The NFL scouting combine is not only a pro football talent bazaar but also a convention and marketplace for team executives to assess the value of players already on their rosters.
So despite the attention on draft prospects this week, Rams General Manager Les Snead was definitive Thursday about the team’s primary focus: keeping the secondary intact.
Cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson, safety Rodney McLeod and safety/linebacker Mark Barron are set to become unrestricted free agents next month. The Rams want to re-sign them all.
“If I were to prioritize what’s going on in our building, and there’s a lot of things going on, that is Priority A right now,” Snead told reporters. “Even at this combine.”
The Rams have the 15th pick in the April draft, and they are expected to consider selecting a quarterback or a receiver as a way to help a passing offense that ranked last in the NFL.
They are interviewing prospects, monitoring physical and psychological tests and evaluating workouts at Lucas Oil Stadium.
But behind the scenes, Snead said they also are communicating with representatives of the players who are an important part of their defense. He said they would meet with agents through the week.
“Right now, it’s ‘Hey, we’d like your guy back,’” Snead said, “And they’re saying, ‘We’d like to be back.’ And I think we’re stuck on the number as we all go through this…. Everybody’s trying to find out what the realistic value is.”
The Rams last week cleared about $23 million in salary-cap space when they released middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, defensive end Chris Long and tight end Jared Cook.
Coach Jeff Fisher on Wednesday sounded as if the extra funds were earmarked.
“I’d like to try to sign our secondary first, if we can,” he said.
Jenkins and Johnson are possible candidates for the lone franchise tag or transition tag.
Players who get the franchise tag are retained by their current teams for one season, earning no less than the average of the top five salaries at their position or 120% of their previous year’s salary, whichever is greater.
A transition tag gives teams the right of first refusal to match another team’s offer.
Snead said the Rams had not determined if they would use a tag by Tuesday’s deadline, “but it is a tool we can use so we’ll figure it out.”
Unrestricted free agents are not expected to make decisions about their futures before taking advantage of a 48-hour period leading into the start of free agency next month. Agents for players are allowed to negotiate with other teams – but not sign contracts -- during a window commonly referred to as “legal tampering.”
“They can come back and say, ‘This is what we’ve got,’ and you either say yes or no,” Snead said. “Or they may figure out that what we’ve been offering all along is the best deal.”
Snead Indicated that the Rams also would like to work out deals with several younger players headed into the final year of their contracts, defensive tackle Michael Brockers and linebacker Alec Ogletree among them.
Fisher said Wednesday that Ogletree would replace Laurinaitis at middle linebacker.
Ogletree, a first-round pick in 2013, was the Rams’ leading tackler last season before suffering a broken ankle in October. His absence allowed Barron to fill the spot, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ former first-round pick flourished in the role.
“The philosophy is to draft, develop and re-sign your own, a core group of guys,” Snead said. “And so there are some guys that are following this class that we’d like to get done as well.”