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Chris Long's return to Rams up for discussion

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- We're moving closer to the start of the new league year and, along with it, the start of free agency. Which means over the next few weeks, the Los Angeles Rams will be taking a long look at the players already on the roster and determining whether they're worth their projected salary-cap numbers.

Some teams have already begun the process of releasing high-priced veterans to create salary-cap room. So this week, we'll take a look at some players who will come under the microscope for the Rams.

Player: DE Chris Long

Contract status: Signed through 2016 season.

2016 cap hit: $14.25 million

Potential savings: $12.75 million

Why he could go: By his own admission, Long's contributions over the past two seasons haven't matched his salary. He played just 18 games combined in 2014 and 2015 and even after returning from injuries in those years, he wasn't at 100 percent. Along the way, Long posted 24 tackles and four sacks and counted a total of more than $25 million against the salary cap. At 30, Long believes he still has good football left in him but for a Rams defense that's built on the pass rush, they likely want to get younger and cheaper to help complement Robert Quinn and Aaron Donald. It's unlikely the Rams will bring Long back at his current cost and though he told ESPN.com in January that he'd be willing to take a pay cut to stay, he also made it clear that winning is his top priority at this stage in his career. As hard as it might be for the Rams to part ways with a player as beloved in the locker room as Long, it might be best for all parties to move on.

Why he could stay: As mentioned above, Long has expressed at least some willingness to come back at a lesser rate. If the Rams could work something out with him, it would give them some much-needed salary-cap space while also allowing them to plan for the future at the position. Long is one of the team's leaders and they lean on him to help balance the locker room and offer guidance to their many young players. Both of his injuries over the past two seasons were fluky and he played well before the knee injury that slowed him this season, which offers some hope he can still be productive. Letting Long go would also only add to an ever-expanding list of needs for the Rams, who also have ends William Hayes and Eugene Sims scheduled to become unrestricted free agents.