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Free Agent Preview: Safety

Posted Mar 8, 2013


In an effort to clear more room under the salary cap, the Rams now face the prospect of entering the offseason in need of two safeties following the release of safety Quintin Mikell.

Asked to adjust to his third defense in as many seasons and playing for a head coach in Jeff Fisher who had nothing to do with bringing him to St. Louis, Mikell had a strong second season with the Rams.

By the time the 2012 season was over, Mikell had posted 114 tackles, good for third on the team, to go with three sacks, three passes defended and three forced fumbles.

In the Rams’ new defensive scheme, Mikell played strong safety, spending most of his time in the box where he could work best in run support and often finding himself used as a blitzer.

Mikell found his niche in an improved Rams defense and made his case for holding down his spot into the future but with a price tag of $9 million against the cap next year, the Rams decided they needed the flexibility more than Mikell, who could still theoretically return at a reduced rate.

But with free agency set to begin on March 12, the Rams find themselves in need of help at both safety spots, including a free safety that can help them make strides in deep coverage, particularly over the middle.

Craig Dahl, who was last year’s starter at free safety, is set to become an unrestricted free agent on Tuesday and it appears unlikely that he’ll return in 2013.

Dahl started all 16 games for the Rams last year and posted 100 tackles with an interception. By his own admission, though, Dahl struggled in coverage and missed some key tackles, including on a long run by Minnesota back Adrian Peterson for a touchdown in a key December meeting.

Holdovers on the roster include a pair of promising young players in Matt Daniels and Rodney McLeod. The two undrafted free agents came into Rams camp last year and made a strong enough impression to earn roster spots.

McLeod emerged as a difference maker on special teams where he led the team with 16 tackles. He’s a bit on the small side but is athletic and projects as a free safety.

Daniels brought with him a reputation as a hard hitter with a knack for being around the ball before his rookie year ended too soon because of a knee injury that landed him on injured reserve on Nov. 7 after he appeared in four games, also on special teams.

Darian Stewart is scheduled to be a restricted free agent but it appears he won’t receive a tender offer after an injury-plagued 2012 season. He could still be brought back at a lower rate, however.

While Stewart, McLeod and Daniels bring upside and potential, there’s a clear need to add at least another safety to the mix. For an ever-improving defense, in fact, safety might be the greatest need the Rams have.

Fortunately for them, this year presents myriad options both in free agency and the NFL Draft.

Buffalo used its franchise tag on former St. Louisan Jairus Byrd, who might have been the perfect fit for the free safety job because of his ball hawking abilities. Behind Byrd, though, sits many intriguing options with varying skill sets.

Atlanta’s William Moore re-signed with Atlanta over the weekend for a deal averaging more than $6 million per season. That contract figures to set the bar for the rest of his safety brethren hitting the market.

Baltimore’s legendary Ed Reed is also poised to hit the market but his age will likely make him a non-factor for the Rams as they look for more long term solutions.

San Francisco’s Dashon Goldson and Houston’s Glover Quin would appear to make more sense for the Rams but only if the price is right. The Niners and Texans would prefer to bring Goldson and Quin back but the price figures to be steep. That steep price probably will be too much for the Rams to make a serious push, especially considering the available talent in the draft.

Perhaps more likely for the Rams, should they choose to add a safety in free agency, would be finding a mid-level safety with some upside who won’t break the bank.

Detroit’s Louis Delmas has had injury woes but shouldn’t cost as much as the other top safeties and has obvious familiarity with Rams defensive coordinator Tim Walton, who served as his position coach with the Lions.

Someone like New England’s Patrick Chung fits a similar profile in terms of being a position fit who has dealt with some injury issues. Although he’s been limited by injuries, he’s just 25 and still possesses strong physical skills and upside for a team in search of a bargain compared to the other top safeties available.

Other safeties that figure to be available come Tuesday include the Jets’ LaRon Landry, the Giants’ Kenny Phillips (who is another connection to Walton from their day at the University of Miami) and veteran Charles Woodson.

One way or another, the Rams figure to emerge from this offseason with at least one new safety. What remains to be seen is which route they’ll take to find him.
 

Safety

1. Jairus Byrd, Buffalo (Franchise Tag): Premiere ball hawking type with outstanding instincts. Bills will almost certainly keep him.
2. William Moore, Atlanta: The Falcons won’t let their versatile and hard hitting safety walk.
3. Ed Reed, Baltimore: Unlikely the Ravens can afford to keep one of their defensive leaders. At 34, he’s getting up there in age but seems to still have enough left to produce for another year or two.
4. Dashon Goldson, San Francisco: Good size and athleticism allow him to do a little bit of everything though he struggled in coverage a bit late in the season. Likely to land a high-dollar contract after Niners tagged him last year.
5. Glover Quin, Houston: Nothing fancy, just a good, solid safety that covers well, doesn’t miss many tackles and is an ascending player.

Others to Watch: LaRon Landry, New York Jets; Patrick Chung, New England; Kenny Phillips, New York Giants; James Ihedigbo, Baltimore; Charles Woodson, Green Bay; Louis Delmas, Detroit.

Rams Free Agents: Craig Dahl, Darian Stewart (restricted).