The Rams wasted no time diving into free agency with the rest of the league when the new league year opened on Tuesday.
By Wednesday morning, the team had already added former Tennessee cornerback Cortland Finnegan and was in the process of wooing a number of other free agents including Tennessee defensive tackle Jason Jones.
That all came on the heels of a roster purge on Monday and Tuesday that left the Rams flush with salary cap space (in excess of $30 million) and also transitioned them from one of the oldest teams in the league to the youngest.
As of Wednesday afternoon, even including the addition of Finnegan, the Rams now boast the youngest roster in the NFL. Such is life in rebuilding according to coach Jeff Fisher.
“If you are going to build, you want to build with youth and that’s one of the things that we have committed to doing weeks ago,” Fisher said. “We have got to develop players and we have got to build this thing mostly through the draft. We looked at both markets. We thought OK, here are a couple options in free agency, let’s attack these, let’s see if we can have some success here. There were some guys we expressed interest in. There were negotiations, there were talks, and some of those things didn’t work out for us.”
For the first time, the new league year began in the middle of the afternoon rather than its customary midnight shotgun start. That put even more focus on the available free agents and it bore out a flurry of activity, particularly at a few positions.
The Rams honed in on Finnegan and Jones right away, in part because of their familiarity with Fisher from their time together with the Titans but also because they just happened to be some of the most talented players to hit the market.
“We have been doing it for a long time,” Fisher said. “We didn’t sit down and say ‘Hey, let’s go get all the Titans and Falcons players we possibly can. It just so happened that two of the top guys on our list are my former players. We’ve had success with that. It’s just about getting the right people. This philosophy is all about chemistry, it’s about hard work, and it’s about putting a team together. We continue to make a conscious effort to not just go out and sign somebody without having them in the building. We need to meet people. Our preference is to bring guys in the building, get to know them and feel good about getting a visit in before making a decision.”
With Finnegan’s deal wrapped up, the Rams were in the process of trying to finalize a deal with Jones. The 6’5, 280 pound tackle was drafted and played his first three years in the league under Fisher.
In that time, Jones earned a reputation for being one of the league’s most disruptive pass rushers on the interior. He has a visit to Seattle scheduled but the Rams are hoping to get Jones to sign on before it can happen.
“We are recruiting Jason right now and we hope to have a chance to get things worked out,” Fisher said. “We also think that JJ will fill a need for us.”
Of course, it’s been nearly impossible to get all desired free agents to visit or sign in the madhouse world of the first 24 hours of free agency. The Rams made a run at bolstering a few other positions, namely wide receiver, and were rebuffed in those efforts.
Targets such as New Orleans wideout Robert Meachem (San Diego), Atlanta’s Harry Douglas (re-signed with Falcons) and Indianapolis’ Pierre Garcon (Washington) were all in some form of contact or negotiation with the Rams before settling on the mentioned destinations.
In fact, receiver was the hottest position in the league on the opening day of free agency as San Diego’s Vincent Jackson also signed a lucrative five-year contract with Tampa Bay and the likes of Josh Morgan (Washington) also closed deals.
Even on Wednesday, the value of wideouts was hammered home further as Detroit re-signed superstar wideout Calvin Johnson to a deal that includes $60 million guaranteed.
The quickly dried up wideout market has the Rams still searching for options, which Fisher says the team will explore fully. Names such as the Giants Mario Manningham, Arizona’s Early Doucet and Philadelphia’s Steve Smith remain available and could be of interest.
If not, the Rams have other avenues to acquire receiver help that they will explore.
“They did (go fast),” Fisher said. “When you start the process you look at both markets. This draft has got a lot of really talented receivers. There are still some receivers out there that we are interested in. There’s also the potential for a trade. It’s a position we are going to address and we will continue to address it and we’ll fill the need.”
Even after the addition of Finnegan, the Rams still have in excess of $20 million in cap space following the release of cornerback Ron Bartell, end James Hall, defensive tackles Justin Bannan and
Those moves cleared money to sign more free agents but also created more needs on the roster. The Rams still figure to at least investigate options for help all along the offensive line in addition to receiver and could also still be in the market for more help at defensive tackle or outside linebacker.
One player rumored to be of interest on the offensive line is tackle Eric Winston. Just released by Houston, Winston is considered one of the best right tackles in the game and could be a priority for the Rams should he not sign with Miami or Kansas City in previously scheduled visits. Other options on the offensive line that remain available are Baltimore guard Ben Grubbs, New England interior lineman Dan Koppen and Houston center Chris Myers.
Linemen with connections to Fisher and general manager Les Snead still on the market include Tennessee guard Jake Scott and Atlanta center Todd McClure.
Although the Rams won’t spend money just for the sake of spending, Snead did acknowledge that the team is still in position to make some more moves should they find the right fit.
“Yes, we have got options under the cap,” Snead said. “Basically what we are trying to do is: hey, whoever we bring in here is going to be productive within our scheme. If it’s a higher paid player, so be it. If it’s a mid level paid player, so be it.”
Likewise, the Rams have 20 free agents of their own that they are still having various levels of communication with and they haven’t ruled out the possibility of bringing back some of the players they released on lesser contracts.
“There’s always that potential,” Fisher said. “That’s what we shared with them as well. At this time, when the league year opens, there are decisions you have to make and every single one of them I spoke with I understood that.”