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What Jake Long’s Knee Injury Means for the St. Louis Rams Off Season Plans

December 23rd, 2013 at 10:30 AM
By Chuck Chapman

The St. Louis Rams closed out their home schedule with a victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. The win showcased the Rams young talent with Stedman Bailey scoring his first touchdown and Robert Quinn setting the franchise single season sack record. On top of that, the Washington Redskins, whose first round pick the Rams own, lost to Dallas, assuring the Rams of picking no worse than second overall in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Not everything was rosy on Sunday, however. Left tackle Jake Long went down in the first quarter with what is most likely a torn ACL. While Long's injury will have little impact on the one remaining game in 2013, it could have far-reaching effects as the Rams head into the off season and prepare for 2014.

Long's injury doesn't necessarily jeopardize his career. He's not a player who makes his living off of his speed and ability to make quick lateral cuts. Assuming a normal rehab process, Long should be ready to go, if not in preseason, by the beginning of the 2014 season. That's no guarantee, however, and long will be entering his seventh NFL season in 2014. He's definitely on the downward side of his physical peak in NFL terms.

While Long is still under contract for three more seasons, the Rams need to make provisions to secure the left tackle position if Long isn't able to go right away in 2014, or if he were to re-injure himself. That means some of the many options the Rams had on the table this off season now look more like necessities.

1. Re-signing Rodger Saffold is now a must. Saffold excelled at guard this season and is the most versatile Rams offensive lineman. He's heading into free agency this off season. While we've opined previously that we think Saffold is worth re-signing purely for his prowess as a guard, his ability to slide over to left tackle in an emergency situation would give the Rams a cushion few teams have. 

2. Getting a tackle early in the draft now becomes the number one priority. Forget about Teddy Bridgewater or any other highly ranked quarterback. You can also rule out trying to grab a wide receiver like Mike Evans or Sammy Watkins. The Rams must have a left tackle in waiting behind Long. Shelley Smith is likely gone this off season and the Rams not only need to protect against Long's unavailability. They need depth.

The Rams may still be able to trade down and take a tackle, but not that far. Texas A&M's Jake Matthews is far and away the best lineman on the board and won't last outside the top five. If the Rams have a suitor who like Oakland who wants to jump up to get a quarterback, they may be able to trade back a few spots. But trading further down than that means the Rams would be selecting a project, not a player who could contribute immediately.

3. Consider signing a free agent. There's not any big names among free agent tackles that would represent an upgrade over what the Rams currently have. The Chiefs aren't likely to let Branden Albert walk and players like Eugene Monroe aren't any better than Saffold. One player that might be available and not someone to break the bank is Cincinnati's Anthony Collins. Collins has been the Bengals' "super sub" at tackle. He's an above average run blocker and a very underrated pass blocker. With Andrew Whitworth having been put over to guard because of injury the second half of the season, Collins has protected Andy Dalton's blind side extremely well. 

The Rams have a lot of chips to play with this off season, which should help their position. All three of these options aren't musts, but getting two of the three done would assure St. Louis of having adequate protection for the returning Sam Bradford and peace of mind if something happens to Jake Long's rehab.

Tags: Football, Jake Long, NFL, Rodger Saffold, Sam Bradford, St. Louis, St. Louis Rams

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