The St Louis Rams moved quickly and aggressively on the first day of free agency for the second year in a row, reportedly signing Cortland Finnegan to a five year deal worth roughly $50 million.
His contract appears to be a deal similar in length and average value to the deal signed by Jonathan Joseph last offseason by the Houston Texans, a good sign. Even though Finnegan is perhaps the top free agent cornerback on the market, he is not in the same class of player as a Nnamdi Asomugha or Darrelle Revis. Used correctly, as he was last year, he should be a very effective addition to the Rams.
However, while the front office has changed entirely, similarities in their approach are eerily similar. Last year, Billy Devaney made a lightning-fast strike in the secondary, grabbing a player considered one of the very best at his position by Pro Football Focus in safety Quintin Mikell. This year, they made a lightning-fast strike in the secondary, grabbing a player considered one of the very best (top three in 2011) at his position by Pro Football Focus in Finnegan.
Mikell turned into a useful player, if not an impactful one on a woefully undermanned defense last season. He was adjusting to a coaching staff that had no familiarity with him as a player, and taken away from the role he plays best - that of the roaming free safety.
Finnegan arrives into a coaching staff that knows him very well, and if given rein to play the position he's best at - slot cornerback and defending the right side of the field - he could excel here. Though he gives up a relatively generous catch rate (between 60-65% over the past four seasons), no cornerback in football allowed fewer yards per catch (8.8) than Finnegan last year. This speaks to his pesky and physical play, but it also speaks to his lack of elite talent. He isn't a ball hawk, isn't a guy who can create "an island" like Revis. And he may not be the guy to automatically match up against Larry Fitzgerald, Brandon Marshall, or Greg Jennings, all of whom the Rams will face next season.
For Finnegan, though, talent is the least part of the equation. He provided a telling glimpse of his own attitude toward the game while talking about the Titans' young quarterback, Jake Locker, last July:
"He’s a tough physical kid, doesn’t mind running the football, getting down and dirty, and he works hard,” Finnegan said. “Hard work beats talent. Hands down, man down. That’s something he’s done consistently. The thing I’ve seen thus far is that he’s worked hard, and I can go to battle for someone like that."
He lands on a team with another hard worker who has absorbed - and gotten up from - more punishment in two seasons than he should in Sam Bradford. Having Finnegan in the trenches, going to battle for the Rams, can only be a good thing.
However, as the Rams very busy front office knows, it can't be the only thing. With Jason Jones on the horizon and other signings potentially in the wind, this is just the beginning of a rebuild in Fisher's image.