St. Louis Rams: Geoff Schwartz

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.
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.

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