EARTH CITY, Mo. -- If the Los Angeles Rams had wanted, they could already have safety/linebacker Mark Barron under team control for 2016.
Entering last offseason, the Rams had a decision to make on Barron's status for 2016. As a former first-round pick, they held the right to exercise a fifth-year option to retain him for 2016.
They chose to do that with defensive tackle Michael Brockers, whom the Rams drafted No. 14 overall in the 2012 NFL draft, but Barron's case was a bit different. While Barron went No. 7 in that same draft, it was to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Rams acquired Barron via trade midway through the 2014 season and he played 166 snaps in nine games after his arrival. It wasn't enough to convince the Rams to pay the costly freight of the one-year deal that goes with exercising the option.
Fast forward through a 2015 season in which Barron proved himself a valuable cog in the Rams defense, and there's zero doubt that the Rams would like to bring him back into the fold. Only problem is, now they have to re-sign him as an unrestricted free agent.
“We desperately want him back and he wants to come back," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said after the season. "He likes the role. He likes the position. He’s very instinctive around the line of scrimmage."
Although it didn't happen how the Rams would have wanted, Barron had ample opportunity to show his skills in 2015. After starting the season playing a part-time role in the team's "big nickel" package that saw the Rams using three safeties on the field at once, Barron stepped into the weak side linebacker role after Alec Ogletree suffered a season-ending leg/ankle injury.
Officially, the Rams listed Barron as a "weak side safety" but no matter what label the depth chart showed, the best one to describe Barron was "productive." He finished the season with 113 tackles, a sack, three forced fumbles and four pass breakups. Although Ogletree's presence was missed, the Rams fared better than anyone could have expected upon plugging Barron into the role.
Not that having good football players is ever a bad thing, but the Rams now find themselves in the interesting predicament of figuring out Barron's place in the defense and how to maximize that value. Ogletree will be back from his injury, which means Barron could go back to the sub-package spot where he started the season. Another possibility could see the Rams move Ogletree into the middle with Barron back on the weak side. Either way, the Rams must ask themselves if they can find enough snaps for Barron to justify what will presumably be a hefty price.
Fisher believes they will.
"We’ll go back and do our self-scout and those kinds of things here in a few weeks," Fisher said. "But the number of sub packages that we face defensively, from an offensive standpoint, is going to put him on the field. In addition to the nickel back, or (nickel cornerback) Lamarcus [Joyner], you also have the need for that position. So, the game’s changing a little bit. That becomes kind of a starting position for us on defense.”
Especially if it's Barron filling the spot.