<
>

Rams free-agent preview: Safety

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The free-agent market is scheduled to open March 10 and teams may begin negotiations with those poised to hit the market beginning March 7. We'll count down to that with a position-by-position look at what the St. Louis Rams have in place, who is set to hit the market, what they might need and who might fit the bill.

Under contract: Mark Barron, T.J. McDonald, Maurice Alexander, Cody Davis

Pending free agents: Rodney McLeod (restricted - tendered at second-round level)

What's needed: There probably wasn't a position group that made more noticeable progress for the Rams in 2014 than this one. McDonald got off to a rough start (aside from special teams) in coordinator Gregg Williams' defense but once the light came on, he was one of the team's best players over the final part of the season. McDonald is the ideal movable piece in Williams' scheme and should only be better as he gets deeper into the nuances of it.

McLeod was the player most wanted upgraded last offseason, but he came back and showed signs that his arrow is still pointing up. While McLeod had some bumps along the way, including playing part on some blown coverages that led to touchdowns, but he handled the difficult job of playing a lot of single-high safety pretty well. Barron was brought in to give the Rams a chance to play more "big nickel" with three safeties on the field. It's probably safe to expect more of that moving forward as Barron was particularly proficient playing a role as a de facto third linebacker and blitzer. His role will also probably expand now that he's been around and has more time to adjust to a new defense. Alexander and Davis have been limited to special teams roles, though the Rams still have hopes for Alexander to develop into a defensive contributor. This is a young group that is still finding itself, but the pieces look to be in place with minimal investment required.

Possible fits: There are those who would argue the Rams could use a big-time free safety capable of playing on the back end when the team goes with a single-high look. There's certainly merit to those arguments, but the Rams seem to like McLeod. If the Rams wanted to spend some money here, a guy such as New England's Devin McCourty would be awfully intriguing. McCourty figures to cash in one way or another but probably not in St. Louis. Beyond McCourty, the choices aren't all that appealing. New York's Antrel Rolle, Denver's Rahim Moore and San Diego's Marcus Gilchrist could draw some interest. For fans that love wrestler Ric Flair, Indianapolis' Sergio Brown is set to hit the market with his Flair impersonation intact.

Verdict: Strange as it might sound given where we were a year ago, this is probably the spot on the defense that's least likely to make a substantial addition. The Barron trade was the big safety move the Rams made and they spent a fourth-round pick on Alexander. Including McDonald, that's three fairly serious pieces of capital used on the position in the past two years. Barring an unforeseen circumstance in which another team signs McLeod, gives up a second-round pick and he doesn't return, it's unlikely the Rams will devote much to adding here other than some camp competition.