The Black Sheep: Trying to find a market for Marc Bulger and Alex Barron

It was a new year, and Rams fans were more than ready for a new start. When news broke that Marc Bulger was considering retirement, a collective “hallelujah!” rang out; since then, however, the story yet to be confirmed in any meaningful way. And as Coach Spagnuolo is fond of reminding us, “Marc is still on this team.”

Alex Barron isn’t ready to retire, but the Rams themselves openly wish he would go away. The latest news out of the buzz machine is that the Rams have tendered both Atogwe and Barron as restricted free agents, but are willing to listen to offers that are far below the suggested tender for Barron.

But here comes the curveball: Although they have to pay Barron at a first-round level, they don’t have to ask for first-round draft pick compensation.

And they’re not.

According to multiple league sources, the Rams informed Barron’s agents Sunday night that they will be asking for only second-round draft pick compensation when they turn their tender offers into the league office later this week.

— StL Post Dispatch: Rams’ move makes it obvious that Barron is on the market

Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

As both of these players prepare for life after the Rams, we can’t help but note a sad sympathy for two of the least-loved players in St Louis sports. Oh, there have been plenty of our own players and sports figures more hated and reviled in this town — Tony Banks, Lawrence Phillips, Jason Sehorn, Tino Martinez, Mike Keenan, and JD Drew to name just a few from my generation.

But it’s rare to find a combination of franchise players — quarterback and left tackle — that have so very few fans, so few people who will stand up and argue when the hate comes down. So few fans that it’s hard to understand that they could have any trade value at all.

But Barron isn’t the only one of these two that the Rams could deal. As Matt Bowen of the National Football Post points out, the Rams aren’t in any hurry to cut Bulger, and dealing the QB for a late-round draft pick would be an ideal solution.

Let’s deal with Barron first. Is there a taker for his services, even at a discounted price? It’s the question of the day at both Turf Show Times and RamsGab. I put the question to our correspondents at Pro Football Focus, via Twitter.

RamsHerd @ProFootbalFocus @MonieWR82 Is there a trade market for Alex Barron? What would you give up for him?
ProFootbalFocus @RamsHerd We’ve never been a fan… But a 2nd round pick for a guy who has starting experience at both tackle spots and still just 27 could tempt somebody

Looking at the PFF rankings for Barron, and it’s plainly obvious why they aren’t a fan — he ranks 70th of 77 tackles in the NFL. In 2008, he ranked 65th. Not an encouraging trend. However, if Barron has shown anything, it’s that his inconsistency makes him capable of actually putting together a good game every once in a while. And teams that he’s played well against make good potential targets for trying to deal him.

Looking at Barron’s 2009 game log, two teams bubble up: Minnesota and Houston. (Looking back to 2008, he played well against Washington as well, but he followed up that audition with a season-worst performance in Week 2 of this year, giving up a sack and 4 other pressures, as well as committing two costly penalties. The less teams have seen of him, the better.)

Of the two, Minnesota is more likely to be looking for deals, as they are hamstrung by the uncapped-year rules that state that they cannot sign an unrestricted free agent without losing one of their own. Therefore, making incremental improvements with veteran players will have to come through trades. And despite hosting an incredible comeback year from Favre, their offensive line is a mess.

However, Houston’s good fortunes, finishing with their first-ever winning season, leaves them with a less-impactful draft slot. If they felt like pushing over a mid-third-rounder (#81 overall) for Barron, would the Rams honestly be in a position to say no?

Added: One final note on Washington, from the guys at PFF:

ProFootbalFocus @RamsHerd Washington need OT help with Samuels likely retiring, but new staff there so anything Barron did in ’08 vs them is irrelevent

Now, to Bulger. At this point in his career, he has to be hoping for the patented “Kurt Warner soft landing” as a backup/mentor to a team on the rise. Ironically, some have even placed him as a good fit in Arizona, taking Warner’s place. He also looks pretty good by comparison when the best available free agent quarterback is Chad Pennington. (Personally, I’d rather have Pennington.)

The downside? Obviously, his price tag. If he is traded rather than cut, it means the team that acquires him also acquires the rest of his contract. Yes, that contract is not guaranteed, but it shifts the burden of renegotiating or cutting him to the acquiring team. Not an attractive proposition — except in an uncapped year, when there’s no penalty for carrying an albatross salary for one season at an unglamorous position.

Also, as with the Vikings above, the Cardinals are in a delicate situation. They’ve been to the playoffs two years in a row, but now face an unsettling crossroads with the retirement of Warner and the handing of the reins to Matt Leinert. The rest of the pieces (except for some improvements to be made in the offensive line and a replacement for Antrelle Rolle and Karlos Dansby) are in place for a continued run. But they can’t use the free agent market for much, given the unusual restrictions put on playoff teams this offseason. There’s no doubt that they would like a veteran insurance policy for Leinert, one who is comfortable and accurate in a vertical passing offense. Bulger is a nearly ideal fit in this market. And he can be had, in terms of draft picks, for pennies on the dollar.

Bottom line, it’s plausible that both players could be traded away. And if the Rams get something in trade for either or both, it’s more than most feel we’ve gotten from them on the field in the last three years.