They say you have to crack a few eggs to make an omelette. The Rams must be cooking one heck of an omelette, because they’ve cracked plenty of eggs this offseason.
The Rams took a blowtorch to their payroll Friday by simultaneously cutting Jared Cook, James Laurinaitis and Chris Long. The triple firing was both ruthless and fiscally responsible. By shedding those salaries, the Rams are now $58.35 million under the cap. Only four teams (the Jaguars, Raiders, Bears and Giants) have more money to work with.
Of course, Friday’s roster moves were motivated by more than just money. All three players were on the decline. Cook never came close to living up to his massive five-year, $35.1 million contract. Poor quarterback play didn’t help matters, but there’s no one Cook can blame for his 19-game touchdown drought but himself. The 28-year-old will now join a crowded tight end market headlined by Antonio Gates and Dwayne Allen.
To quote Evan Silva, “Laurinaitis’ name was always bigger than his game.” Of the seven seasons Laurinaitis spent in St. Louis, 2015 was easily his worst. He earned PFF’s second lowest inside linebacker grade ahead of only Buffalo’s Preston Brown. He was particularly disastrous against the run, finishing dead last in that category.
It was time for Long to move on as well. A fan favorite for reasons like this (and also this), Long has struggled to stay healthy his last two seasons (14 missed games). Once a perennial threat for double-digit sacks, Long slumped to just three sacks in 2015. Despite his age (he turns 31 next month), the former No. 2 overall pick should draw plenty of suitors now that he’s available.
So what will the Rams do with all their savings? Addressing the team’s secondary needs would be a good place to start. Both starting cornerbacks, Trumaine Johnson and Janoris Jenkins, will hit the open market this offseason. Los Angeles should have enough cap room for both, though the Rams could opt to use the transition tag on one of them. That would allow Los Angeles to match any offer that player receives in free agency. The franchise tag probably won’t come into play. The projected salary for corners under the tag is $13.7 million. Even with over $50 million in cap space, the Rams aren’t going to spend that kind of money on a cornerback.
William Hayes is another player the Rams would like to re-sign. Hayes entered the year as Long’s backup at left end but took over as the starter in Week 7. He didn’t disappoint, registering 5.5 sacks with a pair of forced fumbles. It’s a healthy market for edge defenders with Von Miller, Olivier Vernon, Greg Hardy and Jason Pierre-Paul all looking for new contracts. Hayes turns 31 in May and probably won’t require more than a two or three-year deal.
Re-signing Hayes is on the Rams’ to-do list, but they still need a quarterback. The Rams would welcome Peyton Manning with open arms but there’s a good chance he’s played his last game. A reunion with Sam Bradford is also on the table, especially given Eagles coach Doug Pederson’s infatuation with Chase Daniel. And what about Robert Griffin III, the player the Rams could have had with the No. 2 pick they traded to Washington back in 2012? The Redskins haven’t cut him yet, but they’re going to. Ryan Fitzpatrick had arguably his best season in 2015, which is precisely why the Jets would be crazy to let him walk away. But if the Rams could somehow get their hands on him, he’d be a huge upgrade over Nick Foles and Case Keenum.
It’s retirement season in the NFL. Last week we said goodbye to three more big names. Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo decided to call it quits last Tuesday following an eight-year career. Mayo’s career highlights include a Rookie of the Year award in 2008, an All-Pro nod in 2010 and a Super Bowl ring in 2014. Mayo ended his last three years on injured reserve and was a backup this past season behind starters Don’t’a Hightower, Jamie Collins and Jonathan Freeny. Even if Mayo had chosen to continue his career, he would have had to play elsewhere as the Patriots were going to decline his $11.4 million option. The 30-year-old is still recovering from a torn pectoral muscle he suffered in the Divisional Round against Kansas City.
Mayo made his retirement announcement on Instagram. Panthers DE Jared Allen took it one step further by posting this very elaborate retirement video on Twitter. Allen’s career ended with a Super Bowl loss to Denver but he can rest easy knowing there’ll be a Hall of Fame plaque with his name on it in a few years. The 12-year veteran will finish his career tied with Julius Peppers for ninth on the all-time sacks list. The four-time All-Pro selection logged a career-high 22 sacks with the Vikings in 2011. That year he needed just one more sack to break Michael Strahan’s single-season record. The Panthers probably would have axed Allen if he had tried to stick around for another season. He was scheduled to earn $8.5 million in 2016. It’s worth noting that Allen played his last game just three weeks after suffering a broken foot. Now that’s a football player right there.
