Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Rams stand pat in early free-agent rush
By Nick Wagoner
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- In the first hour of 2014 NFL free agency, more than 25 players agreed to or signed new contracts. The action came fast for offensive tackles and safeties while receivers and running backs waited.
Notable in their absence from the activity was the St. Louis Rams. The team made cornerback Cortland Finnegan's release official. And then ... crickets.
While it can be hard to discern what's real and what's not at this time of year, the Rams have been pretty open about not diving into the deep end of free agency this time around. They'd done it in the past two years with quick strikes for Finnegan and tight end Jared Cook but this time they said they wanted to let the market settle a bit.
And that's precisely what they did, at least on day one. The only player the Rams were known to have interest in and make a push for was Kansas City offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz. But the New York Giants apparently beat the Rams to the punch as Schwartz agreed to a deal and was on a plane to New York by Tuesday night.
Beyond Schwartz, various reports over the weekend also linked the Rams to Tennessee cornerback Alterraun Verner and Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd. ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported that Byrd is on his way to visit with the New Orleans Saints, who lost safety Malcolm Jenkins to Philadelphia earlier in the day. (Update: Byrd agreed to a six-year deal with the Saints on Tuesday night)
Many expected Verner to come off the market right away and did not find a new deal immediately but agreed late Tuesday evening to a four-year deal with Tampa Bay.
There are still some attractive corners left on the market, many of whom figure to land lucrative deals. New England's Aqib Talib, Denver's Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and, of course, the pending situation centered on Tampa Bay's Darrelle Revis. San Francisco's Tarell Brown also remains on the market as a potential option who should come cheaper than the corners mentioned above.
As for safety and the offensive line, there was little time wasted in those positions drying up.
There wasn't much available in terms of the interior of the offensive line anyway but Rodger Saffold (Oakland), Schwartz, guard Zane Beadles (Jacksonville), guard Shawn Lauvao (Washington) and guard Jon Asamoah (Atlanta) were quickly targeted and signed. Tackles Eugene Monroe (Baltimore), Jared Veldheer (Arizona) and Branden Albert (Miami) also made their moves.
Pickings among offensive linemen are now exceptionally slim though Rams Chris Williams and Shelley Smith are still available. Multiple teams showed some level of interest in both.
The pool of safeties also evaporated quickly. Jenkins (Philadelphia), Donte Whitner (Cleveland), T.J. Ward (Denver), Antoine Bethea (San Francisco), Mike Mitchell (Pittsburgh), Ryan Mundy (Chicago) and Louis Delmas (signed with Miami on Monday) all relocated. Chris Clemons remains unsigned but has the attention of Detroit and Pittsburgh.
All those moves leave a group that includes newly released options such as Thomas DeCoud and Patrick Chung, along with veteran Ryan Clark and lesser known players like Indianapolis' Sergio Brown.
Since the Rams didn't come out firing on day one, it's probably fair to expect them to continue to be patient in the coming days in hopes that prices will fall and they can find some relative bargains. A drop in price tag is inevitable but it remains to be seen what will be available when it happens.