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: LB James Laurinaitis
Contract status: Signed through 2017.
2016 cap hit: $6,425,000
Potential savings: $5,525,000
Why he could go: Laurinaitis will turn 30 during the 2016 NFL season and though that's not all that old, he has a lot of mileage on his NFL odometer. He played the highest percentage of snaps among defenders in 2015 and he's played more than 99 percent of defensive snaps in each of his seven seasons. That durability is a plus but it also means he's been through a lot physically. Along with that, his production has dipped with his total tackles dropping in each of the past three years. The emergence of linebackers Alec Ogletree and Mark Barron has contributed to that and so, too, have some injury issues that Laurinaitis has played through. In addition, Laurinaitis is due to count almost $6.5 million against the salary cap while the Rams would like to re-sign Barron and find a spot to keep him on the field on a regular basis. That means one potential solution could include bumping Ogletree inside and allowing Barron to stay in Ogletree's spot outside. The time will come soon, even if it's not this year, when the Rams will have to begin planning for life after Laurinaitis.
Why he could stay: Laurinaitis is the guy that makes it all go for the Rams on defense. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams considers Laurinaitis an extension of himself on the field, the player who gets everybody lined up right and puts them in position to make plays. His knowledge of the defense as well as opposing offenses is a valuable asset to a young defense with many players still trying to find their way in the league. Even if the Rams wanted to move Ogletree to the middle, there's no guarantee he'd be ready for such responsibilities. Laurinaitis also remains a sure tackler (despite a serious elbow injury in 2015) and one of the team's primary leaders in the locker room. Since Laurinaitis entered the league in 2009, he is the only player in the NFL with 15 or more sacks and 10 or more interceptions. His durability also makes him someone who can be counted on, as he's started 112 straight games and is the franchise's all-time leading tackler. If the Rams find themselves in need of cap space, Laurinaitis would likely be open to a pay cut that would decrease his cap number this year and spread out his guaranteed money over a couple of years. On a team that has plenty of key defensive free agents and still must fix its offense, parting with Laurinaitis would just create another hole to be filled.