Originally posted on Fox Sports Midwest  |  Last updated 3/19/12
It was no surprise that within hours of the start of the league year, the Rams had reached agreement with free-agent cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who entered the NFL in 2006 with the Tennessee Titans when Jeff Fisher was their head coach. Finnegan was wearing a Rams cap on his Facebook page when he said, "I look forward to being all about Ram Nation. I'm headed back to be with the man who gave me a chance, coach Fisher. Fisher was equally excited when he talked about Finnegan. "We are very, very excited about his future here and what he can do as far as contributing to our defense," Fisher said. "Obviously, I've had a relationship with him, know him very well and I know he's going to fit in and be a very fine player for us. "He's a complete corner in that he's got great cover skills, he's a run-support corner. He's got flexibility to move inside. There's always potential to match him up with a top receiver on a game-to-game basis. He's a very, very hard worker. Every day, consistent on the practice field, consistent in the weight room, understands preparation. We're going to have some younger players in the room and I think he'll be a great example for them. He plays hard. "I think his reputation is widely misunderstood out there, from the standpoint of the dirty player type thing and all that. He's just a very productive player. I would say this: the only thing he does better than on the field is what he does off the field in the community, and he'll have a tremendous impact and role in the community as well." Asked the obvious, if Finnegan plays with an edge, Fisher said, "Yes, he plays with an edge. He does. And he challenges and he competes and he finishes every down." While Fisher and general manager Les Snead were addressing the media, another former Titans player, defensive lineman Jason Jones was at Rams Park, and Fisher acknowledged, "We are recruiting Jason right now. We hope to have a chance to get things worked out, but we also think that J.J. would also fill a need for us." Jones eventually signed with Seattle. But Fisher said bringing in players isn't only about pursuing players he knows. "No, we've been doing it for a long time. We didn't sit down and say, 'Hey, let's go get all the Titans and Falcons players we possibly can.' It just so happened that two of the top guys on our list were two of my former players. It's just about getting the right people. This philosophy and this effort movement forward, it's all about chemistry and it's about hard work and it's about putting a team together." By the end of the day last Wednesday, the Rams had gone from being one of the oldest teams in the league to one of the youngest. Fisher said, "If you're going to build, you want to build with youth and that's one of the things that we committed weeks ago that we've got to start young. We've got to develop players, we have to build this thing mostly through the draft. We looked at both markets. We felt, 'OK, here's a couple options here in free agency, let's attack these. Let's see if we can have some success here.'" Fisher also made a cogent comment when asked about the decision to release cornerback Ron Bartell. It was nothing to do with the injury Bartell suffered last season, Fisher said, it was "just change. Give him an opportunity to pursue or continue his career elsewhere, but we're starting over." Starting over. That's something Rams fans know all about. NOTES, QUOTES --The two best centers available in NFL free agency went off the market this past weekend and the Rams got one of them. And each player received very similar contracts, according to early reports. The Rams landed 31-year-old Scott Wells, who grew up in Nashville when Jeff Fisher was coach of the Titans and made his first Pro Bowl last season while with the Green Bay Packers. Wells was also pursued by the Titans, but elected to sign with the Rams. Wells' agent Brian Parker told the Post-Dispatch, "They're a classy group of people -- it makes you want to do business with them. It's clear to us that Les Snead's going to build a winner there; Kevin Demoff couldn't be more professional." Oddly, Wells becomes the second free agent signed by the Rams this week along with cornerback Cortland Finnegan that entered the league as seventh-round draft picks. Wells was drafted in 2004 and since 2006 when he shifted from guard to center, has played 90 of a possible 96 regular-season games and started 88. He also started 12 games during his first two seasons at guard. Thirteen years ago, the Rams also signed a Green Bay offensive lineman, Adam Timmerman, who entered the league as a seventh-round draft pick. Early reports pegged Wells' contract as being worth 24 million over four years with 13 