Receiver and defensive backfield just two of many issues for Rams

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 13:  Laurent Robinson #11 of the St. Louis Rams carries the ball during the game against the Seattle Seahawks on September 13, 2009 at Qwest Field in Seattle, Washington. The Seahawks defeated the Rams 28-0. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Merry preseason, everyone. It’s been a long offseason, but football is finally gearing up again and to celebrate I’m rolling out a new series on TSR entitled “2010 NFL Question Marks,” where I discuss one or two of the biggest concerns that teams have heading into the new season. Granted, some teams have more issues than others, but I’ll primarily be focusing on the biggest problem areas. Today I’ll be discussing the woeful Rams and their concerns at receiver and in the defensive backfield.

When a team earns the right to select at the top of the draft, it’s easy to spot its holes.

And the Rams have a lot of holes.

Outside of running back Steven Jackson and a linebacker corps led by second-year player James Laurinaitis, the Rams have issues at nearly every position. The hope is that young players like Sam Bradford, Rodger Saffold, Jason Smith and Chris Long will step up in due time, but it’s going to be a while before guys like Bradford are ready to make major contributions.

The receiver and defensive backfield are currently the team’s two biggest weaknesses heading into the new year. Wideout was already a concern before Donnie Avery went down to a season ending injury and now that they won’t even have him, the Rams have an even bigger hole at the position.

I’ve been very high on Laurent Robinson since he came into the league as a third round pick of the Falcons in 2007. But despite flashing his potential on occasion, he’s been a dud due to injuries. He caught 13 passes for 167 yards and one touchdown in his first four games last year, then suffered an injury that shelved him for the rest of the season. With Avery out, he has the opportunity to be the No. 1 guy but can he stay healthy for 16 games? He hasn’t yet.

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With Jackson out for the season, what are the Eagles options at free safety?

Marlin Jackson apparently has less luck than the victims of those “Saw” movies.

On Tuesday, Jackson suffered a ruptured Achilles’ tendon in his right foot, which will end his season – if not his career. The injury comes on the heels of the Eagles’ signing him to a two-year, $6 million deal to be their new free safety despite the fact that he suffered two knee injuries in the previous two seasons. The position now becomes the black hole of Philly’s defense for the second straight season.

What are the Bird’s plans to replace Jackson? O.J. Atogwe is now a free agent, but GM Howie Roseman told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the team won’t pursue the former Rams’ safety. Instead, the Eagles will rely on in-house options like rookie Nate Allen, Quintin Demps or possibly even Macho Harris (a cornerback that started eight games at FS last season) to fill the void created by Jackson’s injury.

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Rams safety Atogwe becomes a free agent

The Rams just lost one of their leading defensive playmakers, as safety O.J. Atogwe is now set to become a free agent. The team neglected to upgrade his tender offer to $6.976 million and now he’s free to sign with any team he wants.

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

In a surprise move just before the start of free agency in March, the Rams tendered Atogwe, then a restricted free agent, at the lowest possible level — $1,226,000. At that level, they would have had the right of first refusal had Atogwe received an offer from another club but would not have received draft-pick compensation if the Rams chose to not match that offer.

The deadline for outside offers was April 15, and Atogwe received none. After that date, the Rams were obligated to pay Atogwe the higher tender amount to retain him for another season or work out a new contract, presumably a long-team deal.

Negotiations on such an agreement continued Tuesday until the deadline arrived. Landphere did not return phone messages Tuesday, and Atogwe could not be reached to comment.

Coming off surgery for a shoulder injury that sidelined him for the last four games of the 2009 season, Atogwe did not participate in the team’s offseason conditioning program. He also has not been present during the organized team activities under way at Rams Park.

The Lions, Vikings, Dolphins, Jaguars and even Cowboys might show interest in Atogwe now that he’s a free agent. The Bears were once rumored to be interested, but after drafting Major Wright in the third round and trading for Chris Harris (Panthers), Chicago is no longer in the market for a safety.

Atogwe could still return to the Rams, but it’s clear they didn’t want to pay him close to $7 million and why would they? He’s coming off a major injury and was an average player when he was healthy. That’s not to say he’s a bad player, but teams have to weigh the risk versus the reward when signing a free agent. That’s just common practice.

It’ll be interesting to see where he winds up because more than likely, he’ll upgrade whatever secondary he goes to.

The Top 5 Bargains and Risks of the 2009 NFL Free Agent Class

With free agency ready to kickoff this Friday, February 27, hope once again springs eternal for fans across the NFL.

But it seems like more than any other year, the free agent market this offseason has been picked bone dry before teams have even had the chance to grab their shopping carts.

Nnamdi Asomugha?

Sorry, off the market after re-signing with the Raiders.

Julius Peppers?

Franchised, but teams can probably have him for two first round picks, a gazillion dollars and a six yachts.

Terrell Suggs?

Likely staying put in Baltimore after being franchised.

Karlos Dansby? Brandon Jacobs? Matt Cassel? O.J. Atogwe? Darren Sproles? Antonio Bryant? Dunta Robinson?

All franchised.

Are there any players left on the market to get excited about? Absolutely, there are plenty of quality free agents available and bargains to be had. But as in previous years, there are a ton of risks, as well.

Below are five free agents that might command a decent amount of money this offseason, but will also be worth the heavy price tag in the end. I’ve also complied a group of five free agents that could turn out to be thieves this offseason by commanding big bucks, yet those investments may not pay off once teams start strapping on helmets and shoulder pads again.

Read the rest after the jump...

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