Projecting St. Louis Rams' NFL Free Agent Targets
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Dwayne Bowe never gave the St. Louis Rams—or anyone else—an opportunity to vie for his services in free agency by never hitting the open market. St. Louis doesn’t figure to be a major player for the biggest stars of the free agency season, but questions would undoubtedly have swirled regarding the Kansas City Chiefs wideout’s interest in the NFL’s other Missouri-based squad.
Bowe would have filled a need for the Rams, who should benefit from the presence of a veteran wide receiver. However, the team has just over $11 million in cap space after releasing tackle Wayne Hunter on Mar. 6.
A top-tier free-agent wide receiver like Bowe, Wes Welker, Greg Jennings or Mike Wallace could eat up all of that. St. Louis has too many other holes to fill to commit an eight-figure salary cap number to a single guy in free agency, even if they do release or restructure more veterans’ deals.
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Eric Winston was just released by the Kansas City Chiefs for what must have been purely financial reasons. Winston is still universally regarded as one of the NFL’s best right tackles, but was unceremoniously let go after just one year of service with the team.
The St. Louis Rams are looking for a guy to hold down the right tackle position after cutting their own Wayne Hunter—a guy for whom they traded Jason Smith last offseason—days prior. The 29-year-old Winston has blocked for Arian Foster and Jamaal Charles in recent seasons, players who have enjoyed very productive years behind his blocks.
They combined for 2,733 yards in 2011 (Foster) and 2012 (Charles, a career-high).
If Winston signs on elsewhere, the Rams can turn to Phil Loadholt of the Minnesota Vikings. All the 6’8”, 343-pound 27-year-old did was help move bodies as Adrian Peterson sprinted to a historic season in 2012.
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One spot where the St. Louis Rams could most use veteran help is the defensive backfield. They don’t come much more accomplished than former Green Bay Packers DB Charles Woodson. Green Bay declined to commit $10 million of their cap space to Woodson, who missed nine games in 2012.
St. Louis isn’t going to have to pay the 36-year-old that much money to help hold down the back end and teach the younger defensive backs a few things in 2013. He had 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble and an interception last season while playing safety.
The Rams may have another bargain option at safety in Atlanta Falcons standout William Moore, who went to college at Missouri. Moore picked off four passes, forced two fumbles and recorded a sack in 12 games in 2012. The 27-year-old free agent has expressed interest in playing in his home state, meaning that St. Louis could be competing with the Kansas City Chiefs for his services—as long as they come correct with their financial offers.
St. Louis has a bit of cap flexibility on this front: If they can grab a guy like Woodson, Moore or Ed Reed, the Rams should have more leverage to lower the cap hit caused by Quintin Mikell’s contract.
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The St. Louis Rams brass has made it no secret that they would like to retain the franchise’s offensive cornerstone—and leading active NFL career rusher—in running back Steven Jackson. The feeling may not be mutual, however, as Jackson said in an interview with Sirius NFL Radio (via ESPN.com NFC West blogger Mike Sando):
It wasn’t about money at this point. I've been able to have a successful career, especially dealing with some hard times as an individual. But it’s more at this point of my career [I] want to be a part of something, chasing a Lombardi Trophy. I want to be a part of something special. And at this point where I’m at, and where the Rams are right now, we had a very open discussion, very heart-to-heart, about what my role would be going forward from now. And that’s where the disagreement comes in. It wasn’t about salary.
So Jackson may not end up as a Rams lifer, after all; that likely depends on another team’s willingness to invest in him as an every-down back. St. Louis should have an advantage in retaining his services if Jackson doesn’t like what he hears on the open market regarding his role.
The Rams will try to keep him either way.
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Jared Cook used to play under current St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher with the Tennessee Titans. The 6’5” tight end is a matchup nightmare who may be looking for big money on the free-agent market—as evidenced by his bid to be franchise-tagged as a wide receiver if he was going to get the tag—but his stats haven’t been mind-blowing.
Cook’s best year came as a third-year player in 2011: 49 receptions for 759 yards and three touchdowns in 16 games. Tennessee’s quarterbacking has been far from elite during his tenure, so similar (or better) numbers in St. Louis would be no surprise.
The Rams may also wish to target San Francisco 49ers tight end Delanie Walker. At 6’0”, Walker is listed as five inches shorter than Cook—but he performed admirably in Super Bowl XLVII. The No. 2 to Vernon Davis’ No. 1 caught three of his four targets for 48 yards, along with a key block delivered on Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed to free up Frank Gore for a touchdown.
Martellus Bennett proved to be a legitimate No. 1 tight end with the New York Giants when he earned the opportunity to start in 2012. He finished the season with 55 catches for 626 yards and five touchdowns, but as a player entering his sixth year in the NFL, he hasn’t yet shown a level of consistency that should net him a huge contract.
St. Louis may be able to afford his services.
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Wide receiver is a position of need for the St. Louis Rams, but it’s not just any wideouts that they need. The team has promising options including 2012 rookies Chris Givens and Brian Quick, but they’re all young. The Rams need some veteran experience on the outside.
Two guys who played for New York-based organizations in 2012 could provide an answer should Danny Amendola prove to be too pricey to keep around.
Domenik Hixon was behind Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz in the New York Giants rotation last season. The 6’2” 28-year-old may not have started many games in the NFL—13 total since 2006—but he’s got two Super Bowl rings and produced a 114-yard outing in one of his three starts last season.
David Nelson had only two catches last year for the Buffalo Bills because he tore his ACL in Week 1. If the 26-year-old is right entering the 2013 season, he’ll provide Sam Bradford with a 6’5” target on the outside. In 32 career games (17 starts), he reeled in 94 passes for 1,042 yards and eight touchdowns.
Concerns about his knee and a lack of huge numbers will keep Nelson’s price down this offseason. The Rams could certainly justify bringing him in if he isn’t their highest-paid receiver.
The aforementioned wideouts are bigger bodies on the perimeter. St. Louis could still use another receiver who doubles as a kick returner for their anemic return game. Cornerback Leodis McKelvin is an accomplished returner, but he’s in contract discussions with the Bills (from John Wawrow of the Associated Press) and there’s no buzz coming from San Francisco and Ted Ginn Jr.
Ginn averaged 10.2 yards per punt return and 23 yards per kickoff return in 2012.
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