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  1. #1
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    Free Agent Preview: Defensive Backs (Nick Wagoner - Team Site)

    By Nick Wagoner
    Senior Writer

    For the better part of the past two weeks, Rams Chief Operating Officer Kevin Demoff has spent the majority of his time in contract negotiations for the team’s top two in-house free agent priorities.
    Those two players just so happen to be the key cogs in the Rams’ young secondary. Free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe and cornerback Ron Bartell were clearly the team’s best defensive backs in 2008 and quite possibly the best players on the entire defense.
    In their efforts to keep Atogwe and Bartell, the team slapped the franchise tag on Atogwe, ensuring that he can’t go to a different team without the Rams getting a boat load in compensation.
    Of course, the franchise tag for the safety who posted 109 tackles, five interceptions, eight forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries comes at a hefty salary cap number of more than $6 million.
    That number could be reduced some by a long term contract, something Demoff and Kenneth Landphere, Atogwe’s agent, continue to work on. Both sides are optimistic that something can be done after meeting at the NFL scouting combine last weekend.
    Bartell’s situation, on the other hand, is a bit more complicated. Bartell doesn’t have the three years of production put forth by Atogwe and only really came into his own as a starter in 2008.
    There’s no arguing, though, that Bartell had a breakout season last year. Bartell’s opponent passer rating on balls thrown to the receiver he was covering was just 60.2 in 2008. The next closest among corners in the NFC West Division was San Francisco’s Walt Harris at 79.8.
    Bartell also allowed just 1.5 touchdowns last season and finished with three interceptions, a sack, two forced fumbles and 20 passes defended.
    Along the way, he proved to be one of the few corners with the size and athletic ability to match up with Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald. The Cardinals threw five fade routes to Fitzgerald and completed none because of Bartell’s ability to go up in the air with Fitzgerald.
    While Bartell has yet to do it over the long haul, he’s the type of emerging player the Rams would like to keep around. That objective is made more difficult by a rapidly decreasing in players but increasing in price free agent market for cornerbacks.
    Oakland’s Nnamdi Asomugha got $45 million over three years from the Raiders and Houston placed the franchise tag on Dunta Robinson.
    Those players have lengthier resumes and might not directly affect Bartell’s price other than the fact that it moved Bartell up the pecking order of players available.
    Perhaps more concerning is the contract Kelvin Hayden, a solid if unspectacular corner for the Colts, received. Hayden got a five-year contract from Indianapolis worth $43 million with more than $22 million of it guaranteed.
    Bartell hasn’t produced at Hayden’s level (and in much different systems) but as one of the top two or three corners who will actually be on the market, he won’t come cheap.
    The Rams and Jeff Griffin, Bartell’s agent, also met in Indianapolis and made some progress but it remains to be seen if a deal can be struck before free agency opens at 12:01 a.m. Friday.
    The Rams’ needs at defensive back aren’t just limited to retaining Atogwe and Bartell. The team released Corey Chavous, who started the majority of the time at strong safety, and have decisions to make on free agent corners Fakhir Brown, Jason Craft and Ricky Manning Jr.
    It’s possible Brown won’t return but the Rams would like to retain one of Craft or Manning for their nickel back and blitzing abilities.
    Jonathan Wade remains under contract and could be a factor in 2009 and Tye Hill and rookie Justin King are recovering from injuries but should also be included in what the Rams have coming back.
    At safety, the Rams have special teams aces Todd Johnson and Eric Bassey, a pair of players capable of filling in when needed and continuing to help on special teams.
    Entering the free agent market and draft, the Rams clearly have a need for a strong safety and help at corner. Signing Bartell would ease concerns at corner but the team could still use another veteran for depth. If he lands elsewhere, it becomes a more serious concern.
    Fortunately for the Rams, the safety market is relatively good should they choose to pursue someone to pair with Atogwe.
    Former Giants Gibril Wilson and James Butler have a prior relationship with Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo and are certainly capable performers. Butler is an ascending young player while Wilson is the more proven.
    Tampa Bay’s Jermaine Phillips is another player to keep an eye on. He has a lot of talent and though he’s 30 seems to be getting better. The Bucs would like to keep him and could have a leg up considering the amount of salary cap space the team has.
    At corner, the Rams have a variety of options they could consider should they opt to search the market.
    Pittsburgh’s Bryant McFadden, Buffalo’s Jabari Greer and Detroit’s Leigh Bodden (who was released and available now) are among the names out there though they could command as much or more than Bartell.
    Of all of the position groups, the secondary could be the most active and interesting of this offseason for the Rams.
    Top Free Agent Cornerbacks
    1. Dunta Robinson, Houston – The Texans wisely placed the franchise tag on Robinson so he wouldn’t be able to walk without compensation. Injuries are a concern with him but when healthy; he’s one of the league’s most well-rounded corners.
    2. Bryant McFadden, Pittsburgh – Excellent cover corner coming off a broken arm. Likely to be the top corner available and could command big dollars.
    3. Ron Bartell, St. Louis – Really hit his stride in the final eight games or so of 2008 and is starting to meet his immense potential. How much that start will garner him on the market remains to be seen.
    4. Jabari Greer, Buffalo – Pretty rock solid corner who doesn’t do anything great but also doesn’t do anything really poorly either. Added bonus as a returner.
    5. Leigh Bodden, Detroit – Cut by the Lions who foolishly tried to make him a zone player. Much better when he can play press coverage and man to man.
    Top Free Agent Safeties
    1. Oshiomogho Atogwe, St. Louis – A ball hawk whom the Rams have already placed the franchise tag on. The team is still trying to get him signed long term. He’s not going anywhere.
    2. Brian Dawkins, Philadelphia – Long in the tooth but still an effective player and an amazing team leader. Some contending team in need of a piece for a year or two could fork over the cash for him.
    3. Jermaine Phillips, Tampa Bay – Dynamic player who is coming off an injury that cost him the end of his season. Will get a nice deal from somebody.
    4. James Butler, New York Giants – Solid player who seems to be ascending. Plenty of potential here and probably won’t have to break the bank to get him.
    5. Gibril Wilson, Oakland – Raiders overpaid to get him last year and released him this year. Still a good player in the NFL and some team could get a steal by inking him.


