Barely twenty-four hours into the period when NFL teams can reach no further than first base with the free agents they are interested in and my Twitter feed is on fire with rumors, all of them fed by that disconcertingly vaguest of entities: sources. These rumors are, in turn, leading to the barrage of fan reactions that make the off-season so much fun as every amateur head coach gives assurances about the impact that these player will have on their beloved franchises.
And they call this the off-season.
Naturally, the St Louis Rams are at the heart of some of these stories, and the team’s off-season moves can, so far, be summarized as follows:
- Veteran cornerback Cortland Finnegan was released
- It is looking increasingly likely that offensive lineman Rodger Saffold will sign with another team
- The Rams have apparently shown interest in Bills safety Jairus Byrd and Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner
Finnegan’s release is not as much of a surprise as the fact that the same fate has not been suffered by center Scott Wells or guard Harvey Dahl. Most felt that Finnegan would be the least likely to be cut out of these highly-priced veterans, who appear to have their best days behind them. Finnegan was a clear liability in the backfield last season and struggled with an eye injury, but, nonetheless, some thought that with a re-structured (i.e. cheaper) contract he could play a valuable role as a veteran presence in the secondary, particular with so many young players around. On the other hand, everyone took it as a given that Wells and Dahl’s time in St Louis was over. Seeing as Saffold is going (and more on that later) it is perhaps, in hindsight, not such a bad idea that the Rams will be retaining two of their interior linemen from last season, however ineffective they may have been. With free agency and the draft coming up, though, Wells and Dahl might not have fully escaped the axe yet though.
Saffold’s (expected) departure neither surprises nor disappoints. With a mediocre market for offensive linemen, it seemed unnecessary, given the Rams’ scant resources, to pay offensive tackle money to a player who works best as a guard; especially when, in Joe Barksdale and Shelley Smith, the Rams have two cheaper alternatives who do not represent a significant drop-off in quality at either position. More importantly, neither have the shown the propensity to get injured at a drop of a penalty flag. Most in Rams Nation, including myself, feel that Saffold’s value is being over-rated due to the context of the position in this year’s free agency, and the Rams should not be over-paying players. Not anymore, anyway.
The interest in Byrd and Verner are no surprises either. With the team’s gaping needs in the backfield, it makes sense for the Rams to be linked with two of the top defensive backs available in free agency this year. Byrd probably fills a larger need at safety, but the Browns’ T. J. Ward has also been raised as a cheaper option, although his name is yet to come up now that the consultation window has actually been opened. Finnegan’s release has made some cap room for the Rams to sign one – though not both – of these, but, given the competition, it is unlikely that either of them will end up a Ram.
However, despite the fact that none of these developments should have caught us off guard, we should be aware that the Rams’ eventual moves will come as a surprise to many. The franchise needs to build through the draft, not through free agency, and the top options available at the main positions of need (safety, cornerback, offensive line) will likely not represent a value-for-money move for a franchise that desperately needs it. Instead, we should put our faith in that famous maxim: if you are not hearing anything about your favorite team at the moment, it means the front office is doing a good job.
Expect the unexpected. And Austin Pettis’ release after draft day!