting opportunity.

"I think it would be really good to be able to come back," Barnes said. "What we’ve built this year, and all the guys are really close and all the guys are great guys. It’s an exciting time in our room so, hopefully, who knows what will happen but hopefully I’ll be a part of it."