St. Louis Rams' Remaining Top Free Agent Targets

Steven Gerwel@Steve_GerContributor IIIMarch 16, 2012

St. Louis Rams' Remaining Top Free Agent Targets

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    Basically three full days have passed since the opening of the 2012 free agency period, but the St. Louis Rams have been wise enough to avoid jumping in head first. 

    Overly anxious teams have jumped the gun, as they do every year, which has resulted in mid-level players receiving enormous contracts that far exceed their talent, such as wide receivers Pierre Garcon (five years, $42.5 million) and Laurent Robinson (five years, $32.5 million). 

    At this point, the Rams have locked down just one player— ex-Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan. 

    Finnegan earned a hefty payday on Tuesday evening with a five-year contract worth $50 million.

    Finnegan is actually deserving of the money due to his consistent production, which justifies the signing.

    Unlike the teams who coughed up blank checks out of desperation, the Rams found a player who's undoubtedly worth the money. 

    But even though the Finnegan acquisition was a major move by St. Louis, it's also their only move at this point. The lack of activity has generated mild panic among Rams fans. 

    However, while there haven't been any additional players inked to multi-year deals, coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead are hard at work trying to produce the next signing. 

    Rams beat writer Jim Thomas described the hectic activity at Rams Park in a Twitter post


    Hallways of Rams Park literally jammed with free agent visitors: Mario Manningham, Steve Smith, Shaun Hill, Scott Wells, Travelle Wharton.

    The Rams had an abysmal 2-14 record in 2011, which has been the norm over the last five seasons, so players aren't exactly falling over themselves to sign with St. Louis. 

    But as we sit tight and wait for the next announcement, lets take a glance at some of the top available free agents who are currently being targeted by the Rams. 

Steve Smith, WR (Philadelphia Eagles)

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    Wide receiver Steve Smith exploded onto the scene during the New York Giants' 2009 season after catching 107 passes for 1,220 yards and seven touchdowns. 

    Smith quickly became a vital part of the New York offense until he tore his ACL in 2010.

    Last season, Smith was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles and Giants quarterback Eli Manning disapproved of his team allowing for Smith's departure, which is a testament to the receiver's value.

    In 2011, Smith was still recovering from his knee injury, which limited him to just 11 catches and 124 yards for the entire season.

    It's still questionable whether or not Smith can finally return to his old form, but if he can ultimately revitalize his game, then the Rams would benefit greatly.  

    Smith visited with the Rams on Thursday and the process went as far as Smith receiving a physical.  

Scott Wells, C (Green Bay Packers)

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    The Green Bay Packers had the No. 1 scoring offense in the NFL in 2011 (560 points), and the man who snapped the ball on every play for all 16 games was Scott Wells. 

    Wells also started all 16 games during the Packers' Super Bowl winning season in 2010. 

    St. Louis cut center Jason Brown less than a week ago, so the team is exploring every option in an attempt to find a capable replacement for the upcoming season. 

    Wells is 31 years old, so he's not a long-term answer, but his experience on a winning team with a dominate quarterback (Aaron Rodgers) could do wonders for the development of third-year passer Sam Bradford

    The addition of Wells would be ideal, but the Rams are getting hefty competition for his services from the Tennessee Titans.

    If the Rams land Wells, there's a good chance it will come as a result of overpaying him.  

Mario Manningham, WR (New York Giants)

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    Mario Manningham has been one of Eli Manning's favorite targets over the last three years, and at the age of 25, Manningham still has his best football ahead of him. 

    Manningham had productive seasons in 2009 (822 yards, five touchdowns) and 2010 (944 yards, nine touchdowns), but his production plummeted last season due to the presence of Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. 

    However, Manningham redeemed himself during the Super Bowl with five catches and 73 yards, including a circus catch in the fourth quarter that allowed the Giants to seal the victory. 

    Manningham visited with the San Francisco 49ers, but he left their facility without signing a contract. He visited with the Rams on Thursday evening. 

Jason Jones, DT (Tennessee Titans)

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    After cutting starting defensive tackles Fred Robbins and Justin Bannan, as well as defensive end James Hall (who saw significant playing time at tackle), there's a decent chance that Jason Jones is currently the Rams' primary target. 

    The 25-year-old Jones was a rising star during his first three NFL seasons after accumulating a combined 12.5 sacks, but his production declined in 2011 after he was forced to play defensive end.

    Jones played his three best seasons under the guidance of coach Jeff Fisher, so it only makes sense that the two would reunite in St. Louis.

    Jones visited with the Rams on Wednesday, but he left without a contract. He's expected to visit with the Seattle Seahawks as well.   

Shaun Hill, QB (Detroit Lions)

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    The Rams showed interest in quarterback Jason Campbell on the first day of free agency, but Campbell eventually signed with the Chicago Bears

    Regardless of missing out on Campbell, the Rams are still interested in finding a backup quarterback behind Sam Bradford, which is why they brought in former Lions quarterback Shaun Hill for a visit on Thursday.

    Hill started 10 games for the Lions in 2010 in place of the injured Matthew Stafford. Hill finished with 2,868 yards, 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

    Bradford missed six games due to injury in 2011, so it's vital that the Rams find a capable backup in case the injury bug returns.  

Eric Winston, T (Houston Texans)

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    Former No. 2 overall draft pick Jason Smith has been the Rams' right tackle for the last three years, but the highly touted prospect has been nothing short of a major disappointment. 

    Smith has missed 19 games over the last three seasons, and he has greatly struggled in pass protection. 

    As a result, the Rams need to explore other options, which is why they're showing interest in Eric Winston. 

    The 28-year-old Winston has played for the Houston Texans for his entire six-year career. He has also started every game for the last five seasons, which would clearly provide the Rams with the consistency they so desperately need on the offensive line. 

    Unfortunately for the Rams, Winston is looking to become one of the top paid right tackles in the league, which may put him out of reach.  

Travelle Wharton, T (Carolina Panthers)

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    The Carolina Panthers released offensive lineman Travelle Wharton on Tuesday due to issues with his salary. He would've been responsible for $7.6 million cap hit had he been retained. 

    The 30-year-old Wharton has been with the Panthers for his entire eight-year career. 

    Wharton has the ability to play either guard or tackle, which makes him a solid fallback option if the Rams cannot sign Eric Winston to a deal. 

    The Rams struggled with penalties in 2011 after surrendering an average of 53.6 penalty yards a game, so Wharton's veteran presence could go a long ways towards instilling discipline among the offensive line.