Rams facing free agent decisions at wide receiver

Following every St. Louis Rams game, there is inevitably conversation about the team's need for a wide receiver, usually accompanied by adjectives such as playermaker or No. 1. Free agency, the draft, every possible route has been explored, moths before the free agent flood gates open. 

While much of the discussion about free agent receivers has centered on big names like Vincent Jackson (ready to go through that again?), but, for the Rams, the discussion has to start with a couple of free agents-to-be already in the building. Laurent Robinson and Mark Clayton will both be free agents following this season. 

[Note by VanRam, 12/15/10 3:03 PM EST ] Danny Amendola is an exclusive-rights free agent after this season. Given that, it's a sure bet that he's not going anywhere. Of course, if the CBA doesn't get worked out all of this means bupkis.

After the jump, considerations and predictions on the Rams' next steps with both players. 

Rams GM Billy Devaney swung a low-cost deal to acquire Mark Clayton after the team lost third-year WR Donnie Avery in the preseason. Clayton paid immediate dividends, connecting with fellow Oklahoman Sam Bradford and amassing the kind of stats Baltimore had hoped to see when they drafted him in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft. He went on IR with a torn patellar tendon (knee) after a bad landing in the Rams' week 5 game against Detroit. 

Clayton is rehabbing from his injury and should be ready to play when training camp starts, but there's no guarantee. It's a pretty serious injury. With Donnie Avery set to return from his torn ACL, there's no hurry to re-sign his replacement. Depending on how Clayton's recovery goes, the Rams probably should make an effort to sign him to a low-risk contract, laden with incentives. It all depends on his recovery. Assuming it all goes well, having Avery, who has shown a proclivity for injury in his young career, and a similar player like Clayton on the depth chart would be a good move for the Rams. 

Laurent Robinson is a little different case. Whether it's a matter of recovery from his injury in 2009, he's just not showing the potential he flashed in two and a half game last season. He has a 47 percent catch rate this season. It seems unlikely that the Rams would hang on to Robinson beyond this season, particularly if they do bring another receiver via the draft or free agency. Brandon Gibson's emergence has solidified his spot on the roster, and Mardy Gilyard will have another shot next year to establish himself. 

It's a safe bet that the Rams will add another receiver next season. Whether that happens through the draft or free agency remains to be seen. 

The Rams usually keep no more than 6 wide receivers on the roster at all times. So, next year's group would tentatively project like this:

Avery and Gibson as the split end and flanker. Danny Amendola in the slot and Danario Alexander as a regular part of the rotation. That's four.

Those seem to be the four most likely to return, and all are under contract. If they bring back Mark Clayton, giving them solid, experienced depth should any of the above suffer injury, that makes five. 

As for the sixth spot, it would seem to have Mardy Gilyard's name written all over it, giving him a mulligan this year. But if the Rams bring in another WR via the draft, it could leave Gilyard out of the picture, especially if they use a high draft pick on a wide receiver. 

Clayton's recovery is the wild card here. If he looks to be on pace for a 2011 return, it makes sense to bring him back. If not, then Devaney has a couple of options. He can 1) re-sign Robinson, 2) find another free agent (either a pricey No.1 type or an experienced backup like Clayton) or 3) draft one in the upper rounds and hang on to Gilyard. 

Fixing the Rams' receiver needs used to seem so easy. Not anymore. 

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