Free Agent Preview: Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

Posted Mar 5, 2012

Danny Amendola is a restricted free agent but will likely be a priority for the Rams to retain.

There was a time not so long ago that the only question about Rams receivers and the 1,000 yard receiving mark wasn’t whether they’d have one. The question was whether they’d have two.

Such was life in the days of potential Hall of Famers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt. But the reality is, those days have long since passed and since Holt last hit the mark in 2007, the Rams haven’t had a wideout reach that plateau. They haven’t even had a wideout post more than the 796 receiving yards Holt posted in 2008.

There’s little doubt how difficult it is to replace players the caliber of Holt and Bruce but few could have imagine that it’d be this difficult to find consistent play makers on the outside since they moved on.

That’s why, with free agency set to begin on March 13, the Rams enter another offseason in pursuit of the players that can fill the void and give quarterback Sam Bradford some big play threats outside the hash marks.

In the time between now and then, the Rams have one player who might just fit that bill that is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent if they don’t lock him up first.

Brandon Lloyd came to the Rams in a trade with Denver midway through last season and instantly became the team’s most productive wideout and a favorite target of Bradford’s. He finished with 51 catches for 683 yards and five touchdowns in his time with the Rams and might have broken the 1,000-yard barrier had he played a full season in St. Louis.

Lloyd has expressed a desire to stay in St. Louis and the Rams have returned that interest. Coach Jeff Fisher acknowledged as much as the scouting combine in Indianapolis.

However, working out a deal with Lloyd might not be all that easy. He’s also expressed interest in going to New England, where Josh McDaniels is the offensive coordinator. Lloyd has had his greatest NFL success playing for McDaniels in Denver and St. Louis and is well aware that he’s one of McDaniels’ prized pupils.

Aside from Lloyd, the Rams will make getting slot receiver Danny Amendola under contract a priority. Amendola is a restricted free agent, which gives the Rams the ability to match outside contract offers or receive compensation in the form of draft picks should he sign elsewhere.

Amendola has been perhaps the team’s most consistent receiver when healthy but was derailed by an elbow injury suffered in the season opener against Philadelphia last season.

Veteran Mark Clayton is an unrestricted free agent after he also finished the season on injured reserve recovering from a knee injury suffered in 2010. Special teams ace Dominique Curry is an exclusive rights free agent and will probably be brought back to compete for a spot.

Aside from that group, that leaves youngsters Greg Salas, Brandon Gibson, Danario Alexander and Austin Pettis under contract at the position. Those players will also likely get a chance to compete for roster spots in camp.

General manager Les Snead has made it clear from his introductory press conference that he believes in the need to find dynamic players on the perimeter. In other words, the Rams could well be active in free agency and the draft when it comes to adding play making wide receivers.

After teams used the franchise tag on top wideouts such as New England’s Wes Welker, Kansas City’s Dwayne Bowe and Philadelphia’s DeSean Jackson and Buffalo re-signed Stevie Johnson, the competition for the remaining top wideouts figures to be intense.

Still, this market will likely have a number of talented players come free when it opens for business in a couple of weeks. Of course, teams can still re-sign their own players between now and then but it appears at least a few desirable wideouts will hit the open market.

Heading up that list is San Diego’s Vincent Jackson. Jackson is not expected to be franchised or re-signed before March 13 despite having a rare size and speed package that makes him one of the league’s best deep threats.

Speaking of deep threats, one intriguing player is Pittsburgh’s Mike Wallace. He’s just 26 and is perhaps the game’s most dangerous player tracking the deep ball. Wallace is a restricted free agent and a team would have to surrender a first round pick but, in the case of the Rams, what if they were to acquire an additional, later pick in the first round before free agency begins?

More realistic options include New Orleans’ Marques Colston, the Giants’ Mario Manningham, Indianapolis’ Pierre Garcon and New Orleans’ Robert Meachem. A sleeper name to keep an eye on could be Atlanta’s Harry Douglas.

Snead knows Douglas well from their time together with the Falcons and Douglas has some big play ability, though he’s more of a slot receiver than a normal wideout.

One other way to bolster the passing game could be to find some help at tight end, a position the Rams looked to have improved heading into last season but enters this offseason with more questions than answers.

Veterans Billy Bajema and Stephen Spach were used primarily as blockers in 2011 but are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents.
That leaves a pair of young and talented tight ends in Lance Kendricks and Mike Hoomanawanui on the roster. Kendricks was a standout in the preseason but some early season miscues cost him confidence and he didn’t seem to recover until the final parts of the season.

Hoomanawanui has consistently flashed a nice combination of pass catching ability and blocking skills but simply hasn’t been able to stay healthy in his two years with the Rams.

Ben Guidugli and DeMarco Cosby showed some promise in their stints with the practice squad as well.

A full offseason program should help both Kendricks and Hoomanawanui continue to settle in but that still leaves the need for help at the position, be it a blocking specialist or someone who can do a little bit of everything.

It’s unlikely the Rams will break the bank on a top tight end but there are some solid options available in free agency. That group includes Minnesota’s Visanthe Shiancoe, Seattle’s John Carlson, Dallas’ Martellus Bennett, Houston’s Joel Dreessen and Indianapolis’ Jacob Tamme.

Cincinnati’s Bo Scaife and Carolina’s Jeremy Shockey represent a couple of solid veteran options who could provide some leadership and stability to the youngsters already in place.

Top Five Available Receivers
1. Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh (RFA)
2. Vincent Jackson, San Diego (UFA)
3. Marques Colston, New Orleans (UFA)
4. Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis (UFA)
5. Mario Manningham, New York Giants (UFA)

Top Five Available Tight Ends
1. Visanthe Shiancoe, Minnesota (UFA)
2. John Carlson, Seattle (UFA)
3. Martellus Bennett, Dallas (UFA)
4. Joel Dreessen, Houston (UFA)
5. Jacob Tamme, Indianapolis (UFA)

Rams Free Agents
WR – Brandon Lloyd (UFA), Mark Clayton (UFA), Danny Amendola (RFA), Dominique Curry (Ex. Rights FA)
TE – Billy Bajema (UFA), Stephen Spach (UFA)

Note: UFA stands for unrestricted free agent. That player can be signed by any team without compensation going to the former team. RFA is a restricted free agent who must be signed to an offer sheet and compensation in the form of a draft pick must go to the former team. These lists do NOT include players who have been given the franchise tag by their respective teams.