EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Asked about his desire to keep his pending free agents this offseason, St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher gave the standard answer at this time of year.
"We have a number of unrestricted free agents that, as a general statement, we’d like to have all back," Fisher said. "We’re going to see if we can get that done.”
Realistically, there's almost no chance that all of the Rams free agents will be back, either because the team chooses to move on, the players finds a better deal, or some combination therein. On Monday, we provided the list of the Rams' 14 unrestricted, restricted and exclusive rights free agents.
Now, it's time to take a look at where the Rams' priorities should lie when it comes to retaining those players. Over the next couple of months, we'll take a closer look at some of the key names here but for now, here's how I view the group.
WR Kenny Britt (UFA): Britt's 748 receiving yards were the most by a Rams wide receiver since Torry Holt posted 796 in 2008 and the first time any Rams pass catcher has surpassed 700 receiving yards since that same season. Not that 700 yards should be some benchmark that warrants millions for Britt on a new contract but he was a pleasant surprise and steadying influence for the team's young receivers in 2014. He likely won't be too expensive and there's a clear sense from Britt's side that he knows St. Louis and Fisher are his best bets for more success in the long term. It's unlikely the Rams will have to break the bank for Britt, and the sides should be able to come to a fair agreement.
OT Joe Barksdale (UFA) -- Barksdale didn't play as well in 2014 as he did in 2013 but the Rams have invested plenty of time and effort into turning him into a solid starting right tackle. Barksdale feels loyalty to the Rams, who gave him a chance after Oakland released him unceremoniously in 2012, but that will only go so far, and the Rams figure to only go so far as well. Even average tackles get overpaid in this league. The Rams have interest in bringing Barksdale back but there's no guarantee they'll be able to pay him like others might.
S Rodney McLeod (RFA) -- McLeod improved in 2014 but many would agree that free safety is still a position that could use an upgrade. However, considering the Rams' many needs on offense, it would make sense for the Rams to bring McLeod back for another season. Plus, Fisher and staff like McLeod and they still have a fair bit of control over his future since he's restricted. It's a safe bet he'll be back in 2015.
TE Lance Kendricks (UFA) -- Fellow tight end/fullback Cory Harkey is also up for free agency. Harkey is not unrestricted, so it seems all but certain he will return. Even with that, Kendricks is a solid, if unspectacular piece who brings versatility to the table. I'd expect Kendricks to explore the market, but he could be back if the price is right. The Rams also have high hopes for rookie Alex Bayer, who might be able to take on an expanded role next season.
Make a choice:
QBs Shaun Hill (UFA) and Austin Davis (RFA) -- The Rams could theoretically bring both back but it seems unlikely that both would make the roster if the Rams follow through on their plans to retain Sam Bradford and bring in a quarterback from the outside. Hill has the experience and Davis has the youth and upside but neither proved capable of being the consistent starter the Rams would need in event of injury. Technically, Davis is cheaper and easier to retain since he's restricted but either way, this is only a really important decision if the Rams don't follow through on their plan to bolster the position.
Others such as young offensive linemen Tim Barnes, Mike Person and Brandon Washington are probably worth bringing back if only because the Rams have invested so much time in them and they need depth on the line. Players such as guard Davin Joseph and defensive tackle Alex Carrington who came to St. Louis on one-year free agent deals last year are unlikely to return.