Not to be outdone, Heath Miller ended his career Friday after spending 11 memorable years in Pittsburgh. Miller recorded 592 catches, the sixth-most by a tight end in NFL history. He’s also the Steelers’ all-time leader for touchdowns by a tight end (45). Miller was one of Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite targets and was beloved by Steelers fans, who insisted on chanting his name every time he touched the ball. 2015 fifth-round pick Jesse James will have big shoes to fill at tight end next year. James, a 21-year-old Penn State alum who didn’t see the field until Week 9, said he’s up for the challenge. “For me, it’s next man up,” said James in an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I know the team has confidence in me to get the job done. It is my time to step up and handle business and make sure they are comfortable with me to be able to fill in and take over.” If the Steelers want to explore other avenues at tight end, they’ll have plenty of options in free agency including Ladarius Green, Coby Fleener, Vernon Davis and Ben Watson.
Quick Hits: Lamar Miller said he wants to be a featured back with a goal of 20 touches per game next season. He’s 28th in Evan Silva’s free agent rankings … The Broncos will begin negotiating with Brock Osweiler at the Scouting Combine this week in Indianapolis. Even with Peyton Manning still undecided about his future, Osweiler remains the favorite to start in Denver next year … The Broncos signed former Browns DT Phil Taylor on Monday. The former first-round pick didn’t play last season … There’s a slight chance the Broncos could move on from DeMarcus Ware this offseason. If Ware continues his career, as expected, the Broncos will likely ask him to rework his contract. As it stands now, Ware will earn $10 million ($7 million base salary plus a $3 million roster bonus) next year … The Lions offered Joique Bell a pay cut before releasing him. They’ll move forward with Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick and Zach Zenner at running back … The Chargers will meet with impending free agent Antonio Gates at the Combine this week. The 35-year-old has no plans to retire and should be back for a 14th season in San Diego … The Buccaneers will have a sit-down with Doug Martin’s agent, David Dunn, at the Combine. Martin is hoping for a deal similar to the five-year, $42 million pact signed by DeMarco Murray last offseason. The Bucs will also meet with Chris Conte’s representatives … According to Pewter Report, the Buccaneers don’t view Charles Sims as a replacement for Doug Martin. Sims earned PFF’s highest running back grade in 2015 but apparently the Bucs only see him as a passing-down/change-of-pace option … Russell Okung said his recent shoulder operation was only precautionary. The 27-year-old has the whole offseason to recover and should have a robust market in free agency … Joe Flacco’s agent expects to meet with the Ravens this week. The two sides will discuss how to restructure Flacco’s contract, which carries an absurd $28.55 million cap hit for 2016 … The Jets shed some cap space by dumping Antonio Cromartie and his bloated $8 million salary. Cromartie is open to re-signing on a cheaper deal but it’s unclear if the Jets share that desire … ESPN’s Rich Cimini anticipates a “peaceful renegotiation” between D’Brickashaw Ferguson and the Jets as the two sides work to lower his cap number for next season. The veteran tackle is in the seventh year of an eight-year, $73.6 million contract … Maybe Ryan Tannehill wasn’t as bad as we thought. According to ESPN’s KC Joyner, the Dolphins signal caller made “bad decisions” on only 0.7 percent of his throws in 2015. That ranked in the top 10 … Ole Miss receiver Laquon Treadwell will wait until his Pro Day to run the 40-yard dash. He’s expected to be the first wide receiver selected on draft day … The 49ers will meet with Colin Kaepernick’s representatives at the Combine. Kaepernick lost his starting job to Blaine Gabbert last year but if anyone can resurrect his career, it’s new head coach Chip Kelly … Malcolm Jenkins agreed to a five-year, $40.5 million extension on Monday. It’s been a busy month for the Eagles, who have already signed long-term deals with Jenkins, Brent Celek, Vinny Curry, Zach Ertz and Lane Johnson … The Newark Star-Ledger gives the Giants only a 15 percent chance of re-signing Rueben Randle. He set a career-high with eight touchdowns in 2015 … Fred Jackson, the oldest running back in the league, is still at it. The 35-year-old has no plans to retire. He totaled 357 yards on 58 touches for Seattle in 2015 … Paul Soliai, who was cut by the Falcons last week, is hoping to return to Miami this offseason. He spent seven years with the Dolphins before signing with Atlanta in 2014 … Apparently the Chiefs haven’t made much headway in talks with impending free agent Eric Berry. The 27-year-old was the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year in 2015 after battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma … Joseph Randle was arrested for the fifth time in the last 17 months on Sunday. He’s facing three counts of aggravated battery, one count of criminal damage and one count of drug possession. I think it’s safe to say his NFL career is over … The Patriots are expecting Dion Lewis to be ready for Week 1 of the regular season. He’s recovering from a torn ACL … The Gronk party ship happened last weekend. Here are some of the highlights.