INDIANAPOLIS – With the start of free agency still a few weeks away and the NFL Draft almost two months away, the Rams are spending this time getting all of their ducks in a row.
A couple of crucial and difficult decisions will be made that will ultimately shape how the offseason goes, namely what happens with likely free agent running back
But no matter what happens in those situations, general manager Les Snead and coach Jeff Fisher are doing the work now to ensure that contingency plans in place for every possible scenario.
“I always tell our scouting department, whether it's in free agency, people on the street, college draft board, you've got to be prepared,” Snead said. “Now in decision-making. . .yes, it'll affect maybe some of your scenarios. You're always dealing in scenarios. We've got so many things we want. We get 'em this way. Or can we get 'em this way? It's always evolving. Whether Amendola, Jackson return? Whether the player we want in the draft gets picked before us? You've just got to be ready to adjust.”
Even before knowing what happens in free agency, there are already plenty of needs established for the Rams but Jackson and Amendola’s situations are the most pressing because they rate as the team’s top two potential free agents. Subtracting those two pieces from the offense would leave openings that would need more urgent attention.
Of course, many of the conversations with free agents begin right here this week and Fisher and Snead acknowledged Friday that the Rams have had discussions with the agents for both players and those will continue moving forward.
As a nine-year veteran who has spent his entire career in St. Louis and the franchise’s all time leading rusher, Jackson represents much more than just the team’s top running back.
In just one season with Fisher and Snead in the building, Jackson has already left a lasting impression. Snead has a photo of Jackson’s blitz pickup from the first San Francisco game against linebacker Patrick Willis hanging in his office.
Likewise, Fisher has been blown away by Jackson’s continued production but even more by the intangibles he brings to the table.
“I can’t say enough good things about Steven, the true pro that he is,” Fisher said. “When you talk about bringing in a guy, you have got to look at the whole package. He’s still got run skills. He’s been really productive his whole career there and he does wonders in the locker room and off the field in the community and so forth. I am disappointed I didn’t get to spend a lot more time with him earlier in his career.”
Jackson, of course, has the option to void the final year of his contract, a year that would come at a price tag of $7 million. It seems all but certain he will void that contract and explore his options. Should he return to the Rams, it would almost certainly be at a reduced cost and perhaps on a slightly longer deal.
As of Friday afternoon, Jackson had been out of the country for most of the offseason on yet another of his globetrotting ways but agent Eugene Parker has been in touch with the Rams and will continue to be moving forward.
“We’ve had discussions,” Fisher said. “Now Jack is out of the country. But we’ve had discussions with Eugene and thus far things look good.
“I think it’s (about) identifying what both sides want moving forward. Jack knows how I feel about him and that we want him back. But we’ve got time. We’ve got a few more weeks and we’ll see where it goes.”
“They’re options,” Fisher said. “We drafted Isaiah because we felt like he has a chance to be a good back, not necessarily just a change of pace back for Jack but the guy. Daryl can be the guy. Most everybody is using multiple backs in their offense. Ganaway has an opportunity and there’s a number of really good backs in the draft this year.”
Unlike Jackson, Amendola is actually scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent when the new league year begins on March 12. Amendola has consistently been the team’s most productive wideout in recent years and jumped to a hot start in 2012 again.
On the flip side of Amendola’s production has been myriad injury issues that have limited him to just 12 games in the past two seasons. That makes defining what his value is before he hits the open market a difficult and risky proposition.
“Just like intangibles come into play, just like physical skill comes into play, just like production comes into play, your ability to be on the field comes into play,” Snead said. “That’s a fact of life. I think everybody knows it and I’d be remiss to not tell you that. So yes, you have to weigh that because you are going to produce more for the team if you are out there.”
Between now and the open of free agency, there is plenty of time for all parties to reach an accord in both the Amendola and Jackson situations though in both cases, it seems there may need to be some time for the sides to get a feel for what fair market value is for both players.
In the meantime, the Rams are spending plenty of time this week at the combine looking at playmakers on offense, the type of guys who can score touchdowns anytime they touch the ball.
“Yes, everybody wants play makers,” Fisher said. “So yeah, we are looking for play makers. You can never have enough.”
According to Snead, a playmaker can be just about anyone and doesn’t necessarily have to be limited to skill positions on offense. Sure, those types of players would be ideal but by hook or by crook, he and Fisher would like to see the Rams become a more high-octane offense, with or without their two key free agents.
“Obviously we want to get better in scoring offense,” Snead said. “That’s the No. 1 priority. Score points, win games. If we have more points on the scoreboard at the end of the game, we win the game. So really, I would say offensive play makers and weapons come in all shapes and sizes. They can be 5 foot 8; they can be 6 foot 5. They can come in and help you block and score points that way. They can also be on the defensive side of the ball because if you keep that team from scoring that helps your offense. So I think you always look for weapons. It doesn’t have to be one position to help your team. Nowadays on offense you are throwing the ball around to a lot of shapes and sizes and things like that.”
No matter how the Amendola and Jackson situations play out, the Rams will have a plan, a plan they've been working on for some time.
"Well, I think we have for where that goes before we have to make any decisions (on free agency and draft)," Fisher said. "Now, you talk about free agency, we have a good feel for what we can do. What we're planning on doing as far as UFAs. But there's always a possibility that that doesn't happen. We've said all along, we'd like to have both of 'em back. They're key members of our team. But if that doesn't happen, you have to address it and fill those voids."