After spending the bulk of their time and resources this offseason re-signing their own free agents, the Los Angeles Rams would like to get a head start to make sure they don't find themselves scrambling to do so again next year.
At February's scouting combine, Rams general manager Les Snead made it clear that the team would like to get contract extensions done with some players with expiring deals, such as linebacker Alec Ogletree, receiver Tavon Austin and defensive tackle Michael Brockers.
"We would like to do that," Snead said. "You know the philosophy is to draft, develop and re-sign your own core group of guys. So there’s some guys following this class that we’d like to get done as well over the next few months."
Ogletree and Austin are entering the final year of their rookie contracts while Brockers is under contract via the fifth-year option the Rams exercised last offseason. Exercising that option on Brockers was a no-brainer for the Rams, but they opted not to do the same with safety/linebacker Mark Barron, who ended up re-signing this offseason anyway.
Now, the Rams have similar decisions to make on Ogletree and Austin. As 2013 first-round picks, the Rams have the ability to exercise a fifth-year option on both players, thus ensuring they'll be around through at least the 2017 season with one-year extensions guaranteed for injury. The Rams have until early May to render their decisions.
"We've been discussing that," coach Jeff Fisher said. "We want to keep them around a long time, that's the extent of the discussions."
To get a read on which way the Rams are leaning, we can look to how they handled Brockers and Barron.
The Rams had little internal debate when it comes to Brockers, who was the No. 14 pick in the 2012 draft. Because of that, Brockers' wage is the average of the third through 25th highest salaries at defensive tackle. That means Brockers' price for 2016 is a little more than $6 million, not a terribly high price to pay for a solid run-stuffer in the middle of the defensive line.
Likewise, there's not much to think about when it comes to Ogletree. As the No. 31 pick in the 2013 draft, Ogletree will be paid the average of the third through 25th highest salaries at linebacker. Asked at last week's owners meetings if it was safe to assume that Ogletree's option would be picked up, Fisher acknowledged that it would.
Things are a bit more complicated when it comes to Austin since he, like Barron was drafted in the top 10.
Since Austin went No. 8 overall in the 2013 draft, he would cost the average of the top 10 receivers in the NFL (or the same as the transition tag), according to NFL rules. For frame of reference, the transition-tag price for a receiver this year was $12.268 million. Barring a major breakout in 2016, that might be more than the Rams would be willing to pay for Austin, which would make an extension a better option.
"What he brings to the table as a weapon on offense and what our coaches can do... and we’ve hired a couple of new coaches and they come in to the building with excitement because of what they think he can do to help your team," Snead said. "And also on special teams. He’s a valuable piece. He’s an offensive weapon so we’ll try to figure (that) out. He’s somebody we want for the future."
So while the Rams undoubtedly would like to keep Austin and Ogletree, they might have to take different routes to make it happen, at least until long-term deals can be reached.