Finally! Rams ready for free agency
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
03/11/2006
Rams Linehan
After waiting over a week from the original start date of free agency, Scott Linehan and the Rams are ready to explore the market for new players.
(Tom Gannam/AP)

With nearly $17 million in salary cap room, even after the re-signing of wide receiver Isaac Bruce, the Rams are in position to make some moves in free agency.

"We’ll be hitting the bricks, so to speak (Saturday), full speed," coach Scott Linehan said Friday afternoon.

Wednesday’s extension of the collective bargaining agreement added $7.5 million to the Rams’ coffers, giving the team even more flexibility in the free-agent market, which finally begins Saturday after two delays.

"Obviously, we were in a pretty good position anyway," Linehan said. "But it doesn’t hurt, let’s put it that way."

The Rams’ free-agency period begins, however, without a contract offer for strong safety Adam Archuleta, a five-year starter for the team. Linehan and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett have stated their desire to keep Archuleta in recent weeks. Haslett, in fact, played phone tag with Archuleta on Friday.

But Archuleta was expected to board a plane this morning for Washington, where the Redskins want him to bolster an already strong defense which ranked ninth in the NFL in 2005.

Meanwhile, it looks as if defensive tackle Ryan Pickett, a starter for the past four seasons in St. Louis, will be allowed to test the market. Buffalo and Cleveland were thought to be possible destinations. But there was scuttlebutt Friday that Arizona could be in the running as well.

Despite the potential losses of Archuleta and Pickett, it doesn’t appear that the Rams will be caught flat-footed this weekend with the start of free agency.

Carolina’s Will Witherspoon, considered by many the top linebacker on the free-agent market — particularly since Derek Smith re-signed with San Francisco — could be visiting Rams Park over the weekend according to multiple sources.

Only 25, Witherspoon has been a full-time starter the past three seasons in Carolina. He led the Panthers in tackles in each of the past two seasons, over which time he totaled 5 1/2 sacks and five interceptions.

At 6-1, 231 pounds, Witherspoon plays weakside linebacker, which doesn’t really fill a Rams need. But if the Rams signed Witherspoon, they could move Pisa Tinoisamoa to the strongside, and perhaps search for a middle linebacker in the draft. Tom Condon, the agent for Witherspoon and Pickett, did not return phone messages from the Post-Dispatch on Friday.

The Rams appear to be exploring possibilities for life without Archuleta. Corey Chavous, a starter the past four seasons at Minnesota — with most of those starts at strong safety — may be making a visit to Rams Park in the near future as well.

Chavous’ agent, Eugene Parker, declined comment on any Rams interest Friday. "There are several teams interested in Corey," Parker said.

Chavous, 30, finished fourth on the Vikings in tackles last season (90), and had two interceptions. He was a Pro Bowl starter in 2003.

One Viking who will not be visiting St. Louis is quarterback Daunte Culpepper. Just as they did several weeks ago, Rams officials adamantly denied any interest in Culpepper on Friday in the wake of new speculation involving Culpepper and the Rams. Since Culpepper is still under contract, tampering rules hindered the Rams from commenting directly.

But speaking on the condition of anonymity, one team official wisecracked on Friday: "We may be going to Culpepper’s for lunch, but we’re not going to Culpepper for quarterback," referring to the popular restaurant in St. Louis.

In one other development, the Rams have informed veteran Bryan Barker that they are looking elsewhere for a punter in 2006.