EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Finally, mercifully, the official start of free agency is almost upon us.
As we count down the minutes until the start of the new league year at 4 p.m. ET, here are some last minute thoughts, nuggets and things to watch for the St. Louis Rams when the time finally arrives.
On the line
There are apparently no secrets when it comes to the offensive tackle market as all of the top players have already been pegged for a destination in various reports. That include the Rams' Rodger Saffold, who looks poised to land in Oakland on a lucrative contract. The Rams also released guard Harvey Dahl, though it's possible he could come back on a smaller deal after he heals up from injury.
Guards Shelley Smith and Chris Williams are poised to become free agents also and though the Rams have expressed interest in retaining Williams, other teams have expressed at least some degree of interest in both.
That leaves plenty of questions about what shape the Rams' offensive line will take heading into next season. As we reported Monday, the Rams have interest in Kansas City offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz. They're expected to be players on that front but other teams, namely the New York Giants, are as well.
Expect the Rams to be in the chase for Schwartz but like with every other player, they won't exceed a certain price to land him. What the plan is behind Schwartz remains to be seen but the Rams do have interest in plenty of top draft prospects. And the free-agent market isn't all that deep behind Schwartz and the top tackles, all of whom will go off the board quick.
The pending release of cornerback Cortland Finnegan will likely become official soon and when it does, the Rams will have more salary cap space. They'll also have a greater need at the position. Based on their early overtures from the weekend, the team is well aware of its needs in the secondary. Namely, a starting-caliber corner and a rangy safety.
The Rams showed at least some interest in highly-sought commodities in Tennessee cornerback Alterraun Verner and Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd over the weekend. Verner seems the more likely possibility of the two but the Rams probably aren't going to break the bank for either.
However, as we mentioned yesterday in this space, the market for both players may not be taking shape the way they'd hoped. If those prices come in closer to the $6-7 million per year range rather than $9-10 million per year, the Rams are more likely to be involved.
There are, however, plenty of other options behind those two big names. At cornerback, San Francisco's Tarell Brown is a name to note and though safety doesn't really have a lot of fits for the type the Rams need, there are obvious ties to New Orleans' Malcolm Jenkins. Jenkins has long been a favorite of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and is close friends with linebacker James Laurinaitis. Philadelphia is one team that's been linked to Jenkins though his name hasn't been mentioned much at all. Those players are the type who could represent more cost-effective options.
Letting Dahl and Finnegan walk were the two major moves the Rams had to make before free agency. But there are other orders of business to take care of as well. The team already decided to not tender tight end Mike McNeill on a restricted free-agent deal though he could theoretically be brought back later at a lesser cost. The Rams also already extended exclusive rights tenders to quarterback Austin Davis, center Tim Barnes and receiver Justin Veltung.
Cornerback Quinton Pointer, who is also an exclusive-rights free agent, is the only player the Rams must still decide on but that will be coming soon.
The bottom line
My sense is the same as it has been the whole time, which is to say the Rams will always investigate their options but probably aren't going to be all that active when free agency comes. If the market allows them to stay in play for a big name, they'll likely pursue it but otherwise don't be surprised if they let the market come to them.
Last year, for example, the team wanted to make a run at Miami receiver Mike Wallace. That market quickly went beyond their grasp and they re-directed that money into tight end Jared Cook and offensive tackle Jake Long. Don't be surprised if something similar plays out this year though the final results might not yield "name" players like those two.
One way or another, the Rams are going to fill a need or two in this year's free-agent market. The good news is, we don't have to wait much longer to see it all play out.