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Previewing the Rams in the free agent market

In case the Combine wasn't enough off-season action for you, Friday at midnight kicks off the free agent period. Between now and then news wires will be humming with word of cuts and re-signings that will make the free agent frenzy that much more exciting. What's likely to happen with the Rams in the free agency period? Let's take a look at the possibilities.

Restricted Free Agents

First off, keep an eye out for news about the Rams restricted free agents. (here's the handy TST guide to the offseason dates to remember). Thursday is the deadline to tender offers to those players. Some RFAs awaiting decisions from the Rams include: DE Victor Adeyanju, OL Richie Incognito and OL Mark Setterstrom. Each of those guys have value for the Rams, but retaining their services comes at a cost. A first round tender is worth $2.198 million in salary dollars, $1.545 for a second round tender. Those numbers don't seem like much in the grand scheme of things, but the Rams have lots of needs and little cap room for error. We reviewed the potential offers for each of those guys a couple weeks ago.

Unrestricted Free Agents

The Rams used the franchise tag to retain FS O. J. Atogwe, but the other big fish still out there is CB Ron Bartell. Devaney has stated that keeping Bartell is a priority and they started talking with his agent at the Combine this week. However, potential free agent cornerbacks are getting big contracts, taking some key names out of the free agent market and upping asking price for the unsigned corners. Those factors will definitely net Bartell some leverage in contract talks.

Other potential free agent Rams of note include CBs Fakhir Brown (thanks Linehan), Jason Craft and Ricky Manning. On the other side of the ball contracts for OL Adam Goldberg and WR/KR Dante Hall. It's widely assumed that Hall isn't coming back. The case could be made to hang onto Goldberg as a versatile backup. The complete lists of Rams free agents-to-be can be found here (offense) and here (defense).

Now for the most exciting part of free agency...

The Free Agent Market and the Rams Needs

The Rams have lots and lots and lots of needs. Though the priority can be debated, we can all agree that the Rams have major needs at OT, C, RB, MLB, NT, WR, SS, CB, and FB. Not all of those needs can be addressed through free agency; imagine the cost. On top of that, not every position has much in the way of worthwhile free agents to chase. For instance, there are not many options available at the OT positions, especially a LT, since Carolina's Jordan Gross re-signed. The guys that are available just don't compare favorably to the kind of player the Rams could find in the draft with their #2 overall pick. Here's a very quick look at some of the more interesting positions.

Strong Safety - Tackle Box covered some of the draft and free agent options the other day. One name that's been mentioned on these pages a lot since Steve Spagnuolo became the head coach is Giants SS James Butler. Released just this weekend by Oakland, Gibril Wilson is another former Giant with ties to Spagnuolo that could be an option. Wilson would probably be the more expensive of the two. The Dolphins are expected to re-sign Yeremiah Bell, who would probably be the top safety on the market this spring.

Center - Ravens C Jason Brown is the big catch at center. The Ravens have lots of contracts expiring for players they would prefer to keep, and that might send Brown to free agency. Jeff Saturday, 34, of the Colts will test free agency, but at that age he's strictly a temporary solution and would require a good backup plan. The Vikings Matt Birk is another possibility. An under the radar option might be Carolina's Geoff Hangartner, discussed in our look at centers from early February.

MLB - Names like Channing Crowder and Jonathan Vilma stand out here, among the players not named Ray Lewis. I'll defer to Tackle Box on this one.

Cornerback - Free agent cornerbacks are expensive. But guys surely the Rams will kick the tires on guys like Leigh Bodden and Domonique Foxworth. With no starting CBs signed for '09 right now, the Rams almost have to make a move in free agency to get an experienced starter for this position. Whether or not they resign Ron Bartell will go a long way toward determining which teir they look at.

Nose tackle - Because the Rams need a big body to play NT, they're limited in free agency. Beyond the biggest free agent of them all this season, Albert Haynesworth, the list of qualified candidates is nothing but question marks. The best play here is to get a guy through smart drafting.

Running back - The Rams can probably get a reliable, experienced #2 RB to save some wear and tear on Steven Jackson through free agency without breaking the bank on a guy like Derrick Ward, who is dangerously close to the age-30 mark anyway.