Bernie Bytes: The Rams' quest for a WR ..
BY BERNIE MIKLASZ
March 14, 2012
Question of the Day: will the Rams ever find, or hire, an elite wide receiver?
* I like the Rams' expensive signing of cornerback Cortland Finnegan. I really do. Pro Football Focus had him rated as the third-best CB in the league last season -- sixth against the pass, and second against the run. And he played more snaps than any corner in the NFL last season, a big plus for a team that had CBs dropping with injuries throughout 2011. Finnegan can cover outside, in the slot, is an aggressive tackler and plays with an edge that borders on psycho. He'll help coach Jeff Fisher re-set the Rams' mindset and make the defense more tenacious. And the Rams had an urgent need at corner.
* I'm chuckling at the people who are mewling over Finnegan's rep as a so-called "dirty" player. No. 1, I didn't realize this was badminton. I thought it was football. No. 2, you can have the Four Pillars and a 10-38 record if that gets you aroused. Seeing that this is a violent, hard-hitting contact sport, nastiness is a virtue. I don't think the Rams coveted Finnegan so they can win a chess championship.
* Did the Rams overpay Finnegan? Of course they did. But if you've paid any attention to free agency -- at all -- you already knew how this works. The teams that aggressively pursue the top players on the first day of free agency always overpay. So to gripe about the Rams' giving too much loot to Finnegan would be like moving to St. Louis and whining that it's too hot in the summertime.
* And if the Rams complete a free-agent deal with DT Jason Jones, chances are they'll be overpaying him, too. But I'd prefer to give the money to a young player with a considerable upside. Jones won't be 26 until May. Last season he was miscast as a defensive end in Tennessee. What he should provide is an inside pass rush. DTs that can press the pocket aren't easy to find. In 2010, playing DT for Fisher in Tennessee, Jones had 3.5 sacks, 6.5 QB knockdowns and 7 QB pressures. He had nine sacks (overall) in 2008 and 2009, with about 20 knockdowns-hurries.
* And now that we've dispensed the worthy praise, it's time to take a look at a longstanding personnel concern/issue at Rams Park, scratch our heads and wonder if the Rams have a plan to upgrade at wide receiver. This has been a chronic problem, going back to the Jay Zygmunt and Scott Linehan days. The Rams won a Super Bowl with a couple of potential Hall of Fame receivers in Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt but have essentially ignored the position since the two legends slowed down and retired.
* Fewer than 10 players officially changed teams on the first day of free agency, and four were wideouts: Vincent Jackson went to Tampa Bay for an immense pile of money; Robert Meachem signed with San Diego; Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan headed to Washington. That total would increase to five if Eddie Royal finalizes a deal in Washington. Several NFL wide receivers -- Marques Colston, Stevie Johnson, Reggie Wayne and Harry Douglass -- re-signed with their current teams and never entered the market. And Miami traded WR Brandon Marshall to Chicago for two third-round draft choices -- even as Marshall stands accused of punching a woman outside of a club in New York.
* So in the opening 24 hours of the shopping expedition, the Rams didn't make a move to find a playmaker for quarterback Sam Bradford. There isn't much left on the shelves, unless you think that Mario Manningham can make a dramatic difference here. Or, unless you want to see the Rams beg Brandon Lloyd to come back, and wildly overpay him to do so. Lloyd doesn't seem to have much interest in being a Ram. That would likely be the same with Laurent Robinson, who was rarely healthy here. And Robinson is next in the free-agent line to get overpaid.
* If you want to look at these receivers on a case-by-case basis, it's never as simple as it appears:
-- Jackson obviously would have helped the Rams; he's a major talent. But Jackson also has two DUIs and would be in serious trouble with the league if he runs afoul of the law. That didn't stop Tampa Bay from risking $55 million on Jackson. And even if the Rams wanted to make a run at Jackson, Tampa Bay was in better shape to overpay. The Bucs are in spectacular shape on the salary cap and had money to burn. Now that he got paid, will Jackson go soft? Again, I think that's a fair question.
-- Garcon is a second-level wideout, surely better than any WR that works in St. Louis, but the Redskins seem to have payed him top-tier money. His deal was worth $42.5 million.
