Rams free-agent preview: Wide receiver

March, 6, 2014
3/06/14
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The free-agent market is scheduled to begin March 11 and teams may begin negotiations with those poised to hit the market beginning March 8. We'll count down to that with a position-by-position look at what the Rams have in place, who is set to hit the market, what they might need and who might fit the bill.

In place: The Rams have one of the youngest groups of wide receivers in the league and that could be the case again in 2014. Austin Pettis is the elder statesman of the group, having just finished his third season. Pettis is under contract for next season before becoming eligible for free agency.

[+] EnlargeVontae Davis and Tavon Austin
AP Photo/AJ MastReceiver Tavon Austin gave the Rams a spark as a rookie in 2013.
Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, who were rookies in 2013, also will return and should have prime opportunities for snaps in front of them. Austin was showing signs of coming into his own before a late-season ankle injury cost him the final three games. Bailey proved reliable with some late-season chances of his own and likely earned an expanded role heading into next season.

The more curious situations center on Brian Quick and Chris Givens, both of whom are entering their third year in the league. Givens took a step back in his second season and Quick didn't show much progress from his rookie season aside from his improved blocking ability on the perimeter. It's a big season for both players as the Rams have patiently waited for them to step into more prominent roles.

Pending free agents: Justin Veltung (exclusive rights)

What’s needed: It's no secret the Rams need a legitimate No. 1 receiver to consistently create separation and win on the outside. Bailey showed glimpses of that ability though the sample size is small and even if he's going to handle one side, someone else needs to step up on the other. The Rams would like that person to be Givens or Quick, but if they have the chance to find one that doesn't require much polish, it's something they have to consider.

Possible fits: The reality is the type of receiver the Rams need almost never becomes available on the free-agent market. Splash signings at wide receiver rarely pan out, though Tampa Bay's addition of Vincent Jackson is a recent example of one that did. Teams simply don't allow top wideouts to become available. Before free agency began, San Francisco re-signed Anquan Boldin and Philadelphia re-signed Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin.

Some names that could get connected to the Rams from the crop of potential free agents include the Giants' Hakeem Nicks, Green Bay's James Jones and Tennessee's Kenny Britt. None necessarily fit the mold of a true No. 1 and all three come with question marks. As with most former Titans, expect Britt to be connected to the Rams regularly simply because of his ties to coach Jeff Fisher.

Verdict: The Rams have expressed interest in making a splashy receiver signing in free agency the past couple of years, though they quickly saw the price tag on players like Pierre Garcon and Mike Wallace escalate beyond their grasp. They've stated multiple times that they won't add a receiver unless they believe that player is worthy of taking valuable repetitions from their young group. If the Rams do intend to add a No. 1 type of receiver, they're more likely to find him in the draft than free agency.

Nick Wagoner

ESPN St. Louis Rams reporter

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