million guaranteed. Meanwhile, Houston center Chris Myers, who will be 31 in September, re-signed with the Texans Friday. His contract is also for four years and is worth a reported 25 million with 14 million guaranteed. Once Wells was signed, the Rams decided not to have former Texans tackle Eric Winston visit. Winston was in Kansas City at that time and agreed to terms with the Chiefs. The Rams remained interested in former Carolina guard-tackle Travelle Wharton, who was released earlier this week, but he then signed with Cincinnati Saturday. --General manager Les Snead said the competition "was fierce" for the team's second overall pick in the draft. The trade with Washington revealed over the weekend became official Wednesday with the Rams sending the choice to the Redskins in exchange for Washington's first-round pick (6th overall), second-round pick (39th overall) and first-round selections in 2013 and 2014. Said Snead, "There's obviously what most people consider two franchise quarterbacks in this draft and there's more teams that felt like they needed a franchise quarterback. I think history says, and the past seven Super Bowl winners, I think six of the seven have been first-round draft choice quarterbacks with the exception being Drew Brees as a second rounder, and I'll make the note that Tom Brady, the lone sixth rounder, was about eight years ago. Obviously, I think because of the circumstances of the position and what people wanted, it made the pick valuable." Asked if the Rams entered discussions with a strong conviction of what they wanted for the pick, Snead said, "I've said many of times, (former Giants general manager (Ernie Accorsi) said that, that pick would be worth three to four to five first rounders, so I was using his point chart. Yes, we analyzed it internally. We came up with what I'll say our 'franchise quarterback point chart,' and from there we set a standard of what we wanted. We were able to get it." As for the motivation to make a deal in time for the start of the league year, Snead said, "I think we had those discussions early on. It evolved with the dynamics that are going on now with so many teams needing quarterbacks and a couple free agents making rounds. I think a lot of the teams, including us, wanted to get it done sooner rather than later and it happened to be before free agency so we could all start making plans." Finally, in what some perceive as a five-player draft of elite players, Snead was asked about getting a player they truly want if they pick sixth. He said, "Yes, we would not have made that trade if we didn't think that was the case; I promise you that. So the answer is yes." --Meanwhile, in a conference call with season-ticket holders Thursday, Cleveland Browns president Mike Holmgren claimed the offer the Browns made to the Rams for the second overall pick in the draft was "was every bit the offer that was chosen." The Rams traded the second overall choice to Washington for the Redskins' first-round pick (sixth overall), second-round pick (39th overall) along with first-round picks in 2013 and 2014. The Browns have two first-round picks this year, fourth and 22nd overall. Holmgren wouldn't say what the Browns offered, but said, "Most of the stories that I have seen - all of them I've seen - were incorrect in what our offer was, when we entered the process and in how we went about it." Most notably, Holmgren said the relationship between the Rams and Redskins was why those teams struck an agreement. Holmgren said, "Honestly, when it didn't happen I think there are reasons that I can't go into right now, but there is a very close relationship between the people getting the deal done and the people who offered. And I'm not sure anything we offered would have been good enough. We were very, very aggressive and it didn't work." --The Rams tried to be in play for some of the top wide receivers in free agency, but many signed quickly and the team questioned whether it was prudent to spend the money necessary. Said Fisher, "When you start the process, you look at both markets. This draft's got a lot of really talented receivers. There's still some receivers out there that we're interested in. There's also the potential for trade, so it's a position that we're going to address. We'll continue to address it and we'll fill the need." --Just like that, the Rams gained 20 million additional cap dollars to spend in 2012. The Rams terminated the contracts of cornerback Ron Bartell, defensive end James Hall, center Jason Brown and defensive tackles Fred Robbins and Justin Bannan. They also placed wide receiver Nick Miller and linebacker David Nixon on waivers. Miller had been suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the league's policy on performance enhancing drugs. Miller and Nixon's salary