Monday, March 10, 2014
Nuggets from Rams' free-agent trail
By Nick Wagoner
We are still more than a day away from the official start of free agency set for Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET. We also are still in the "take much of what you hear with a grain of salt" mode. That applies here as well.
But until we get to the time where actual agreements can be reached and contracts can be signed, we'll still try to sort through what we're hearing. With that in mind, here are some thoughts from the free-agent trail (shoutout to Bills reporter Mike Rodak for the name).
• A big part of adding the three-day negotiating window for teams and agents representing upcoming free agents was finding a way for teams to put contingency plans in place. Reports over the weekend have indicated the Rams have interest in Tennessee cornerback Alterraun Verner and Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd. There have also been multiple reports indicating that offensive lineman Rodger Saffold won't be returning to the Rams. If nothing else, those tidbits should give the Rams enough knowledge to have a gauge on what it will cost to obtain high-priced players, such as Verner and Byrd, and whether they truly want to be bidders.
• On the Verner front, it looks like the competition is going to be tough. Minnesota and both New York teams have been prominently mentioned, and Verner spoke highly of the Jets and New England in an interview with Mad Dog Radio. But one league source said Monday morning that the price for Verner might not be as high as some expect. Green Bay cornerback Sam Shields got nearly $10 million in average annual value on a four-year deal, but it's important to note that teams have to overpay to prevent their own from hitting the market sometimes. I do believe the Rams have interest in Verner but only to a point. Last year, for example, the Rams wanted to get in the mix for receiver Mike Wallace, but the price quickly rose out of their range and they re-focused their money elsewhere.
• If the Rams don't chase and land Verner, there are still some solid alternatives on the market. The big names include New England's Aqib Talib and Indianapolis' Vontae Davis. Davis figures to land a sizable contract and Talib could too, so long as his medical profile checks out. One name worth monitoring among mid-level free agents is San Francisco's Tarell Brown, who would bring the added bonus of weakening a division rival without necessarily having to break the bank.
• Also, it's logical for the Rams to look to find offensive line help in free agency should Saffold depart. A league source indicated Monday that the Rams are among the teams to express interest in Kansas City offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz. Schwartz has versatility similar to Saffold and, like Saffold, is a better fit at guard. Schwartz also figures to be a hot commodity but could make sense as a Saffold replacement at a lesser cost.
• As for Byrd, it's unclear how deep the Rams' interest in him runs. Reports indicate he's going to command upwards of $9 million per season, which could also prove too rich for the Rams' blood.
• Whether the Rams jump out early in free agency will depend, like always, on the cost of players they covet. In the past two years, they haven't established a pattern of doing things one way or another. Last year, they went hard for tight end Jared Cook and had him wrapped up pretty early. Then, they had tackle Jake Long in for a visit, essentially held him hostage and finally signed him. In addition, they have a good track record when it comes to signing players who do visit St. Louis first.
And if the Rams aren't extremely active early on, it's important to remember there will be plenty of free agents to cash in big right away, but the meat of this free-agent market appears to be in the middle. There are plenty of good players after that first rush that could come much cheaper than the big names. Seattle was patient last year and scored big on short, relatively cost-effective deals for defensive linemen Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril. Patience is a virtue for a reason, and this year doesn't look like it will lack for quality free agents that can be had for mid-level deals or even on one-year "prove it" contracts.