Free Agent Preview: Receivers and Tight Ends
Free Agent Preview: Receivers and Tight Ends
Wednesday, March 1, 2006
By Nick Wagoner
For the better part of the past six years, wide receiver hasn’t been much of a need for the Rams. Going in to this offseason and the scheduled start of free agency Friday, not much has changed in that regard.
St. Louis is blessed with a quartet of talented receivers, starting with Pro Bowler Torry Holt. Holt remains one of the best receivers in the game, racking up 102 catches and 1,331 yards in just 14 games.
Holt continued to work with Isaac Bruce in 2005. Bruce battled a toe injury for most of the year, but remains a top-level receiver. With those two serving as the backbone of the passing game, the Rams remain one of the top throwing teams in the league.
However, there are two important pieces of business to take care of to keep that aerial attack in place. Kevin Curtis and Shaun McDonald are due for restricted free agency this week and could be had by another team that comes in with a big offer.
Restricted free agents are technically the property of the team they are on as that team has the responsibility to give that player a tender offer at three levels. At each level there are different degrees of compensation that another team must forfeit in exchange for signing the player. In addition, the original team has matching rights on all offer sheets signed.
Curtis had a breakout season in 2005, with 60 catches for 801 yards and six touchdowns in place of Bruce and as the third receiver. He is the team’s top deep threat and is capable of scoring in many ways.
McDonald had another solid year as the fourth option in the passing game, catching 46 balls for 523 yards. The Rams are expected to retain both receivers, though a lot of that could depend on the tender offer levels.
Because of the confusion over the collective bargaining agreement and the lack of progress on the labor front, the tender numbers haven’t even been made clear to the teams yet. Still, receivers coach Henry Ellard says he’d like to see McDonald and Curtis brought back.
“I think they have done a great job,” Ellard said. “Kevin has really stepped up. When Isaac went down, he stepped in and ended up with 60 catches. Shaun did a great job and struggled with a knee problem. We are excited about getting those guys back and keeping the offense intact.”
Dane Looker also continued to be a solid, if underrated option for the Rams in the passing game, serving as an excellent third-down receiver capable of finding the sticks for important first downs. He made 23 catches for 237 yards in 2005 and holds value as the holder for kicker Jeff Wilkins.
It’s unlikely the Rams will look to spend any money on receivers aside from a probable contract extension for Bruce that will allow him to retire a Ram and lower his cap number off the $10 million it’s scheduled to be.
The one area the Rams could use help in the passing game is finding a big target for the red zone. That spot might not need to be filled through free agency, though. One area that is being closely scrutinized by the new coaching staff is tight end. It’s possible there could be an addition from that pool that gives the Rams the added benefit of a big red zone target for quarterback Marc Bulger.
“We are evaluating that,” coach Scott Linehan said. “That’s been one of the things that has been the one frustration I have had in maybe the last three weeks. I haven’t had as much time to say yeah I feel really good about this position versus another. Tight end position is one we want to utilize a bit more. I have been very pleased in what I have seen in Brandon (Manumaleuna). There are not a lot of big, blocking, prototype guys in the NFL that can play in the line, block defensive ends in the running game and match up in pass protections. If you can make that two-headed monster more balanced as far as a blocker and a guy that catches a number of balls in the passing game. We have got to address that and make it a stronger position for us on offense.”
The most glaring need for the upgrade is the lack of productivity in the red zone, where tight ends are generally used the most effectively near the end zone where they can use their size to go up and get the ball over a smaller defender.
Manumaleuna has struggled to be consistent, though has flashed signs of soft hands and big catch ability. Aside from Manumaleuna, the Rams have no proven tight ends under contract as Roland Williams is scheduled for unrestricted free agency.
“Tight ends are very effective in the red zone,” Linehan said. “I go back and look at what the Rams have done and utilized their best personnel in receivers. We will look into that. I have always liked using that position in the red zone, third downs, things like that.”
Jerome Collins, Rod Trafford, Aaron Walker and Darius Williams are unproven prospects with the potential to contribute down the road, but there are some nice, if underwhelming options available in free agency.
New Orleans tight end Zachary Hilton is one player that is particularly intriguing, though he is a restricted free agent and the Saints will have matching rights. At 6-8, 268 pounds, Hilton would be an excellent target for Bulger and is also an accomplished blocker.
Tight end is also one of the deepest positions in this year’s draft, meaning the Rams might choose to fill the need at the spot that way.
Receivers Under Contract (7): Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce, Dane Looker, Jeremy Carter, Brandon Middleton, Taylor Stubblefield, Dominique Thompson.
Free Agents: Kevin Curtis (restricted), Shaun McDonald (restricted)
Needs: Nothing pressing. Give Bruce an extension, re-sign Curtis and McDonald and maybe add a developmental prospect or two to compete with the likes of Thompson and Carter. Someone who could return kicks and punts wouldn’t be bad, either.
Possibilities: Michael Lewis, Brian Finneran, Tim Dwight, Reggie Swinton.
Top Five Available
1. David Givens
2. Antwaan Randle-El
3. Brandon Lloyd (RFA)
4. Antonio Bryant
5. Kevin Curtis (RFA)
Tight Ends Under Contract (5): Jerome Collins, Brandon Manumaleuna, Rod Trafford, Aaron Walker, Darius Williams.
Free Agents: Roland Williams
Needs: Someone who can make plays in the red zone consistently and hang on to the ball. Someone who is a capable blocker in space as well as in line and who is capable of stretching the field.
Possibilities: Zachary Hilton, Matt Schobel, Roland Williams, Aaron Shea, Christian Fauria.
Top Five Available
1. Chris Baker
2. Zachary Hilton (RFA)
3. Matt Schobel
4. Aaron Shea
5. Dave Moore
Re: Free Agent Preview: Receivers and Tight Ends
i can see martz persuading millen and marinelli of the lions to bring in kevin curtis...
i think we'd get a 3rd rd comp. if the rams decided not to match their offer...