2014 NFL free agents: Will the Rams be players for Alterraun Verner?

Stephen Dunn

Will Jeff Fisher target another one of his former Titans players in free agency?

The St. Louis Rams have become a nice second home for Tennessee Titans free agents since hiring Jeff Fisher in 2012. Will that trend continue this year with cornerback Alterraun Verner?

Jim Thomas mentioned that possibility in his weekly chat at STL Today:

Williams even mentioned Verner at his introductory press conference at Rams Park last week. In fact, I would be surprised if the Rams didn't make an effort to get him signed.

It looks more and more like Verner will reach free agency. The Tennessean reported that the team is unlikely to use the franchise tag this year; the cost for corners on the tag is approximately $11.2 million. Tennessee would reportedly like to have Verner back, but the Titans already have substantial dollars committed to Jason McCourty and some depth at the position.

The Rams are lacking at cornerback. Janoris Jenkins struggled in his second season. Trumaine Johnson took over the other starting corner role during the year, but struggled through the normal ups and downs. Age and injuries caught up with Cortland Finnegan, who lost his starting job before being shelved entirely with a broken bone in his face.

Finnegan's future with the Rams is in doubt. Cutting him would give the Rams roughly $4 million in cap space. It was reported on Tuesday that the Rams are open to keeping Finnegan, but that he would need to take a substantial pay cut to stick around this year. Even a reduced deal doesn't seem like a very good use of cap space, of which the Rams have very little, given Finnegan's declining play since joining the Rams in 2012. But the need for depth may outweigh budget decisions ... not to mention Fisher loyalty.

Speaking of Fisher loyalty, signing Verner would be the third straight season in which the Rams made a big ticket free agent deal with one of Fisher's former Titans players. They signed Finnegan to a $50 million deal, with $24 million guaranteed, in 2012. Last year, they signed tight end Jared Cook to a five-year, $35 million deal with $19 million guaranteed, the most guaranteed money for any tight end in the NFL at the time.

Neither former Titan has played up to their contract just yet, which makes one that much more cautious about signing another big ticket free agent from Fisher's past.

Verner's a little different than Finnegan and Cook. Verner's only 25, just now reaching the prime of his career. He made his first Pro Bowl appearance last season, with Gregg Williams acting as de facto defensive coordinator. He had 57 tackles and five interceptions, a career high, last season. Quarterbacks had a 54.7 rating against Verner last year, a mark only exceeded by Richard Sherman.

On the surface, signing Verner looks like a good move, and it is. He's a talented player worthy of the big contract he's likely to get, one which you have to believe will exceed what Finnegan got. But it's something of a problem for the Rams. Swapping out Finnegan's big contract for Verner's bigger contract leaves the team top heavy in the salary cap department.

It's fine to ink a free agent here or there to round out important roster needs. Signing Jake Long was a good example of this. The Rams needed a bona fide offensive tackle to buy them time to draft and develop another one. The Cook signing is another example of that, albeit one that hasn't worked out as well. However, they've been aggressive about drafting corners. By now, they should be leaning on Jenkins and Johnson as their starting corners; that's what they were drafted for. Hell, I'm sure they didn't count on Finnegan flaming out this quickly into his five-year deal.

Verner would be a significant upgrade over either player, who didn't look ready for prime time in 2013. But by year three, they should be ready, far enough along in their development to negate the need for the Rams to plunk down big bucks on a top tier free agent.

The picks acquired in the RGIII trade along with the team's usual complement of draft picks was supposed to restock the team's talent supply and shift the team's core from free agent signings and even veteran players on contract extensions to homegrown talent playing on their rookie deals. That's a lengthy process, not one that was going to be fully realized across the entire roster by 2014.

However, the cornerback spot is one area where the process should be much further along given the team's investment there under Fisher and Snead. Resources spent on a cornerback at this point in time are resources that can't be used to address other needs on the roster ... and that's a concern.

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