for 2012 was to be 615,000. Brown was scheduled to be paid a salary of 5 million and would have had a cap charge of 7.2 million this year. Two years of prorated signing bonus money accelerates to 2012, so the Rams will have 4.4 million in dead money. However, that is still a savings of 2.8 million from the 7.2 million. Robbins' salary for 2012 was to be 3.75 million along with 250,000 of likely to be earned incentives for a cap hit of 4 million. Bannan's salary was scheduled to be 2.75 million. Both Robbins and Bannan did not receive signing bonuses in their contracts, so there is no dead money linked to their departures. Bartell was entering the final year of the contract he signed in 2009 that was to pay him 6.2 million this season. There were also 50,000 of likely to be earned incentives for this year. There will be 1,412,500 of dead money from the last year of his prorated bonus, but the 6.25 million for salary and incentives is removed from the cap. Hall was also entering the final year of his contract, one that did not include a signing bonus, so there will be no dead money. His salary was to be 2.75 million with 250,000 of likely to be earned incentives for a cap savings of 3 million. The departure of those seven players added 20.03 million to the cap. QUOTE TO NOTE: "I mentioned in the first press conference that we're going to be an organization that understands how to build, develop, and coach its football teams to win division championships consistently. This is part of that building process. It's an initial step in the process, we've got a lot of steps to go before we make this thing successful, but we plan on doing it. So we can open it up to questions from there." STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL The Rams hope to hear good news this weekend from defensive tackle Jason Jones, who is also considering Seattle, and Lake of the Ozarks native Shaun Hill, who is deciding whether to stay as a backup in Detroit or sign with the Rams. Other defensive tackles that have visited are Kendall Langford (Dolphins) and Andre Fluellen (Lions). Langford agreed to terms Saturday on a four-year contract, while Jones signed with the Seahawks and Hill stayed with the Lions. There were also reports that the Rams were close to reaching agreement with wide receiver Mario Manningham (Giants), but a Rams source said that was "completely false." Manningham arrived for a visit late Friday and was still in town Saturday. However, he left without a deal and then agreed to terms with the 49ers, In an interesting twist, quarterback Brady Quinn was at Rams Park Thursday, but it is believed it was mostly to have someone to throw to wide receiver Steve Smith (Eagles). Most free agents just visit at this time of the year, but the Rams reported Quinn and Smith as tryouts. Quinn agreed to terms with the Chiefs Saturday. Smith played sparingly last season after being released by the Giants because of a knee injury. The Eagles signed him, but he played just nine games and was on injured reserve for the final three games of the season. He had 11 receptions for 124 yards and one touchdown. Quinn was headed to the Jets for a tryout, but that never happened and he is now expected to visit Kansas City. The Jets signed Drew Stanton (Lions) as a backup to Mark Sanchez. TEAM NEEDS Wide receiver: The Rams are looking for talent outside the numbers that can support quarterback Sam Bradford. Brandon Lloyd was an unrestricted free agent the Rams say they were interested in bringing back, but Lloyd followed offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to New England. Danario Alexander has shown the ability to make plays down the field, but injuries have kept him off the field. The Rams will look closely at the league's unrestricted free agents as well as considering the selection of Justin Blackmon in the draft. Defensive tackle: This is a strong year for the position in the draft, and the Rams could be tempted, especially if they trade out of the sixth overall pick in the first round. Fred Robbins and Justin Bannan were released. The other main players in the rotation last season were Gary Gibson and Darell Scott and Gibson is a free agent. The Rams did sign Kendall Langford as a free agent, but they are still shopping. Cornerback: Injury questions muddle the evaluation of this position going forward. Ron Bartell was cleared to play late in the season after suffering a broken bone in his neck in the first game but was released. Bradley Fletcher suffered a torn ACL in October during the team's bye, and it's unknown when he will be cleared to play. Jerome Murphy missed the entire season with a broken ankle suffered early in training camp. Cortland Finnegan was signed, but more help is needed.
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