  2. #2
    itsguud's Avatar
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    Re: Free Agent Preview: Defensive Backs (Nick Wagoner - Team Site)

    Holy Shneikes... space between paragraphs please

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    Re: Free Agent Preview: Defensive Backs (Nick Wagoner - Team Site)

    I'd like us to pursue Gibril Wilson. I think we'd be able to get him for a reasonable price, and really shore up our secondary.

  4. #4
    AvengerRam's Avatar
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    Re: Free Agent Preview: Defensive Backs (Nick Wagoner - Team Site)

    Quote Originally Posted by itsguud View Post
    Holy Shneikes... space between paragraphs please
    Nah. That will just prompt people to try to read between the lines.

  5. #5
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    Re: Free Agent Preview: Defensive Backs (Nick Wagoner - Team Site)

    Bartell’s opponent passer rating on balls thrown to the receiver he was covering was just 60.2 in 2008. The next closest among corners in the NFC West Division was San Francisco’s Walt Harris at 79.8.
    Bartell also allowed just 1.5 touchdowns last season and finished with three interceptions, a sack, two forced fumbles and 20 passes defended.
    Along the way, he proved to be one of the few corners with the size and athletic ability to match up with Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald. The Cardinals threw five fade routes to Fitzgerald and completed none because of Bartell’s ability to go up in the air with Fitzgerald.
    I know that number has been out there for a little while, but still........DANG! Just dang!
    "Before the gates of excellence the high gods have placed sweat; long is the road thereto and rough and steep at first; but when the heights are reached, then there is ease, though grievously hard in the winning." --- Hesiod

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    Re: Free Agent Preview: Defensive Backs (Nick Wagoner - Team Site)

    That figure could be skewed a little. How many times was Tye Hill on the field when Bartell was? I don't care who Hill was covering, I'd throw to his side every time.


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