Unlike in past years, the St. Louis Rams have finally “solidified” the majority of their roster. Both offensive tackles, running back, quarterback, tight end, six of the starters in the front-seven, and three out of the four spots in the secondary can all be checked off for the upcoming season. However, like any team attempted to break out of mediocrity, there are still a handful of holes that need to be plugged immediately. Some of those “needs” are certainly less dire than others, like the situation at the other outside linebacker or within the extremely young, but very talented, wide receiving corps. Others are irrefutably gaping at this point, including a partner for T.J. McDonald in the deep secondary and a guard… any guard!
With the release of Cortland Finnegan yesterday, the outcry for the Rams to attack a “big name” defensive back in free agency began. Alterruan Verner, Jairus Bryd, and T.J. Ward were the hot topics in most conversations, but what about the other potential free agent prospects in this extremely deep class? For those who feel the Rams should fill the void in their secondary with a veteran talent, here are some of the other, potentially less expensive, options!
Sound familiar? Delmas was on the short-list of potential “big name” signing last offseason, and even made it to Rams Park. He left without signing a contract, eventually re-upping with the Detroit Lions on a two-year, heavily backloaded deal. Delmas was “slight above average” in the Lions’ secondary, allowing an impressively-low 43.8% catch rate in coverage, managing three interceptions, and grading out as the 11th-best coverage safeties in the league last season, according to Pro Football Focus. However, he did allow four touchdowns in coverage, and was inconsistent, at best, in run support. Delmas should, again, be available if the Rams are willing to throw a moderately-size contract in his direction. Considering he played for pocket change last season, Delmas will likely be looking for a contract somewhere in the $3.5 million to $5 million range. That is certainly more feasible than Jairus Byrd, who is supposedly seeking north of $9 million per season for his services.
Over the last two years, the St. Louis are 3-0 versus the Miami Dolphins in terms of “big name” signing. It started off with Jeff Fisher, then continued last season with both Jared Cook and Jake Long. The Rams might be smart to add another former-Dolphin to their roster this offseason. Chris Clemens is your prototypical centerfielder safety, although he has struggled to hold his own in run support. In 1,158 defensive snaps, Clemens allowed only 11 total receptions, all while managing impressively-high totals in tackles and pass deflections for a deep secondary defender. However, he also ranked among the highest at the position in missed tackles (14), and among lowest in defensive stops (12). Clemens might be too much of a “free safety” to fit into Jeff Fisher’s hybrid-defensive back scheme. However, if the team is truly looking for a ball-hawking, coverage safety, Clemens should be a relatively inexpensive option.
Donte “Hitner” Whitner
Of the many available safeties in the upcoming free agent class, Whitner might provide the best combination of skill set and affordability. The NFC West rival defensive back graded out as the No.6 overall safety in the NFL last season, pillared by impressive number in both run support and coverage. We are all well aware of his talents as a run defender, albeit one that receives plenty of fines for his hits. However, Whitner has been equally as impressive in the 49ers’ less-than-creative defensive scheme, allowing a mere 52.1% catch rate, ranking among the Top 10 in pass disruptions, and allowing only 70 total yards after the catch in 729 pass coverage snaps last season. Much like Delmas, Whitner will likely demand a contract somewhere in the $4 million to $6 million per range. The downside of Whitner is that he was drafted in 2006, inching him dreadfully close to the “30 year wall.” The upside is that, in signing him, the Rams would be creating a hole in a divisional rival’s secondary, on top of filling an immediate need for talent and leadership in the their own secondary.