Upgrading the offense tops the list of offseason priorities for the St. Louis Rams, from beefing up the offensive line to adding more offensive playmakers for Sam Bradford. One position that could help the Rams significantly is adding a tight end to the mix, a dedicated pass catcher. This year's free agent class is likely to offer a few options, two of which are intimately familiar to the coaching staff at Rams Park.
Jets tight end Dustin Keller is ticketed for free agency this year. New York is unlikely to make an effort to re-sign him, according to some reports, based on an impossible cap situation there. Tight ends did not figure into whatever kind of offensive system Tony Sparano ran there last season. Ankle and hamstring injuries limited Keller to just eight games.
Keller is just one year removed from a career-best 65 receptions for 815 yards and five touchdowns. The Jets drafted him in 2008, in the first round, and he played a big role in helping make Mark Sanchez look semi-competent. Brian Schottenheimer also knows him intimately from their time together with the Jets.
There are conflicting reports about the Titans' plans for Cook. Some thing he could get the franchise tag. More recently, Jason LaCanfora of CBS said that the Titans are unlikely to keep the pass-catching specialist who lacked a natural fit in Tennessee's offense.
LaCanfora also made the obvious connection:
Jared Cook (Titans) is still just 25 and appears to have no future in Tennessee, though I would expect his former coach Jeff Fisher, now in St. Louis, could target him as a new weapon for young quarterback Sam Bradford.
Cook has consistently caught better than 65 percent of the balls thrown his way. He leaves a little to be desired as a blocker, but paired with Lance Kendricks and a third tight end, that wouldn't be as important as his role getting passes from Bradford.
There are other names out there, or likely to be out there. Some expect Green Bay to part ways with Jermichael Finley in order to save some cap space. If that happens, Finley would be the top, or at least the priciest, tight end on the market. Fred Davis got the franchise tag from the Redskins last year, but injuries and a suspension limited his role. It seems unlikely Washington will have him back. Jacksonville could release Mercedes Lewis, putting another pass-catching tight end on the market.
The draft also has a couple options. Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert looks to be the top tight end, comparable to Kyle Rudolph in Minnesota and an Irish alum. He could be had with either one of the Rams' first-round picks ... which would be considerably cheaper than signing a free agent.
Connections with Keller and Cook are hard to ignore, given the Rams' m.o. in free agency last season. Both would get reasonable contracts. Nevertheless, the cost of those deals could be large enough to force Danny Amendola out of the picture.