Potential Free Agents Rams Could Add Before Camp
Gareon Conley – CB
The Rams are making some big bets with the current cornerbacks on the roster. They are betting that David Long will take a big step forward and that Robert Rochell will be ready for the pro game come week one. They also seem to be betting on everyone staying healthy for the duration of the season. Losing any of those bets could spell disaster for the Rams’ defense.
Gareon Conley was the 24th overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft but has mostly failed to live up to what is expected of a first-rounder. The Raiders aren’t known as the savviest of drafters, but it’s obvious what they saw in Conley coming out of Ohio State. He picked off four passes and defended eight in his junior season. He also posted some impressive numbers at the combine. He ran a 4.44 40-yard dash and a 6.68 3-cone. He is also tall at just over 6’ and long with 33” arms.
The Rams love players with traits and skills that create mismatches and Conley has that. They also don’t have a lot of money to throw at free agents. Because he hasn’t hit his ceiling on the field and because he missed all of last season because of complications from ankle surgery, Conely will be cheap.
The Rams are a good landing spot for Conely for a few reasons, namely Jalen Ramsey and Raheem Morris. Playing alongside the best corner in the league would help any cornerback, but it more specifically mirrors Conley’s college days, when he was playing at his highest level. As a Buckeye, he played alongside Marshon Lattimore. Neither the Raiders nor the Texans, where he was traded to in 2019, provided him much of a supporting cast in the backfield.
Being coached by Raheem Morris will also raise his level of play. Morris is renowned for his ability to get the best out of players and has plenty of experience with defensive backs.
An Experienced Long Snapper
Last season the Rams apparently thought they didn’t need a legitimate kicker. Some lessons are harder to learn than others and it turns out you do need a kicker in the NFL. This year, it appears that the Rams aren’t sure if they need a long snapper. Well, technically, they currently have two, Steven Wirtle and Matthew Orzech. Collectively they have played 136 snaps with Orzech contributing all 136.
The Rams haven’t had to think about who will be their long snapper for quite some time. Jake McQuaide served in the role since 2012 but signed with the Cowboys this offseason.
The Rams may be happy where they are in their search to replace McQuaide, but they should be exhausting every option to ensure they have a viable option. There are two players available on the free-agent market; Matt Overton and Nick Sundberg. Both have over 1,000 snaps under their belt, but Sundberg has been healthier. He hasn’t missed a game in his last two seasons.
Jermaine Eluemunor – OG
Simply put, the Rams are just shallow in the middle of the offensive line. It also looks as if they are planning on starting Brian Allen or Bobby Evans at guard. Allen didn’t play a snap in 2020 and in 2019 he earned a 58.6 grade from Pro Football Focus. It certainly is possible that Allen has improved to the point of being a starter, but adding some competition and also some depth at the position will benefit the team dramatically.
Since the Rams financial strains are still very much a thing, they can’t just go sign whomever they want, but investing in the line will pay dividends to keep Matthew Stafford upright and on the field.
The Rams currently pay Allen $786k and any upgrade at the position will cost them more money, but not necessarily that much more. Jermaine Eluemunor could be a cheap upgrade for the Rams at guard. Also, the Rams are under-invested on the offensive line. They are spending about $25 million on the line, which is the fourth-least in the league. Springing for Eluemunor won’t break the bank, but he will cost more than Allen.
Last season Eluemunor signed a one-year contract worth $2.1 million with the Patriots. New England has opted to go for Michael Onwenu, who is in the second year of his rookie deal. This season Eluemunor will likely sign for around the same rate. But upgrading at guard is important considering how poorly the line played when Allen was the starter in 2019. Of course, 2019 wasn’t all Allen’s fault but the chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
Eluemunor was drafted in the fifth round by the Ravens. He’s big and strong. He’s 6’4,” 335 lbs, and benched 225 lbs 34 times at the combine. He was eventually traded to the Patriots after two seasons in Baltimore, where he couldn’t earn a starting role. By 2020, he had an opportunity to start at tackle for New England. Initially, he played right tackle but suffered an ankle injury. After his recovery, he was moved to left tackle. He played well before his injury but struggled after.
The injury likely played a role in his struggles, but moreover, tackle isn’t his best position. Given his build and level of skill, he is a better fit at guard. But of course, the Rams do love a lineman that has experience in multiple positions.
Olivier Vernon – EDGE
The Rams made a definitive statement by resigning Leonard Floyd to a massive four-year $64 million contract. They also allowed Samson Ebukam to walk in free agency, so Ogbonnia Okoronkwo is currently in place to start at weak side LB. This will mean a big jump in Okoronkwo’s playing time. Last season, he played 15.4% of defensive snaps. Ebukam played 35.5% Behind them, there is Terrell Lewis who was sidelined much of 2020’s season with a knee injury. His status is murky at the moment. McVay hasn’t commented on his rehab, but he didn’t participate in on-field activities during OTA’s.
All that to say, the Rams need to add depth at outside linebacker. Olivier Vernon could be a good option to bolster the crew. Vernon has had a long career with steady production. He has averaged seven sacks per year over his nine years in the NFL. He also saw a return to peak production last season with Cleveland. He collected nine sacks, 16 QB hits, and 12 tackles for loss.
Normally, an edge talent of that caliber would fetch a pretty penny on the open market. At one time Vernon was the third highest-paid edge rusher in the league. But despite recent evidence, the perception is that Vernon has passed his prime and there could be some validity to that. Vernon has missed time to injury in the past few seasons, including the Browns’ two 2020 playoff games. He hasn’t played all 16 games in a season since 2016.
The good news is that this makes him get-able for the Rams. PFF estimates his next contract will be around $2 million for a one-year deal. The fact that Vernon hasn’t signed with a team yet, might mean he or his agents believe he can make more. But as the offseason dwindles, his fair value will emerge.
Having lost Micheal Brockers in the offseason, the Rams have little in the way of veteran presence outside of Aaron Donald. Adding Vernon would also benefit the development of Okoronkwo (Entering his third year) and Lewis (Entering his second year).