It’s officially tampering season in the NFL, and the St. Louis Rams have reportedly already gotten in on the act. After the team released cornerback Cortland Finnegan to rid themselves of his gargantuan cap, the move to follow that has been anticipated in free agency to upgrade the defensive backfield. While cornerback Alterraun Verner of the Tennessee Titans remains a viable option, it seems that safety Jairus Byrd has already been contacted by the club about his contractual expectations and interest in join the Rams.
St. Louis has been no stranger to making marquee free agent additions over the first two years of the Les Snead/Jeff Fisher era. The GM/head coach combo signed the aforementioned Finnegan along with center Scott Wells and defensive tackle Kendall Langford in their first season in town, and just last year Jake Long was the main signing along with tight end Jared Cook to the offense.
Though the offense still struggled to put up points in 2013, it’s clear the defense is the area in need of the most attention this offseason. The parabolic play the Rams saw on that side of the ball made it difficult to count on any sort of performance offensively being enough to earn a victory. From gaping holes on run defense to coverage gaffes in the secondary, the unit really saw all kinds of issues arise throughout the year. Finding a solution at safety to pair with last year’s third-round rookie T.J. McDonald would be an amazing addition to a team with a trio of young, aspiring corners already on the roster in Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson and Brandon McGee.
As far as what Byrd would add the Rams’ secondary, his ability to ball-hawk is obvious given his 22 interceptions already in a five-year career along with 11 forced fumbles. Both of these aspects would be welcomed additions to a St. Louis defense that finished tied for the sixth-fewest interceptions a year ago with just 11 while their 10 fumbles recovered ranked in the middle of the pack. The team’s even giveaway/takeaway ratio was more indicative of the conservative offensive gameplan without Sam Bradford under center for the final nine games of the season than the defense’s proficiency in forcing turnovers.
What should be most concerning about this potential investment from the Rams’ perspective is the sheer size of the deal Byrd will command. For a team that already has some seriously top-heavy contracts in Bradford’s $17.6 million cap hit and Chris Long’s $14.9 million, another deal with big money up front wouldn’t be feasible. That means the deal would have to be back-loaded and set the Rams up for serious cap issues down the road. Given that Byrd’s franchise tag paid him $6.9 million in 2013, it’s safe to assume Byrd wants at least that much annually over the long-term to place him in the top three among safety salaries in the league along with Eric Berry ($8.4 million) and Eric Weddle ($7.5 million).
Fixing the leaky secondary is definitely a huge concern, but the Rams can’t afford to hamstring themselves in the long run with a massive deal for Byrd. At just 27 years of age he fits in with the youth movement, but a long-term pact will need to be carefully weighed to actually warrant the investment.