-- I am intrigued by the Morgan signing; the Redskins reportedly got him for two years at $12 million. He has size (6-1) and speed. He had demonstrated vertical-play ability in San Francisco. And Morgan never played with an elite QB there. Sure, injuries have been an issue. But it's not as if the Redskins broke the bank to sign him.
-- I liked Meachem; he has something that the Rams lack: vertical speed. But it's also legit to ask if he could be the No. 1 receiver. He was a complementary receiver (and a good one) in New Orleans. With all of the weapons the Chargers have on offense, this is a great fit for him. He may have had a hard time in STL because of the Rams' unimposing group of receivers. (At least as it stands right now.)
-- Sorry, but I don't think Eddie Royal is a game changer.
* However, before we go completely bananas and shred the Rams for not signing any wideouts, it's probably good to ponder a few things. For example, Morgan was born and raised in the D.C. area. Is it unusual that he wanted to go home? You see, in our snap-reaction anger and frustration, we all make the mistake of assuming that a free agent wants to play for the Rams. And if you want to be honest about this, what do the Rams really have to offer other than money and some fresh optimism after Fisher's hiring? This team has been the worst in the league for a long time, it plays in a sterile and dull stadium, and the ongoing lease debate threatens to further damage the team's popularity. Moreover if you are a wide receiver, you'd probably ask these questions: is Jeff Fisher going to throw the ball? Aren't the Rams going to be a running team? And who knows if Vincent Jackson would have even taken the Rams' phone call? Maybe Tampa Bay and sunny Florida weather looks pretty good for a receiver accustomed to playing in San Diego.
-- So, yeah, it's possible to pick through this and see the problems related to these wideouts. But that doesn't change the big picture: somehow, some way, the Rams have to come up with an elite receiver for Bradford. At some point, this must become a priority. Maybe the Redskins will regret spending the money on Garcon and Morgan; I don't know. But after giving those premium picks to St. Louis for the right to draft QB Robert Griffin 3, at least the Redskins determined that it was a good idea to get him some receivers. And perhaps the Rams will get around to doing the same for Bradford.
* Since 2007, the Rams are 15-65 and they have thrown the fewest number of TD passes (69) in the league over that five-season period. But hey, that's only 106 fewer TD passes than New England and New Orleans, and 101 less than Green Bay.
* The Rams have pretty much neglected the position since Holt and Bruce began to fade. Their most significant investment of a draft choice was using a No. 2 on Donnie Avery, who never lived up to his initial promise, mostly because of injuries. The most prominent free-agent investment came in 2007, when the Rams invested $30 million in Drew Bennett, a wideout that started one game and caught 34 passes in two dreadful seasons in St. Louis.
* The new regime at Rams Park shouldn't be blamed for the mistakes made in the past. Fisher and GM Les Snead have to be given time to set a course, and the trade with Washington was a great start. The Finnegan signing made perfect sense. But if the organization remains ambivalent over the WR position, it wouldn't make sense, given the $50 million in guaranteed money the Rams have invested in Bradford. At some point, you have to get him a couple of wide receivers that can consistently outrun defenders, get open, and catch the ball. An impact player.
* I spoke with Fisher today, and without going into specifics, he indicated that the Rams weren't on board with spending the large sums of money required to sign some of the WRs that went quickly yesterday. Fisher expressed enthusiasm over the number of appealing receivers available in the draft, and said the Rams are open to the option of moving up, or moving down, in the draft to land a coveted player. He didn't rule out trading for a veteran receiver should the wideout become available.
* I asked Fisher if the free-agent miss means the Rams are more inclined to grab Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon. Fisher said the Rams have been doing their work on Blackmon, and called Blackmon an impressive prospect. But Fisher downplayed the Rams' interest, which is understandable. No one knows if Blackmon will fall to the Rams' spot at No. 6 overall. And if the Rams are inclined to trade up to get Blackmon, it would be silly for Fisher to drive up the price in advance by raving about Blackmon in media interviews.
* Fisher clearly wanted to get the message across: the Rams realize they need receivers, and they will get them.
Thanks for reading ...